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Ello has been catapulted from relative obscurity to being the hot ticket in social networks – and Ello’s stance on real names, adverts and privacy has made headline news around the world.
It’s widely described as ‘the anti-Facebook’, and news outlets have made much about its anti-advertising stance – Forbes offers an excellent explanation here.
Ello promises that users’ posts will not be data-mined or advertised to, and that there will be no algorithms deciding what users should see. If a user says no to the Ello privacy ‘manifesto’, they are taken instead to Facebook’s privacy page.
The network has already acquired a passionate following – although some users have been disgruntled by the rough edges of the still-in-beta social network, the Economic Times reports.
As Ello surfed an influx of disgruntled Facebook users, inspired by the larger network’s now-relaxed ‘real names’ policy, which had caused anger in the LGBT community, Ello’s makers admitted, “There does seem to be a bit of an avalanche.”
For any security-conscious user, there are a few things worth remembering once you have secured that crucial invitation (if you click the invitation button on the front page, you have to wait an unspecified period – more than a week in our case, so it may be easier asking friends via other social networks).
Some of these are common to many new, evolving social networks, others are specific to Ello. Let us know if you have any further thoughts on privacy on the new network in the comments below.
‘We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership,’ says Ello. It’s notable, though, that privacy isn’t on the list.
Ello’s stance on advertising might be a breath of fresh air after the increasingly commercial atmosphere of Facebook, but don’t imagine the company is a charity. Its terms of service allow Ello to share data with future partner companies, third-party service companies, or with governments if required by law. While you will not be advertised to within Ello, according to their manifesto, the data you share may not be private. Be careful with private, identifying data on your profile, or in your posts.
Ello’s terms of service also explicitly warn that data about you IS collected, and fed into Google Analytics, albeit anonymously. The site is committed to improving privacy as it goes, but security-conscious users should at least keep this in mind.
Ello defaults to making your profile visible to search engines, which means people who you have not invited to be your friends can see information on your profile, whether or not you have opted to share with them. As with Facebook, it’s best to be safe, and untick this option under Settings.
A lot of the privacy controls present on other networks aren’t there as yet on Ello – although more are in the pipeline.
For instance, the ‘audience selector’ tool used to limit posts to ‘Friends Only’ or ‘Only Me’ on Facebook isn’t there, nor is there an option to set accounts to private, a la Twitter. For now, at least, it pays to watch what you say. Visit the Settings page, and ensure your profile is not visible to search engines, and ensure you don’t share personally identifying information in your posts.
Ello is a very young company, in a highly competitive space, which opens up the possibility of a takeover by a larger company – something often done defensively in social networking, with larger networks buying up smaller rivals with a unique USP.
This means that data you shared with the network may not be private forever – Newsworks points out that databases acquired by other companies can often be used in surprising new ways, such as the Enron email corpus, emails from 150 senior executives, which are now used to train machine-learning algorithms.
As with any post on the internet, posts on Ello won’t go away. While the network might be a bit of a ghost town at the moment, the sheer volume of publicity generated in the past few weeks suggest it won’t be for long. At that point, anything you have said will still be there.
Ello’s terms of service also specifically state that content on the site can be seen from outside the site, and that it may be duplicated or used by other users ‘in ways we cannot control’. This means that sharing anything that is valuable, or to which you hold the copyright, is a bad idea.
The only thing specifically forbidden by the Ello privacy terms of service, in terms of your rights over content, is assuming another individual’s identity and posting content as them.
Your username (ie your handle in the format @someone) is very visible on Ello – you appear as your handle, rather than having a name. Do not choose one which reveals personally identifying information about you. Your email address WILL be hidden by default, although you can opt to display a link to a website as part of your profile
There is an Ello privacy tool to delete accounts – which is far easier than the equivalent on Facebook. If you’re one of the many who’ve visited Ello, decided it isn’t quite ready yet, then gone back to the ad-filled social networks whence you came, clean up after you. Go to Settings and hit Delete – your account will be gone.
One of the most frequent complaints about Ello privacy on the social network was that there is no way to block users: Ello has added ‘Block’ and ‘Mute’ buttons, but as accounts cannot be set to private, these are less useful than they are on some other sites – ie if you are being harrassed, it may be easy for the perpetrator to log back in as someone else and view your content, or post comments.
Users should also be aware that Ello is built to allow ‘not safe for work’ content, as with Reddit – and at present, there is no way to flag inappropriate content. This will be added later but for now, users have to grin and bear it.
Author Rob Waugh, We Live Security