A new tool under development by Oregon State computer scientists could radically alter the way that communications work on the web. Privly is a sort of manifesto-in-code, a working argument for a more private, less permanent Internet.
The system we have now gives all the power to the service providers. That seemed to be necessary, but Privly shows that it is not: Users could have a lot more power without giving up social networking. Just pointing that out is a valuable contribution to the ongoing struggle to understand and come up with better ways of sharing and protecting ourselves online.
"Companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook make you choose between modern technology and privacy. But the Privly developers know this to be false choice," lead dev Sean McGregor says in the video below. "You can communicate through the site of your choosing without giving the host access to your content."
Through browser extensions, Privly allows you to post to social networks and send email without letting those services see "into" your text. Instead, your actual words get encrypted and then routed to Privlys servers (or an eventual peer-to-peer network). What the social media site "sees" is merely a link that Privly expands in your browser into the full content. Of course, this requires that people who want to see your content also need Privly installed on their machines.
Right now, Privly is a proof of concept running on a few computers at Oregon State. But McGregor and fellow coders Balaji Athreya and Jesse Hostetler have a $10,000 Kickstarter running to take it to the next level. (For example, in the current product, they don't yet encrypt your posts, but will add that into next-generation tool.)