Compsci 82, Fall 2009, Landon Cox

A Duke Chronicle Article includes this:
Cox said his team is concerned that users' personal information is all controlled by a single centralized entity, making it vulnerable to hackers. The other danger, Cox explained, lies in the fact that social networking Web sites own rights to users' information and can use that data as they see fit.

“Is there a way to get the same service and protect ourselves a little more?” Cox asked.

Cox and his collaborators aim to find a more decentralized setup. In this alternative, instead of personal information being concentrated in a single administrative domain, each user would upload his or her information into a Virtual Individual Server. This VIS would be one component of a peer-to-peer network.

“It’s a much safer model if you’re in control,” he said.

You can see other blurbs about this grant from the US News site which is essentially an NSF press-release. You can see it called out as essentially wasteful by

Landon Cox is Duke class of 1999 and currently an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Duke. On his list of publications his first paper listed is co-authored by Owen Astrachan and two other Duke undergraduates. In 1998 he was an undergraduate TA (UTA) for Compsci 108 along with another visitor to Compsci 82: Ge Wang. Luis von Ahn, yet another visitor to Compsci 82, was in the class for which they served as UTAs as was current Duke Professor Rebecca Willet.

A Duke News release about his recent NSF grant includes this:

"What the grant will do is fund research into alternatives for providing social networking services that don't concentrate all this information in a single place," he said. Cox's notion is instead to create what network architects would call a "peer-to-peer" system architecture in which information is spread out. Being distributed, individual data is thus harder to steal or otherwise exploit.

"The basic idea is that users would control and store their own information and then share it directly with their friends instead of it being mediated through a site like Facebook. And there are some interesting challenges that go along with decomposing something like Facebook into a peer-to-peer system.