Web

For your eyes only: Priv.ly acts like invisible ink for the Web

privly-logo-lead

Right now, most of the sites and services you use and enjoy are violating your privacy. Google reads your email. Twitter logs your tweets. The U.S. government watches everything. And all types of shady data brokers are gathering your online comments to package and sell to the highest bidder. The game, as they say, is rigged. And we, the Internet users, are on the losing team.

Enter Priv.ly, a new service that wants to put the power of privacy back in your hands, and give control of your data back to its rightful owner — you.

Launched by Sean McGregor, a computer scientist at Oregon State University and Priv.ly’s lead developer, Priv.ly is an open-source project that allows users to encrypt any message they like, and easily share that message online, via Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, or any other place that one might share information or comments.

The first part of the Priv.ly project is a browser extension, which is currently available by invite-only for Firefox and Chrome. Users must create a Priv.ly account, which they sign into before using the extension. Once signed in, users can type out their message, then right-click to encrypt the message, which is then posted to Priv.ly’s secure servers. (Priv.ly will eventually use peer-to-peer sharing, cutting out the middle man entirely.) This process automatically creates a link to the message, which can only be viewed by invited parties. So, if you want to post something private to Twitter, you can encrypt your tweet using the Priv.ly extension, and the only information that Twitter “sees” is the Priv.ly link — no personal information is shared. It works in basically any field where you can type, from Facebook to Reddit to email.

Priv.ly-1

By using Priv.ly, you remove the ability for social networks and other websites to peer into your conversations — personal communications become personal again.

“When I first joined Facebook, the deal they made with their users was very clear,” says McGregor in an interview with Digital Trends. “You knew exactly when and where your information would be viewable. The problem is that they, and just about every other web company, archived all their user contributed data for all time. Either through incremental changes, or big redesigns, that data gradually became available to an audience that it was not intended for. By separating permissions and presentation, we can effectively reduce websites to their core offerings, whether that is a social graph in the case of Facebook, or a social voting system in the case of Reddit. Neither system needs to be able to read your content.”

Priv.ly recently launched a $10,000 Kickstarter project, which, with 13 days left to go at the time of this writing, is well over 50 percent of the way to its goal. [Update: A day later, and Priv.ly is now well past its goal, with over $11,000 pledged so far.] While the money will be used to help further build Priv.ly, and get it ready for a public launch, McGregor says that “the purpose of the Kickstarter for us is more for recruitment than money.” The more people Priv.ly has testing out the system, the better it will work, and the more security the service will give its users. That, says McGregor, is the entire purpose of making Priv.ly open source.

“I can’t emphasize enough that you should not trust a security application that is not vetted by a broad audience,” he says. “Second to that, something as fundamental as building privacy into the internet should be a community process. No one should own the ability to protect your content.”

While McGregor says that most people who find out about Priv.ly like it because it is a “cool concept,” it is also a revolutionary one — a complete 180-degree shift from the way most social networks do business. Not a day goes by that companies like Google and Facebook are gathering data on their users (you and us) to help pad out their advertising business, among other things. This isn’t necessarily all bad, however, as much of the Web is based on advertising that makes use of complex and detailed user profiles, and wouldn’t exist without these revenue streams. According to McGregor, however, these companies can do just fine without reading your private conversations.

“I come from the world of big data, and I can say that Facebook ‘likes,’ and what you search for are far more valuable to advertisers than your personal communications,” says McGregor. “The difference between your written text and things like ‘likes’ are you have a choice on whether you ‘like’ something, but you are unlikely to be able to steer your family to a new social network.”

Obviously, an easy-to-use text encryption service like Priv.ly will also be widely helpful in countries like China and Iran, where Internet censorship is far more real, and far more dangerous, than it is in the United State. As the Priv.ly website shows, had people in Egypt had access to Priv.ly a year ago, it might have been much easier to organize protests and other demonstrations without having to worry about the government intercepting the plans.

Currently, Priv.ly remains in private beta. If you’re interested in trying out Priv.ly, you can snag an invite by donating $5 or more to the Kickstarter project. (Ten dollars will get you five invitations.) McGregor says the team working on Priv.ly has not yet set a date to allow in more users.

“It will be open to the general public when we can make reasonable assurances of security, usability, and reliability,” he says. “In short, the general public will be able to use Priv.ly when it is ready. We are going to do this right.”

Social Media

Tumblr promises it fixed a bug that left user data exposed

A bug on blogging site Tumblr left user data exposed. The company says that once it learned of the flaw, it acted quickly to fix it, adding that it's confident no data linked to its users' accounts was stolen.
Home Theater

Facebook might be planning a streaming box for your TV that watches you back

Facebook is reportedly working on a piece of streaming media hardware for your living room with a built-in camera for video calls, something people may not want given the company's recent controversies.
Computing

Your ‘Do Not Track’ tool might be helping websites track you, study says

New research from the "Do Not Track" features embedded in popular browsers are being ignored, opening up the possibility of consumers having their information targeted by specific ads based on their web histories and cookies. 
Computing

Was your Facebook account hacked in the latest breach? Here’s how to find out

Facebook now reports that its latest data breach affected only 30 million users, down from an initial estimate of 50 million accounts. You can also find out if hackers had accessed your account by visiting a dedicated portal.
Mobile

Pixel 3, Home Hub, and Pixel Slate — our first look at all Google’s new devices

Google has taken the wraps off of a slew of new devices, including the Pixel 3 smartphones, Google Home Hub smart display, Google Pixel Slate tablet, and more. We were at the event, and took a ton of photos of all of Google's new products.
Music

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which music streaming service is better for you?

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Mobile

PayPal will soon let you withdraw cash at Walmart, but there’s a catch

PayPal has teamed up with Walmart to allow its account holders to withdraw and deposit cash at the store. The service launches at all Walmart stores across the U.S. in early November, but there's a catch.
Computing

Here's how to download a YouTube video to watch offline later

Learning how to download YouTube videos is easier than you might think. There are plenty of great tools you can use, both online and offline. These are our favorites and a step by step guide on how to use them.
Cars

Carbuying can be exhausting: Here are the best used car websites to make it easier

Shopping for a used car isn't easy, especially when the salesman is looking to make a quick sale. Thankfully, there are plenty of sites aimed at the prospective buyer, whether you're looking for a sedan or a newfangled hybrid.
Computing

How to recover Google contacts

If you accidentally deleted an important person from your Google Contacts, they might not be lost forever. Recovering them is a fairly easy process -- as long as you do it quickly. Here's how.
Computing

Afraid that Bitcoin could be a bubble? Here's how to sell what you've got

If you're investing in cryptocurrencies, it's important to have your exit strategy in place if prices start to crash. If you've decided it's time to get out or just want to learn how to sell Bitcoins, here's how to get started.
Computing

Don't take your ISP's word for it: Here's how to test your internet speed

If you're worried that you aren't getting the most from your internet package, speed tests are a great way to find out what your real connection is capable of. Here are the best internet speed tests available today.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Web

Feed your fandom: These are the best YouTube channels for sports lovers

If you're a cable cutter who still wants to enjoy quality sports highlights and analysis, YouTube is the place to go. There are plenty of great sports-centric channels on YouTube, each of which provides great highlights and top-shelf…