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27 Sep, 2014 12:45

'You are not a product': Privacy-friendly ad-free 'anti-Facebook' network Ello explodes

'You are not a product': Privacy-friendly ad-free 'anti-Facebook' network Ello explodes

A mostly obscure, privacy-orientated social network - an ‘anti-Facebook’ of sorts - has recently undergone meteoric growth. It poses itself as an advert-free enterprise which is not going to become a tool to manipulate its users.

‘Anti-facebook’ network Ello kicked off in July as an invite-only social network seeking to have an advert-free user-orientated role rather than becoming a profit-generating enterprise, according to itsmanifesto.

“Your social network is owned by advertisers. Every post you share, every friend you make and every link you follow is tracked, recorded and converted into data,” it points out.

Screenshot from ello.co

Ello pledges that it will never sell user data to advertisers, forfeiting the one source of income keeping afloat online giants like Facebook and Google. Instead it attempts to cover expenses by selling premium features, such as managing several accounts from a single login – a service that appeals to privacy-focused users.

“We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate — but a place to connect, create and celebrate life. You are not a product,” Ello calmly states.

This ‘social network with a conscience’ approach appears to be filling a large gap in the market given Facebook’s ever-changing privacy policy and targeted advertisements.

I’m now on #Ello, a social network that will eat other social networks for breakfast by having ethics & no ads. https://t.co/1bsknmRaTT

— David Seaman (@d_seaman) September 26, 2014

According to the latest data from the Pew Research Centre, 71% of adults who use the internet use Facebook – an enormous proportion. However, while Ello is still undergoing beta testing, recent weeks have seen a mass-influx of users to the site – users who are apparently becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Facebook.

For months, the network remained small and grew slowly as word-of-month brought in new users. The likely driver for the explosive growth of Ello is the LGBT community, The Daily Dot points out.

Facebook had a falling out with the LGBT community due to the company’s strict ‘real name’ policy, thereby meaning drag queens couldn’t go under assumed titles.

While the giant’s desire to have as accurate as possible profiles of its users is understandable, considering that it is the profiles that make the money, the enforcement of the real name policy offends those who prefer to keep their identity private, often for safety reasons.

In what The Daily Dot, one of the first big news outlets to report Ello’s sudden rise, called a "queer mass exodus," LGBT folk apparently fled Facebook. And newcomer Ello’s core team didn’t fail to notice the influx.

READ: Facebook takes down drag queens’ profiles

Artists, bloggers, people who are concerned about privacy, people who have had problems with stalkers, celebrities, and members of the LGBTQ community sometimes choose not to use their real names — out of personal preference, or to protect themselves,” Paul Budnitz, a toy maker by profession and one of the Ello creators told BetaBeat.

“All these people are being kicked out of Facebook.”

Since going viral, requests to join Ello went to over 27,000 per hour. Twitter overflowed with invite requests while eBay spurred an enormous black market for them. Ello briefly suspended new invites and experienced a website crash, which is understandable for a website that’s technically still in beta mode.

Ha. Netflix just joined #ello the anti-advertising social network and asked people to like them on Facebook. https://t.co/cq8LFWyd4e

— Alex Goldmark (@alexgoldmark) September 26, 2014

The Ello team also had to address new users’ concerns, pledging a zero-tolerance policy toward “hate, trolls, spamming, stalking, impersonating others, threats and abusive behavior toward anyone.” At the request from erotic artists and sex workers it changed posting rules to allow porn material (once NSFW tagging is rolled out) - as long as it isn't something illegal, like child pornography.

yet my favorite stuff about #Ello is the google analytics tracker lying just behind this speech pic.twitter.com/5HbdA8yOXF

— binnie (@binnie) September 25, 2014

Between fighting technical glitches, developing new features like making a profile private, and dealing with the unexpected scale-up, Ello say they will be true to their manifesto. Many wonder whether its black, eyeless smiley logo may one day become as ubiquitous as the white-on-blue word “Facebook,” or will sink back into obscurity once the fad passes.

Those who are more skeptical suspect that Ello is just a case of clever niche marketing that is bound to become as bad as the big players it criticizes.

However, it is currently remaining defiant in the face of such suggestions. While sales of the features – which will go for an estimated $1 or $2, Ello is relying on the fact that it will be inexpensive to maintain such a website.

In the “coming soon” section, the site says that its users can expect audio integration – such as soundcloud, the ability to ‘block’ other users, and video integration, among other things.