Building a Social App for 2014: Do you stand for privacy?

14 Apr 2014, by David Evans

Facebook has turned 10, and Twitter is almost seven years old. Despite their behemoth user bases, new social apps find space to create their own success every year. Thanks to the NSA revelations, 2013 was the year that many web users woke up to their privacy situation. While privacy is clearly not yet the #1 factor (WhatsApp is not the pinnacle of privacy), it’s worth considering what your stance will be at the earliest stages of idea development and planning.

Users are becoming more aware of the pitfalls of major social networks, old and new:
- Facebook records everything you type into a status update field, even if you decide not to post it;
Read on Slate
- SnapChat's records of users' phone numbers and usernames are not as secure as we might like;
Read on TechCrunch
- Facebook Like/Share and Twitter Follow/Tweet buttons track web browsing habits of individuals, even when they're logged out of the social network, even if they don't click the Like or Share button.
Watch on YouTube
I explain how to avoid this tracking at the end of this post!
- Google and Yahoo's internal fibre networks have been tapped, with millions of records stolen per day
Read on the Washington Post
- Private search (DuckDuckGo,, & others) and other privacy-enhanced apps have had considerable attention and success
Read on The Guardian

Now, consider what your potential users are thinking:
- Do I want to sign up, with my real name and photo, for another social network that will try to learn about my habits and interests, link that information to my identity and monetise it? With whom will they share my data, and what will I gain and lose from this sharing?
- Do I trust another site that has the answers to my privacy concerns buried in the legalese of their privacy policy?
- Do I trust myself to get the privacy settings right when they are complex, convoluted and defaulted towards sharing more?
- Do I want to Facebook/Google login to another service, connecting all of my actions in that service to my real-world identity?

Think about what kind of company you want to create over the next several years. Do you want to sneak around or work against your users’ privacy interest to emulate what has been a successful business model, even as public opinion turns against some aspects of that model? Or do you want to create a company that takes the lead on privacy and charges customers to solve worthy problems?

P.S. Here’s how to avoid your users being tracked when you want to link back to your social pages, or allow them to quickly share your content:
You don’t need Facebook Like/Twitter Follow buttons. Instead, provide links to and Plain links will not require you to include Facebook or Twitter’s javascripts, allowing you to guard your users' web browsing habits from those companies. You can style plain links any way you like, and your page will load faster without the extra scripts. While Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers may help to engage your users, nothing will save you if you don't offer your users a mode of communication or expression that adds value to their lives.

In the case of sharing content, Facebook Share/Twitter Tweet buttons can also be replaced by links such as and

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