Balaji Athreya, Jesse Hostetler and Sean McGregor
Balaji Athreya, Jesse Hostetler and Sean McGregor created Privly, a system to help protect users' content on social media sites.

Social media is a trend that continues to grow and it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon.

And so is the content that you post on social media sites.

As it currently stands, sites like Facebook and Twitter keep user content forever. The web site owns the content and can redistribute it as they wish.

Sean McGregor, Balaji Athreya and Jesse Hostetler, all graduate students at Oregon State University (OSU), are working to change that. They want to let users have complete control over their content — to be able to decide who can see it, or change or delete it. “The Internet is a permanent medium as it exists today,” said McGregor. “I want people to be able to use sites like Facebook without giving their most personal communications for permanent publishing and ad targeting.”

Privly logo

Their solution is Privly, a system that uses browser plugins to post user content on any website while allowing the user to maintain complete control over their content. Essentially, Privly encrypts the information before the data is sent to a public server. The process is completely transparent; users won’t notice any difference from the way they post content now.

In addition to privacy, the system provides security. “You never know when a disgruntled employee or a hacker might get into the database and exploit the information,” explained McGregor. Because the project uses open source coding, there are many developers working on the project who can spot potential vulnerabilities in the code.

In addition to McGregor, Athreya and Hostetler, other developers and supporters have joined in on the project. And although Privly is already a proven concept that currently works on Facebook, Gmail, Google+, Twitter, Reddit, and more, there is still much more development to be done.

Privly is seeking funding through Kickstarter and will continue only if they meet their fundraising goal of $10,000 by April 17. The funding will help Privly pay for hosting costs and get more developers on board, which is essential because the three grad students already have day jobs working on research at OSU. For them, this is a side project borne of passion.

To support Privly, go to

4/4/12: Read this story about Privly in The Atlantic