A couple of things are unambiguously positive, however: They do not display any ads whatsoever, so your ad-blocker can take a breather, and according to the Privacy Badger browser extension they are true to their word about not having any trackers on their site. They also promise that they will proactively email users with any changes to their policies, to give them an opportunity to opt-out or otherwise react before the changes take effect. So, if they do decide to become evil at some point in the future, they’ll probably tell you first.
Does this mean that MeWe is the holy grail of privacy-respecting social networks? Not really. They are still a centralized, for-profit company. They claim their business model is built around “freemium” services (i.e. some optional features will cost money), but that could always change. One day they might be purchased by new owners who want to milk more money out of the system by going down more well-trod business practices. As mentioned above, they’re also not completely open with how they handle your data, they just promise to cross your name out before they sell it off.
We here at Gibberfish are, of course, big fans of Diaspora*, a decentralized, user-controlled social network — so much so that we sponsor our own “pod”. There are a wide variety similar services out there, such as Mastodon, which grabbed a lot of worldwide media attention several months ago. However, these networks have historically had trouble attracting and retaining large numbers of “mainstream” internet users. Newly arrived refugees from Facebook often have trouble convincing friends and family to come with them. MeWe might, with it’s friendly, familiar look and feel, do a better job at drawing those users. If you squint hard enough, you may not even be able to tell that you’re not on Facebook.
As the adage goes:
If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold
This probably still holds true for MeWe, but perhaps less so than on other for-profit social media sites. Users will ultimately have to decide what ratio of exploitation to convenience they’re comfortable with, and with the #deleteFacebook movement maintaining momentum, the time seems ripe for MeWe to peel off a healthy crop of dissatisfied users. If you personally decide to use the site, say hello to us there. We’ll be posting news and updates from time to time. If you’re on Diaspora*, even better. We’re there too.