myApollo is more than just another social network. It would have to be in order to be taken seriously in 2014. And, in some ways, its timing couldn’t be more perfect.
A project of Burlington’s Arroware Industries, myApollo is a social network with a twist. It’s based on a peer-to-peer model where the individual users host pieces of encrypted content (text, images, etc.) and only those who are approved can access them in their newsfeed.
(I’ll come back to why you should exchange your cat and baby photos via P2P in just a minute.)
myApollo had a slightly rocky road to its release. The service missed an anticipated September 2013 launch date, but a beta version running on Android went live in late December. Then just last month, a full Android app and iOS app were launched, while the number of users has since grown well into the thousands. A browser version is coming soon.
Facebook and Google still clearly have greater network size, but they work on a different principle that’s making many people uneasy. They host user data on servers in enormous data centers that act as central access points where information can be, for instance, accessed through government requests or still on a server after a user deletes it. This has many privacy advocates and the general public riled up, especially in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations around the jarring extent of government data collection.
Instead of letting corporations give over the keys to user data, myApollo users control the keys that encrypt the data, meaning that they know exactly who is allowed to see their messages. This allows users to connect “in a way that’s more secure and private for the end-user,” according to Arroware president and CEO Harvey Medcalf.
“We feel [P2P] is a very powerful technology,” he says. “Now is the time for people to to break out of the ideology that we’re stuck in this current marketplace. The usual suspects time and time again have shown they can’t be trusted hanging onto what matters very much to us.”
While you might not be sure the posts deleted from Facebook are really gone, myApollo users can simply revoke permissions to this data while keeping the original locally, and it happens almost immediately.
“Say a user pulls a picture off,” says Medcalf. “As soon as that user gets a data connection, their system immediately realizes their system is no longer privy to that information, so that immediately purges it.”
A service that gives users control over their digital identity might not occur to anyone. When it spread across college and university campuses, Facebook’s early users didn’t have much to compare it to.
At McMaster, which Medcalf left after two years, he said his experience with over-sharing was always an issue that concerned him, given how everyone seemed to be posting without thinking of the consequences. “The thing is that you don’t have the ability to go back and erase,” he says.
Dealing with identity and personal information is no small matter for social networks. Facebook has certainly struggled with ethical decisions, having faced criticism for making people to use their real names which endangers the lives of activists in hostile countries and other people whose identities may be sensitive.
Medcalf insists that his approach is more community-driven where new features and policies will be open to debate. “We’re not a large corporation with vested interests and hidden agendas – it’s very much built by users…but we’re going to do it in a cooperative manner,” he says.
The P2P technology behind myApollo is also a major part of myApollo’s message. While P2P is mostly associated with file sharing applications like Bittorrent, there are actually many applications ranging from accelerating the delivery of site content, to streaming media, to providing secure internet voice calls.
The company wants to show people the capabilities of P2P, and how it can provide secure and reliable communication to the services we use daily.
“myApollo shows people how they can experience the same sort of experience they’ve taken part in on sites like Facbook or Twitter, yet they’re providing it all from their own devices,” Medcalf says.
“The future of our world is really going to be run off peer-to-peer.”