Billionaire plans to build a block-chain Facebook alternative 

The decentralized alternative, called Project Liberty, may free our personal data from social media giants

Billionaire entrepreneur Frank McCourt is funding a new blockchain-based technology to free our social data from Big Tech.

The effort, which he has dubbed Project Liberty, focuses on creating a blockchain-based database of individuals’ social connections, which users can port from one platform to another. Doing so could free people from being locked in to the current dominant social media apps — like Facebook. 

The problem: McCourt’s motivation for Project Liberty comes from the idea that a few large corporations — notably Facebook — have accumulated a massive influence over people and their data in the previous decade, reports Bloomberg. 

“The thought [behind Project Liberty] is these large data structures created by the public should be owned by no one; they should be public.”

Frank McCourt

Most social media users are indeed concerned about data privacy. A study by the Pew Trust found that 80% of social media users are worried about businesses accessing their social media posts and using the information. 

But, while there are many social media apps, there are only a handful of social media giants — and the size of the network is the main benefit of social networking. If we aren’t using the likes of Facebook or Instagram, we’re missing out. So, despite misgivings, we find it hard to switch. McCourt says it is time for a change. 

“If you look at the way the internet developed with Web 2.0, you’ve got these massive data structures that are built by all of us behind proprietary enclosures: the global search index at Google, the global product index at Amazon, the global social graph at Facebook,” McCourt told Fast Company. “The thought [behind Project Liberty] is these large data structures created by the public should be owned by no one; they should be public.”

The proposal: Social media platforms get more and more value by stocking up on users’ data. But with Project Liberty McCourt proposes a different way. Instead of user’s data being the product sold to advertisers and businesses, the product of value is the social media app itself. With Project Liberty, users can port their data in if they like the app, but easily block access and switch to a different app at any time. 

McCourt wants to build the entire thing on blockchain — a giant transaction record, maintained across a vast network of computers. Instead of users’ data being controlled by one big tech company, it is decentralized.  

Twitter is currently the only social network that is also working toward a decentralized or distributed model, with a working group called Bluesky exploring this. 

McCourt also plans to round out his Project Liberty with an ethical framework to moderate content, as well as a strategy for getting people to move to a more civic-minded or open set of applications, reports Fast Company. 

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