A former Parksville city councillor is taking on Facebook. Peter Morrison is working with brothers Michael and Ian Reid to build a better social network called Kube.
Describing themselves as the “not evil Facebook,” they formed Red Scotch Software less than two years ago and are almost ready for their public unveiling.
Based in Nanaimo, the brothers started the company to figure out what to do with web-based technology they’d been developing in their previous company.
“We’d developed a piece of software that was able to build social networks really, really fast,” said CEO Ian. “We weren’t initially totally clear on what to do with that.”
But privacy quickly became their main goal and before they knew it they were developing what they believe is a unique “private decentralized encrypted social network,” very different from existing networks.
“Most Internet companies don’t treat users as customers, they treat them as the product,” said Michael, head of sales and marketing. He explained that while people can choose what to share with their friends on existing social networks, the companies themselves own the data.
“The part we have a problem with is how the information’s being used on the back end by these companies,” Ian said.
On Kube, people will still be able to share whatever information they want, but “the information contained should be that user’s information, the user owns the information, it’s their information, not our information,” he said of the fundamental difference.
“They can be as public or as private as they want. The user has privacy, which really means the user has control over what they want to share,” Ian said, pointing out that while people think they are making those choices on Facebook, “you’re not private from the company.”
“I haven’t had a Facebook account forever and I wanted to go and take a look at it,” said Michael of a recent experiment. “I used a fake user name and a fake birthdate and I put it into a mode where it couldn’t see anything about my computer, but Facebook was still able to accurately profile exactly who I was.”
“It knew everything about me to a pretty frightening degree of accuracy. That is something a lot of people aren’t aware of, and it’s something we see as being a big problem.”
“Who can see and use that data needs to be in the hands of the owner, not in the hands of the company.”
And so they built Kube from the ground up to be all about user privacy, based more on peer to peer type networking, explaining they “authenticate the user, blindly, so we don’t know who they are and then they can connect directly to other users. We don’t have to actually see any of the things they share or their relationships, we just facilitate the capacity to connect directly with other users.”
People can even sign up without the company knowing who they are, and beyond privacy it’s unusual decentralized model makes it very secure.
“The majority of the Internet is based on centralized data,” Ian explained. All of the information entered into Facebook goes into giant central servers controlled by them, which they secure, but if anything goes wrong, the data is all accessible.
He gave the example of the recent hack and exposure of users of the online dating site Ashley Madison.
“We don’t want to say we’re 100 per cent secure, but if there ever is a breach within the Kube system it will only ever be contained to an individual user.”
With such a focus on privacy,
The NEWS asked if there was any fear of people exploiting the network for illegal purposes.
“Privacy isn’t about having something to hide,” Ian said.
“Obviously when you have less capacity for surveillance and that sort of thing people are going to be able to do what they want. We obviously want to do everything we can to stop illegal activity, but we believe in privacy very strongly and we’re supporting that as the main approach.”
Michael said the site will feel familiar to social media users, with news feeds and groups, but they will have more options and give users more ability to customize their experience.
Meanwhile former city councillor and sign shop owner Peter Morrison joined them about a year ago to work on the business development side, working on a crowd funding campaign and the PR and marketing aspects.
“Our business model is a freemium model,” he explained. “To create a network of any size or potential, we need to be able to provide 100 per cent free access to it.”
He admitted they will lose out on the ability to sell and leverage the data their users provide, a major source of income for most social networks, so they will focus building a powerful user experience through which they can then sell other services.
“In the long term we see a revolution in ad-tech that encourages individual relationships between consumers and the brands they love,” Morrison said. “It will never be a requirement (so it will always be optional), but we are confident we can build a powerful value proposition for both consumers and brands.”
With just two other full-time employees, the company is still in a sort of incubation stage, but has big plans.
They are in alpha mode — accessible only by invitation — and will launch their public beta mode in October, which people can sign up for now.
While they do have big ambitions, they admit Facebook is a serious juggernaut with more than a billion users that they don’t expect to replace.
“We can provide a really great user engagement experience and we’re going to focus on that, even if they’re still on Facebook,” said Michael. “Taking on something like Facebook is a pretty audacious task and it’s not going to happen overnight.”