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Privacy is the new killer app

Matt Weinberger | Nov. 17, 2014
You can't just be good. You have to be secure.

It turns out that people liked Ello a lot more as a concept than as an actual product.  The site's one million users (with three million more waiting on an invitation as of the end of October) just don't post very much.

Speaking personally, my Ello news feed is a ghost town, and once the initial rush of a new social network with a high-minded philosophy died down, people noticed it just wasn't as good or as fully fleshed-out as Facebook or Twitter, and moved back, privacy be damned. As the New York Times put it in the headline of its report on that Pew survey, "Americans Say They Want Privacy, but Act as if They Don't." 

So while there's not been a single app or product with as much buzz as Ello, we definitely see some success stories among products that enable users to communicate much as they do now, but more securely.

And then there's Wiper
Take, for example, Wiper, a messaging and video calling app that gives users control by never archiving anything on its own servers and actually letting them permanently delete content from a conversation -- not just from their devices, but from the devices of the people they're talking to. It's a handy escape hatch when you accidentally say the wrong thing (or send the wrong picture, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more). 

Wiper was born from a simple question, says founder Manlio Carrelli: "Why is everybody storing all my stuff?" 

The standard approach is not only shady, Carrelli says. It's destructive to honest conversation, because everything you say ends up as a kind of permanent record. Trusting the wrong service or somehow getting the attention of an NSA analyst means that your private conversation isn't so private. And there's no going back from whatever you said. Which is why giving users control over what gets saved is so crucial, Carrelli says. 

"It doesn't seem like a great way to live our lives," he says. 

Wiper has found special success in the Middle East, where privacy and HD video calling are both killer features. The app is attempting to reach a broader audience by taking its core privacy-first philosophy and gradually expanding with more social features, starting with YouTube playlist sharing.

There are other approaches, too: The controversial Anonabox project, a teeny-tiny router that automatically shunts your web traffic through the TOR Internet anonymity portal, raised close to $600,000 on Kickstarter before getting shut down for violating the crowdfunding platform's rules -- it turns out the Anonabox isn't as "original" as the creators led funders to believe, based almost entirely on off-the-shelf parts running modified firmware. It's since found second life on the more lax IndieGoGo platform, where it successfully met its funding goal


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