A lock icon, signifying an encrypted Internet connection, is seen on an Internet Explorer browser.
A lock icon, signifying an encrypted Internet connection - but how secure are you really online?REUTERS/Mal Langsdon

Business and public sentiment towards Facebook and Google's use of private, sensitive data is growing increasingly negative as they develop more products to harness and sell personal information for a profit.

In response to this concern, emerging technology startups are building user-friendly products with enhanced privacy features in areas such as social media, analytics, and online search.

Here are six startups leading the backlash against the social media and search giants:

Ello - the anti-Facebook social network with no ads

The ad-free Ello, known as the anti-Facebook social network, is the latest startup to go viral, capitalising on public concern about how personal data is being used. When it went viral earlier this month, it was registering over 30,000 sign-up requests per hour.

Ello's dizzying rise and privacy-friendly appeal recently helped it secure $5.5m in funding. It also pledged that it will never show ads to users, meaning it won't be selling private user data to advertisers.

Diaspora - the decentralised alternative to Facebook

The internet as we know it has a very centralised structure, meaning that the majority of data flows through a small number of companies, such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Google, for example, accounts for around 40% of all internet traffic.

With so much data in the hands of just a few major players, the risk of leaks, malicious hacks and intrusive pressure from spy agencies is at an all-time high and users are understandably concerned about how private their data will remain.

Campaigning for a decentralised structure for the web and responding to privacy concerns is Diaspora, the decentralised alternative to Facebook. Diaspora in unique in that it is a non-profit user-owned and developed social network built on the free Diaspora software. The founders of the project officially handed it over to the community in August 2012, leaving development in the hands of its users.

As a social network, data is not contained in company-owned centralised servers, but rather user-created nodes (called "pods") distributed across the world - these can be created by any institution or individual that wishes to form part of the Diaspora network. Users can choose which node they wish to register with, and retrieve and erase their data when desired.

DuckDuckGo - privacy-friendly alternative to Google search

It's often a David versus Goliath scenario when it comes to privacy technology, with startups going head to head with either Facebook or Google.

This is the case with DuckDuckGo, the search engine alternative to Google which doesn't collect IP addresses or track searches. Having been around since 2008, it gained massively in popularity in 2013 following the revelations about NSA mass surveillance.

Wickr - encrypted messaging app that rivals Facebook-owned Whatsapp

Wickr is a surveillance-proof messaging app which promises its users 'military-grade' encryption. Users concerned about privacy and reluctant to use Facebook Messenger or the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, use the Wickr app to send more than one million self-destructing, encrypted messages every day. The company recently raised $30m in funding.

Piwik PRO - privacy-friendly, open source alternative to Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a popular, convenient tool for many individuals, companies and governments who want to analyse traffic on their website. While popular, it's not the only analytics tool available.

Piwik is an open source web analytics platform and consultancy which puts users in control of their data and never shares data with other servers.

Piwik PRO, the business arm of Piwik.org, helps customers protect their data via opt-out mechanisms for analytics tracking, a positive approach to deleting old visitor logs, anonymised IP addresses, respecting DoNotTrack requests and shorter expiration dates for tracking cookies. Piwik PRO also helps customers set up and maintain Piwik on-premise installations, ensuring data remains protected on customers' servers.

SpiderOak - online file sharing alternative to Google Drive

Google Drive is a popular cloud-based tool used by many businesses to share and collaborate on documents. However, concerns about the privacy risks associated with using Google Drive are growing and companies such as SpiderOak are tapping into appetite for applications with beefed-up privacy features.

SpiderOak has a 'Zero-Knowledge' approach, meaning that the server never knows the plain text contents of the data it is storing. This means that data is never at risk of being compromised or abused by either internal threats or external hackers.


Maciej Zawadziński is co-founder of Piwik PRO.