Facebook just paid $19 billion for a messaging application, WhatsApp. Silicon Valley invests major money for relatively trivial innovations. How much do you think these two boys are worth?


Young users see Facebook as ‘dead and buried’

A study of how teenagers use social media has found that Facebook is “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried”, but that the network is morphing into a tool for keeping in touch with older family members

A study of how teenagers use social media has found that Facebook is “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried”, but that the network is morphing into a tool for keeping in touch with older family members

Young people now see Facebook as ‘uncool’ Photo: Alamy

A study of how older teenagers use social media has found that Facebook is “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried” and is being replaced by simpler social networks such as Twitter and Snapchat.

Young people now see the site as “uncool” and keep their profiles live purely to stay in touch with older relatives, among whom it remains popular.

Professor Daniel Miller of University College London, an anthropologist who worked on the research, wrote in an article for academic news website The Conversation: “Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it.

“This year marked the start of what looks likely to be a sustained decline of what had been the most pervasive of all social networking sites. Young people are turning away in their droves and adopting other social networks instead, while the worst people of all, their parents, continue to use the service.

“Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things.

“What appears to be the most seminal moment in a young person’s decision to leave Facebook was surely that dreaded day your mum sends you a friend request.”

The Global Social Media Impact Study, which was funded by the European Union, observed 16- to 18-year-olds in eight countries for 15 months and found that Facebook use was in freefall. Instead, young people are turning to simpler services like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp which Professor Miller conceded were “no match” for Facebook in terms of functionality.

“Most of the school children in our survey recognised that in many ways, Facebook is technically better than Twitter or Instagram. It is more integrated, better for photo albums, organising parties and more effective for observing people’s relationships,” said Professor Miller, adding that “slick isn’t always best” in attracting young users.

WhatsApp has overtaken Facebook as the number one way to send messages, say the researchers, while Snapchat has gained in popularity in recent months by allowing users to send images which “self-destruct” after a short period on the recipients phone in order to maintain privacy.

Snapchat claims that 350 million images are sent every day, and reportedly recently turned down a $3 billion (£1.8 billion) acquisition offer from Facebook. Co-founder Evan Spiegel, who lives at home with his father despite an estimated net worth of $3 billion, last month told The Telegraph that “deleting should be the default”.

Researchers found that close friends were using Snapchat to communicate, while WhatsApp was used with acquaintances and Twitter broadcasted indiscriminately to anyone who chose to follow that person.

The study found that Facebook was now used by teenagers as a way to stay in touch with older members of their family and sibling who have left for university and has “evolved into a very different animal” from its early days as a social network focusing on young users at university.

Facebook, which will be a decade old next year, is currently offering 70m shares for sale at $55.05 a share, 41m of which belong to founder Mark Zuckerberg and are being unloaded to cover a tax bill.

The stock has climbed well above the $38 price set in Facebook’s initial public offering 19 months ago.

Encrypted social network vies for disgruntled WhatsApp, Facebook users

Easy-to-use encryption is the aim of Syme, a service built by three students in Montreal
  • (IDG News Service)
  • 29 November, 2013 04:24
A new social network, Syme, is hoping to attract users with a feel close to Google Plus and Facebook but with encrypted content viewable only to invited members of a group.

A new social network, Syme, is hoping to attract users with a feel close to Google Plus and Facebook but with encrypted content viewable only to invited members of a group.

With the look of Google Plus and Facebook-like elements, a new social network named “Syme” feels as cozy as a well-worn shoe.

But beneath the familiar veneer, it’s quite different. Syme encrypts all content, such as status updates, photos and files, so that only people invited to a group can view it. Syme, which hosts the content on its Canada-based servers, says it can’t read it.

“The overarching goal of Syme is to make encryption accessible and easy to use for people who aren’t geeks or aren’t hackers or who aren’t cryptography experts,” said co-founder Jonathan Hershon.

