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As Facebook continues to dominate the social media sphere, new competitors emerge to challenge the weaknesses apparent in its design.  One of the most recent of this breed is the social networking site Pidder. Drawing on fears of data-mining and even “social media background checks”, Pidder focuses on privacy protection to a user-unfriendly extreme.

After using Pidder we concluded that while it may trump other social networks in privacy features, it is no serious threat to them.  The great allure of sites like Facebook is that when you post pictures, statuses, comments etc. all of your friends can see them.  The purpose of social networking is to make yourself accessible to a larger social circle than could be possible just through face-to-face communication. Unfortunately, the transition of users to a platform that is independent from already popular sites (Google, Yahoo) faces huge challenges to building a critical mass.

As an experiment, we created accounts on Pidder for some hands-on testing. For starters, creating and setting up an account required numerous video tutorials and levels of identification, including different account levels (some at a cost), identities, personas, wallets, and ID cards. The process is confusing and annoyingly time-consuming.

At the next stage of use–to become friends with someone on the site–you need to send them (over a different medium) a unique ID code that changes each time you add a new friend, as well as create a pass-code for your account that only they can use. This takes out the possibility of “friend requesting” that boy/girl at school you just met after talking for a few minutes without exchanging email addresses and deep secrets. But even once you have “made friends” on the site, there’s not much else to do. Pidder makes it complicated to share photos, or even message one another. There seems to be a new lock and key for every feature on the site.

Despite these pitfalls, Pidder offers desirable privacy settings not found on mainstream social networks.  While sites like Facebook store your data even upon deletion, on Pidder, all data is encrypted in your browser before it uploads to Pidder; this means that only the creator and person with the pass code for that data can access it.  With different wallets, ID cards, and pseudonyms, Pidder also focuses on different levels of privacy for different groups within your social network.

With all these layers of privacy it’s hard to call Pidder a truly social network.  While it may satisfy the needs of some, it’s privacy system makes communicating impractical. Pidder may be a great place to talk in “private” but ultimately, playing with privacy settings on other sites may be more realistic. Pidder’s presence, however, sheds light on the apparent duality between maintaining privacy and connecting with others online.

While current users seem to have to choose between two extremes, there remains room for a site that strikes a better balance.