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Facebook alternatives: Which social networks and messaging apps to use if you delete your account

Fed up with Facebook? A new wave of privacy-focussed social networks and messaging apps offer an alternative

Anthony Cuthbertson
Thursday 05 April 2018 17:44 BST
Mark Zuckerberg admits ‘my mistake’ as 87m Facebook users could have seen data accessed by Cambridge Analytica

Facebook is no longer simply an internet company, it has grown to encompass the internet itself. The social network and its various subsidiaries now have direct influence over almost half of all internet traffic, with its core service alone catering to more than 2 billion users worldwide.

But while its Swiss-Army functionality offers an easy and convenient way to stay connected, users are increasingly concerned about the implications of a single company holding so much of their personal data.

The prevalence and reach of the site is the reason many people want to leave, but it is also what makes it so hard to actually do so. If you want to try and do that, however, some alternatives do exist.

Facebook’s failings regarding people’s privacy appear endless. In a blogpost on Wednesday, Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer promised to better protect users’ data through a series of updates. But buried seven paragraphs deep into the announcement was the startling revelation that the majority of Facebook’s 2.2 billion users have had their personal information compromised.

The social network's search and account recovery feature, which allowed people to find people’s profiles by simply entering their phone number or email address into Facebook’s search bar, has now been disabled but was likely abused by “malicious actors”, Schroepfer wrote.

“Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way,” he announced.

These surprisingly lowkey revelations came on the same day that Facebook updated its estimates of how many people had been caught up in the Cambridge Analytica scandal - from around 50 million to “up to 87 million people”.

As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg prepares to go before Congress next week to face questions surrounding consumer data, privacy-conscious Facebook users continue an exodus that began last month as part of the #DeleteFacebook campaign.

But for those wishing to escape Facebook’s insidious reach while still staying connected, it’s not as straightforward as simply switching to another popular service like WhatsApp or Instagram - both of which are owned by Facebook. So what genuinely alternative platforms remain?

Alternative messaging apps

Telegram offers an almost like-for-like substitute for WhatsApp, with many of the same features shared across both messaging apps. It was the first mainstream messaging app to offer its users encryption and has similar privacy credentials to that of WhatsApp, though it has faced criticism for not being fully encrypted by default.

A much more privacy-focussed messaging app is Signal. As the platform of choice for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Signal was designed with privacy and security as its core focus. One downside is that this means it is lacking some of the features that make Telegram and WhatsApp so popular.

Straddling the middle ground of features and privacy credentials is Threema. No phone number is needed to join the platform, meaning you don’t need to give your phone number to someone you want to chat to. The main drawback to Threema is that it’s a paid app.

Alternative social networks

A private social network may sound like an oxymoron but several startups have attempted to achieve just that by providing a service that doesn’t track or censor its users, nor share their data with third parties.

Some wannabe Facebook rivals have already come and gone, with London-based Togethera closing down in 2016 after only two years and Stack quietly disappearing at some point in the last couple of years.

A more promising prospect is Vero, which aims to address the imbalance that has formed between the interests of the platforms and the best interests of the users. To avoid turning its customers into the product it monetizes, Vero is ad-free and follows a subscription-based business model. Vero has grown considerably in recent months and once a critical mass of users is reached it will begin charging a small fee for its services.

Another privacy-focussed social network is Minds, which received an endorsement in 2015 from the most private of individuals: a member of the hacktivist group Anonymous. Billing itself as both a social network and a digital wallet, Minds allows its users to earn cryptocurrency by creating original content for the site.

Other social networks aiming to put their users back in control of their data and content include Diaspora and Ello, though the latter has since pivoted from a Facebook-style service to one that more closely resembles Pinterest.

For some, completely cutting ties with Facebook will also mean cutting ties with family and friends who use Facebook and its various subsidiaries as their primary method of online communication. For these people, tools like Firefox's Facebook Container Extension and Ghostery limit Facebook's ability to track its users across other websites.

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