Musubi Tackles Privacy

Monica Lam, Director of the MobiSocial Lab, responds to our series on protecting privacy, and introduces 'Musubi' a social networking platform that doesn't collect your data.

Image: CC-BY-NC-ND Brian

In response to Dr Paul Bernal's piece on The Right to be Forgotten, we are featuring a series of digital businesses who have created tools which they believe solve issues related to online privacy.

Paul Bernal, in his article "Right to be Forgotten", wrote: "For individual autonomy - and individual rights - there needs to be something to rein in the data gathering, and cut down the amount of data held."  He wondered if the ``Right to be Forgotten'' can be made to work at all.  We, the MobiSocial Computing Laboratory at Stanford, think so.  In fact, we believe in the ``Right to Socialize Digitally Without Intermediation'', and we have built a social network that gives users that right.  The network is called Musubi, short for Mobile, Social, and UBIquitous.  (It means a rice ball in Japanese).  By not collecting any data at all, Musubi simply has nothing to forget!  It therefore trivially supports the ``Right to be Forgotten''.

 How does Musubi work?

 Musubi relies heavily on cryptography--messages are only decrypted on the end users' devices so only the communicating parties can see the data.  Normally, cryptography-based systems are hard to use.  Musubi hides the complexity of cryptography from users so even kids can use it.  More importantly, it is designed to be fun to use so everybody, including kids would use it.

 Using Musubi, groups of friends can chat with each other, share status and pictures like any other group chat apps.  It has some distinctive features, such as letting people who meet for the first time to form a group with a click of a button.  In addition, Musubi is an application platform with a growing list of social apps, from a Scrabble-like word game to shared to-do lists. 

 Pictures shared on Musubi are available in a photo folder on the phone, and can be synched or backed up to a home computer or a cloud service of the user's choice.   Regardless of where the data are backed up, we can uniformly just click a picture in the feed to view it.  We no longer have to sign up to the same proprietary network to share, nor do we have to give away rights to our information to the network provider.  This means (1) users have control over the ownership of their data, and (2) companies can compete openly to provide users with the best data services.  

 An Open Mobile Social App Infrastructure.

 Musubi strives to provide the best, open, mobile, social application infrastructure.  Musubi helps make apps viral--users can share apps with friends easily and results from apps can be displayed on Musubi friends' feeds to help drive adoption.  Then Musubi handles the complexity in managing friends' contacts, communication, and notifications; in the meantime, its ``identity firewall'' protects friends' information from the apps.  By not peeking at users' data, Musubi is suitable for all applications; from business applications to educational, health, and finance apps.  Note that the apps can choose individually to monetize users' data, with the consent of the users.  By foregoing the ability to monetize users' data ourselves, Musubi aims to win the support of consumers and app developers to achieve ubiquity. 


The proprietary social app platforms today impose a significant toll on both users and app developers: users must give up their data and developers have to give up a significant portion of their revenues.  Musubi is an open non-proprietary, device-independent, disintermediated platform for building social apps easily.  Just like how http and the web browser ushered in the open world wide web, we hope platforms like ours will bring about an explosion of secure, social apps in all categories, from business to education, shopping, banking, and health.

Your help is needed

Please help us develop this open platform by giving us feedback on the beta version of our software on the Google Android PlayStore (  You can find more information and sign up for a beta of our forthcoming iPhone app at 


Monica Lam

Professor in Computer Science

Director of the MobiSocial Computing Laboratory

Stanford University



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By Monica Lam on Jul 06, 2012

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