Why new social media site Ello isn’t as private as you think

Why new social media site Ello isn’t as private as you think

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

10 October 2014

You might have already seen the little smiley-face logo appearing on the Facebook and Google+ pages of your friends, announcing that they’ve joined Ello, the invite-only, ad-free new social media site that’s billing itself as a privacy- and user-friendly new alternative to Facebook.

On the face of it, this seems to be a great new platform. After all, aren’t we all concerned about the way Facebook targets us with ads and throws our privacy to the wind time and time again?

Well, we’re perhaps not concerned enough to stop using it, but we certainly don’t like it.

On their own “About” page, Ello claims to cast off the model of data collection that turns users into the product. The view is stated explicitly on their site: “Collecting and selling your personal data, reading your posts to your friends, and mapping your social connections for profit is both creepy and unethical.”

This sounds great. Their business model is based on the “freemium” idea that some users will voluntarily pay for additional features: “We occasionally offer special features to our users. If we create a special feature that you really like, you may choose to support Ello by paying a very small amount of money to add that feature to your Ello account.”

An opt-in payment scheme that keeps your data private. Sounds fantastic. However, a look at their privacy policy shows that things are not what they seem.

Desite claiming that “We also don’t sell information about our users to any third party. This includes advertisers, data brokers, search engines, or anyone else”, in the same section, Ello reserves the right to pass any of your information onto any third-party service providers linked to their service.

We may share some of your personal information with third parties under several circumstances, including (1) if you tell us it is OK to do so (2) if we believe that we need to do so by law (3) if we contract with a third party service provider to offer services for you — for example, we may need to pass your payment information along to a credit card processing company if you decide to buy something on Ello.”

Even worse, they then write themselves a blank cheque with your data:

Ello does not have any affiliated companies right now. But if we do in the future, we may share some information with them.”

With these two sentences, Ello undermines their entire supposed USP; they may or may not share your personal data with companies that advertise with them, financially support them or are in any way linked to Ello. That’s selling your information – the very thing they’re claiming not to do.

A privacy-centric social media platform is, of course, long overdue and very much in demand. However, it seems that despite all the hype, Ello just isn’t it.

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