Hershon is part of a bright trio who have self-funded Syme’s development while working out of their homes and studying at McGill University in Montreal. Hershon is studying psychology, Louis-Antoine Mullie is a medical student with a strong technology background, and Christophe Marois, who works on the user interface, studies music.

“We have very low operating costs,” Hershon said.

It may be the just the right time for Syme, which is now open to all after an invite-only beta trial. The technology industry, shaken by former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden’s revelations of large-scale surveillance efforts by the U.S. and U.K., is looking for better ways to shield user data from prying eyes.

Law enforcement agencies around the world are also increasingly filing requests for data to companies such as Facebook and Twitter, who are compelled by law to turn over data, sometimes without informing users.

Appropriate for a privacy-centered service, “Syme” is named after a character in “1984,” George Orwell’s chilling novel describing total state control. In the book, Syme was “vaporized” for being a free-thinking individual.

Syme’s user interface is refreshingly free of clutter. A bell icon, which shows the number of unread notifications, and a cog icon, to adjust settings, are both very similar to Google Plus. It has a “Like” button, just like Facebook.

“We wanted to make something that people could easily recognize and feel at home with,” Hershon said.

Although Syme has elements of Facebook and Google Plus, it is more of a group messaging tool along the lines of WhatsApp: A person creates a group and invites others, who receive the necessary decryption keys to see posted content.

A JavaScript-based browser extension encrypts content with a person’s Web browser before it leaves the computer. Syme is using the Stanford JavaScript Crypto Library in its browser extensions, a vetted open-source cryptography component.

So far, Syme has built an extension for Google Chrome with ones for the Firefox and Safari browsers in the works, as well as mobile applications for iOS and Android, Hershon said.

Content remains scrambled as it traverses the Internet and is unreadable even to Syme, which stores the data on its servers. Co-founder Mullie authored a white paper describing Syme’s use of a two-step, hybrid encryption system that is fast, secure and efficient.

Rather than foiling government-sponsored hackers, Syme is aimed more at providing greater privacy. For example, data destined for Syme could be intercepted if a person’s computer was hacked.

While it can’t read the content, Syme does store metadata, or information describing aspects of communications, which can be useful to interested parties.

People register Syme accounts using an email address, and Syme can see which users have communicated with each other. It also knows when posts were written, when someone connected to Syme and the size of transferred files or photos. Hershon cautions that Syme is undergoing peer review and should not relied on for the transmission of super-sensitive messages.

The profile of a potential Syme user is someone who wants more secure, but not bulletproof, communication without, say, Facebook’s sprawl and exposure.

“People are actively looking for alternatives” to securely share information, Hershon said. “That’s the need that we’re trying to fill.”

Marc Beaupre-Pham, a 25-year-old software developer in Montreal, said his friends are increasingly using lean mobile applications for communicating within small groups.

“We’ve all kind of fallen off of Facebook and almost exclusively use WhatsApp now,” he said.

But Beaupre-Pham said he doesn’t have much confidence in WhatsApp’s security. In early October, a security researcher found a flaw in WhatsApp’s cryptography implementation that could have allowed attackers to decrypt intercepted messages.

Syme is “like a perfect replacement,” said Beaupre-Pham, who tested the service during the beta period with his wife.

It’s unlikely Syme can displace Facebook or Google Plus since the power of those networks is the ability to virtually contact anyone on them, said Thomas Karpiniec, an electrical engineer programmer for a technology consultancy based in Hobart, Tasmania, who has blogged about Syme’s architecture.

“I don’t think it’s able to really compete with traditional social networks, but I think privacy-minded groups of people who have fairly clearly defined boundaries might be able to use it to chat with each other easily,” Karpiniec said in a phone interview.

It may also be attractive to smaller businesses without resources to deploy their own private social networking infrastructure or those that do not want to put their data in Google Apps or Microsoft’s Office 365 or, Karpiniec said.

Hershon said Syme will be free for now, although it is considering creating a premium paid-for service targeted at industries such as health care, law and publishing.

Send news tips and comments to Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk