DRespiratory protectionists are a bit skeptical about Google, Facebook and Co. because of their job. It is not surprising that the data protection activists are warned of the dangers to which everyone who uses the services of large corporations expose themselves at the autumn conference. But this year the participants also discussed alternatives more broadly. For example, the state commissioner for data protection and freedom of information in Baden-Württemberg swapped his Twitter account for a Mastodon instance some time ago. And the privacy advocates strongly advise authorities not only to make their information known via Google and Facebook, but also on platforms of the so-called “Fediverse”. The made-up word is made up of the terms federation and universe.
The concept for such an alternative is already old: In 2008, the first test balloon was launched with the social network Identi.ca and the software “GNU social”. But it wasn’t until ten years later that the project really took off. In 2018, the microblogging service Mastodon became part of the Fediverse as a Twitter alternative. There are now comparable offers as alternatives to YouTube and Instagram. So-called peertube platforms offer functions similar to YouTube, for example. Only here no user data is collected and condensed into profiles. This also applies to Pixelfed, the Fediversum service, which is something of a replacement for Instagram.
The underlying concept for the Fediversum is that users can create a user account for a service on any platform or instance and then exchange information with users on other instances without having to set up their own account again.
No owner and no business model
The “federated content” of the connected platforms is therefore open to everyone and is distributed to all connected entities. Anyone who opens a user account on a specific peertube instance can not only access the videos hosted there, but also all videos from all instances connected via the Activity Pub communication protocol. The Fediverse has no owners and no business model, it is ad-free and does not have a tracker, and the user is not included in an ecosystem.
These are solid pluses. But of course there are fewer videos on Peertube and fewer pictures on Pixelfed than on Youtube and Instagram. The number of users is still modest. At most, a small fraction of the range achieved by the market leaders is achieved. This is also due to the fact that the Fediversum activists do little to advertise their privacy-friendly offers.
However, the range is currently improving step by step. More and more university professors have included peertube in their teaching during the pandemic. You post video lectures and shorter keynote speeches there. At some universities, the peertube was also used as an “interim storage facility” for video presentations. This enabled acute technical and data protection problems in teaching to be solved, especially in the summer semester 2020 and this winter semester. Because more and more lecturers no longer want to post their video lectures and moving image documents for the online seminar on YouTube because they don’t want to force their participants to deliver personal data to the internet company free of charge.
The data protection-friendly YouTube alternative has at least made itself known to lecturers and students. The Fediversum proponents have also hoped for a lot from the discussion about the contributions of the public service broadcasters. However, this hope seems to be disappointed. Again and again there was criticism that ARD and ZDF directly help the American Internet companies Google and Facebook because they make their content available on their platforms.
The attractive contributions from the public broadcasters ensure an audience and reach there. That is why there was repeated debate as to whether the budget contributions for public broadcasting should or should also be used for this purpose. “Pixelfed and Peertube are actually the natural partners of public broadcasters,” was the message again and again at the Privacy Week organized by the Chaos Computer Club Vienna at the end of October. And in this scene the matter is clear: ARD and ZDF could operate their own instances in the Fediversum and bring forward the peertube and pixel-fed movement, in which many sympathize with public service broadcasting. But so far all advertising has not helped. With the decision-makers in the broadcasting houses, this alternative is still far below the radar.