Privacy, Availability and Economics in the Polaris Mobile Social Network

Christo Wilson
Troy Steinbauer
Gang Wang
Alessandra Sala
Haitao Zheng
Ben Y. Zhao

ACM Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications (HotMobile 2011)

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Paper Abstract

While highly successful, today's online social networks (OSNs) have made a conscious decision to sacrifice privacy for availability and centralized control. Unfortunately, tradeoffs in this "walled garden" architecture naturally pit the economic interests of OSN providers against the privacy goals of OSN users, a battle that users cannot win. While some alternative OSN designs preserve user control over data, they do so by de-prioritizing issues of economic incentives and sustainability. In contrast, we believe any practical alternative to today's centralized architecture must consider incentives for providers as a key goal. In this paper, we propose a distributed OSN architecture that significantly improves user privacy while preserving economic incentives for OSN providers. We do so by using a standardized API to create a competitive provider marketplace for different components of the OSN, thus allowing users to perform their own tradeoffs between cost, performance, and privacy. We describe Polaris, a system where users leverage smartphones as a highly available identity provider and access control manager, and use application prototypes to show how it allows data monetization while limiting the visibility of any single party to users' private data.