As social media giants such as Facebook battle misinformation and data security concerns, some users are opting for smaller, more discreet platforms that prioritize “private” messaging.
Bethany and John Wilson live in Alabama with their two children, but struggle to stay in touch via traditional social media platforms with their family spread across the United States.
“For me, social media was a very loud thing and I lost the things I cared about in the middle of that noise,” said John, a software designer.
Facebook continues to dominate as the most popular social media platform, but amid recent privacy issues, including a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, users are growing increasingly wary. According to a recent survey by NBC and the Wall Street Journal, over 60% of users don’t trust Facebook with their data and over 80% think social media is a waste of time.
“Facebook has never done better as a business, and better as a stock, because it sells a lot of advertising,” said Kara Swisher, managing editor at Recode. “But it’s got all these reputational issues about what it’s doing with your data. People are worried that this company has huge troves of data and they’re not managing it properly.”
Today, a new generation of private social media apps seeks to capitalize on this concern and offer users an alternative to sites like Facebook, both in terms of size and privacy.
“We will never share your data or sell it to third parties,” said Sachin Monga, co-founder and CEO of Cocoon, one of the new apps the Wilsons use. Cocoon is a privacy messaging platform that the company describes as “not a social network“, but a private space for the “group you consider as close as family”.
Sachin Monga and Alex Cornell, both former Facebook employees, started Cocoon together after noticing that smaller, tighter connections were getting lost in the massive size of popular platforms.
“Networks are good for so many things, but over time they become a little less good at managing our most intimate relationships.”
“What we were missing was a real space just for family,” Cornell said. “Networks are good for so many things, but over time they become a little less good at managing our most intimate relationships. I think the ‘Aha!’ moment for us was that this space, this cocoon that we thought to be able to exist.
While Snap, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp give users access to privacy features, only half of Facebook users say they’ve adjusted their privacy settings, according to a 2018 Pew Research study. Smaller, private ones such as Live360, Kohort and Cluster have grown in popularity, but their size dwarfs Facebook’s nearly 2.5 billion users.
“I think it’s very difficult for social media companies to break through and get the kind of audience that’s needed to fight something like Facebook,” Swisher said. “It’s very difficult to break into the market and get people to use it.”
For now, Cocoon is free, but the co-founders say they will soon switch to a subscription model instead of selling user data. Monga and Cromwell are banking on the privacy and traffic differences between Cocoon and other apps as key selling points to attract users who will be willing to pay for the service.
“The great thing about Cocoon is that it’s not mixed in with a lot of other noises,” Wilson said. “You get the information you’re interested in, instead of anything that might irritate you or you might find funny or for some other reason just helps you procrastinate. It just helps you get to the point quickly.
Michael Capetta and Stephanie Ruehle contributed.