Posted: 10/04/19

At his recent trip to Dublin, Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said that he could not guarantee his social network would be used to spread misinformation.  This comment came at the same time the tech giant was exposed for having Facebook user data publically accessible on the internet.  'HELIOS, a new Horizon 2020 project led by researchers at Trinity College Dublin's ADAPT Centre, an Irish SFI Research Centre, is revolutionising Social Media by researching innovative ways to increase trust and empower more meaningful relationships. This drive comes at a time at which leading Social Media providers are struggling to fulfill the needs and expectations of their user base for more trustworthiness.

The HELIOS platform will offer several functionalities and address the dynamic nature of human communication and interactions.  The project’s ambition is to become a disruptive force in the European Social Media landscape and lay the foundation for a new social network grounded on transparency and verification.  The platform will integrate blockchain-enabled network architecture to support the ad-hoc creation and management of social graphs.  It will also provide all necessary means and features to ensure the highest level of trust and control is built into the platform, allowing new ways to control the monetisation of users’ data.

Speaking about the project, Dr Kevin Koidl, lead HELIOS research at the ADAPT Centre, said: "In HELIOS, we seek to shift the focus away from content promotion towards empowering relationships. It is about increasing trustworthiness between all players, which essentially increases trustworthiness throughout society. HELIOS is leading this new trust-centric point of view."

To achieve this trust in the system, the researchers are developing a framework which offers fundamental building blocks for a trust-centric social application. Based on this framework, users of the social app can implement different use cases depending on their own specific needs and requirements. “Think of it as you would think of a box of lego: You pick the pieces that you need to build whatever you have in mind,’ Dr Koidl explains.

The €5Million project will run for a period of 3 years and is funded by the European Commission as part of its H2020 Programme.

Technically, the project focuses in particular on a peer-to-peer infrastructure that is decentralised. This avoids a central server that centralises control and ownership of data.  Existing social media networks give users the impression that the individual is in full control of their data however the central organisation has the sole authority over a person’s information.  Users usually agree to long privacy policies without realising the control they are handing these companies the power to use their data in any way they want, including for commercial purposes.  This monopoly of control of data is against personal privacy and has resulted in a lack of trust in social networking platforms.

HELIOS aims to provide a decentralised setting that provides the user with control over privacy, ownership and sharing of content which are usually stripped away when using any of the mainstream platforms.

Speaking about the difference between HELIOS and mainstream social media, Dr Koidl said: “The project will overcome the closed ecosystem stigma and will re-define the term ‘social media platform’ by creating a foundation for cooperation on social networking services with openness, flexibility, versatility, effectiveness and scalability.”

The project has a European consortium, coordinated by the Technical Research Centre Finland VTT with research led by the ADAPT Centre at Trinity College, and composed of 15 partners from several EU-Member States.  Each partner brings a different areas of expertise to address the development of the platform, following novel concepts for social graph creation and management, adding trust and transparency, that will be tested on different use cases along the life of the project.

For more information visit: www.helios-h2020.eu

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