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For a Truly Private Social Network, Try RetroShare

With a 'friend-to-friend' approach, this free and open source service offers a secure way to chat and share files with only people you trust

It's a rare week indeed that doesn't bring forth some fresh privacy scandal, and creepy apps like Girls Around Me are only one small part of the problem.

Just between Facebook and Google, a world of data about us is increasingly available online to pretty much anyone motivated enough to seek it out. If you communicate and spend time on the Internet, you have little choice but to accept a much lower level of privacy than you'd have otherwise--Do Not Track and other recent measures notwithstanding.

I've already written about a few privacy-minded technologies that aim to help, including the DuckDuckGo search engine, the GNU Free Call alternative to Skype, the BitBox browser, and the Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) Linux distribution.

Recently, however, a reader alerted me to a new and highly secure social networking option. It's called RetroShare, and it basically lets you set up a completely private network for communicating and sharing with those you trust.

'Friend to Friend' Networking

Similar in some ways to a virtual private network (VPN)--but without the corporate entity behind it--open source RetroShare bills itself as a secure social network that offers "friend-to-friend" (F2F) rather than peer-to-peer (P2P) networking. The key difference there is that in a P2P network you connect with random peers all over the world, whereas an F2F network connects you only to friends you've told it you trust.

RetroShare is available for free for Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X. Once you install it and start it up for the first time, you create a profile and a certificate is automatically generated for you. That certificate, in turn, is used to authenticate and connect safely with the people you trust and want to include in your network.

You can have just a few friends on your RetroShare network, if you want, but an AutoDiscovery feature can introduce you to your friends' friends as well. Only those that you explicitly approve, however, will be added to your network.

Once you're connected, you can use RetroShare to securely chat and share files with those connections using what the service calls its "web-of-trust" to authenticate peers along with OpenSSL to encrypt all communication. Decentralized forums and channels are also available through the service, but no data is ever stored in the cloud or on any central servers and no third party can ever eavesdrop on your activity, the project team says. There are also no ads or spam.

A More Private Approach

In the wake of the ongoing Megaupload case, services like RetroShare are surely attracting some attention from those interested in sharing illegal content.

That, however, shouldn't detract at all from what they offer legitimate business and individual users simply seeking a more private approach than what's currently available among mainstream social networks. For small businesses, in particular, I think RetroShare could offer a nice solution for work teams that need a private way to communicate.

If you're tired of always wondering who's watching your online activity, RetroShare could be a good one to check out.

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