It might seem like a contradiction that an executive and celebrity with a huge public persona would be blazing trails for online privacy, but billionaire Mark Cuban is doing just that. Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a star of CNBC's Shark Tank, takes privacy so seriously that he has multiple business interests devoted to helping individuals and companies send and receive messages and post on social media more securely and more privately.
In a recent blog, I mentioned Cuban's mobile app Cyber Dust, which enables users to send text messages that disappear in less than two minutes, turning to cyber "dust." And I just learned that he also invested in Xpire, an app that helps consumers manage and minimize their digital footprints. After Huffington Post published my blog, I reached out to Cuban and asked if he would answer some additional questions about Cyber Dust and online privacy. He graciously agreed, so following are five questions with Cuban about online privacy.
John P. David (JPD): Cyber Dust launched earlier this year, first on iPhone and later on Android. How's business? Are you hitting your goals? Is your customer base what you expected?
Mark Cuban (MC): We are growing far faster than I expected, but I have no idea what our demographics are. We don't ask our users about themselves, and we keep no metadata. We take privacy seriously.
JPD: As any Shark Tank viewer knows, you don't invest in average businesses. Why do you feel this is a great business?
MC: This is a great business because being able to minimize our digital footprint is critical when a single out-of-context social media post can ruin a career or even be far worse.
JPD: Why do you believe customers will come to Cyber Dust? Are we craving privacy? Are we afraid we might make an online mistake that will haunt us later? Are we just becoming more paranoid?
MC: There is zero upside to letting your digital footprint expand. It's not so much that we crave privacy, but that we all know or have read about someone who has been burned on social media. We have taught our kids not to post pictures publicly that could impact their future, but we have not yet taught ourselves that texts, messages and social media posts could be used just as maliciously or with as much downside as pictures.
As far as Cyber Dust as a product, we do far more than just protect your messages. We see it used as a productivity tool: By pushing messages with Cyber Dust, you eliminate much of the procrastination of email. When you open a Cyber Dust message, you have to respond while the message is fresh in your mind. No more email getting bottled up in your inbox.
Our blast feature is being used by companies, celebrities and experts as a private alternative to Twitter. I can send a company-wide update, distribute motivational quotes or ask questions to a group, and any follow-up is absolutely private. And unlike Twitter, there are no trolls.
JPD: You have been quoted suggesting that your own legal cases motivated you to create the app, saying that in one case, Securities and Exchange Commission lawyers took every digital message you gave them and applied whatever context that they wanted to apply. What do you think of the accusation by lawyers who say you have devised Cyber Dust as a way to avoid legal discovery?
MC: They are correct. It is intentional. If we are alone and talk face-to-face, we avoid discovery. Cyber Dust is the digital equivalent to a face-to-face conversation.
JPD: What do you think the future holds for online privacy? Will texting with services like Cyber Dust and your competitors become the norm? Will we look for ways to use tech less?
MC: I'm not sure, but I think we will be very careful about who can see what we send or post. The bottom line is this: When you hit send on a text or tweet, you lose ownership of it--but you don't lose responsibility. Every text you have sent may have been saved and could be out there waiting to be used in ways you didn't imagine. Even the most simple of posts can be used out of context, often unintentionally, and change your future.
Soon, more information from Mark Cuban will only be available where he wants it available -- but in the meantime, I can recommend connecting with him via his Cyber Dust ID, "blogmaverick," and through his blog at blogmaverick.com.
What do you think of Cuban's take on online privacy? Let me know. And if you want to keep it just between us, connect with me on Cyber Dust at "johnpdavid." Remember that whether you praise or bash, it will be "dust" in a matter of seconds.