The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Starkville startup Fractal Networks aims to protect data privacy

Fractal Networks is working on the Fractal Data Safe—a tool used to safeguard customer data.

Fractal Networks is a technology company based out of Starkville that aims to equip the public with the tools and software they need to protect and control their data. 

Mo Balaa, the CEO of Fractal Networks, said the idea for the company came during his last year of college at Mississippi State University in 2009. He said that he became interested in making a company that transcended standard technology company goals by rejecting the trend of exploiting users for the value of their data. 

“I’d say first and foremost, we focus on user privacy,” Balaa said. “We don’t collect personal data about users in an effort to sort of monetize data. Our mission is the opposite, actually, which is to give users the ability to keep their own data private and secure and then give them the ability to monetize that data and get the value of their data instead of just handing it over in exchange for a free service.”

Balaa launched Fractal Networks in February 2021 and the company is now based at The Hub in downtown Starkville. The startup has three full-time employees and five interns for different business operations. 

Fractal Networks has been working on software that can store customers’ data and lock it away from the data sharing of conglomerates. This device is tentatively called the Fractal Data Safe. This portable tool is built with a screen and software capabilities and is projected to be available to the public by the end of the year. The Fractal Data Safe stores a large amount of data while plugged in and stored at the user’s home. The idea behind the tool is for users to be able to store their important information, such as passwords, photos and financial information. It can run specific Fractal Networks applications and apps through its software designed to protect user data.

“Because our mission is to empower the user through the applications on the platform, to empower you, we’re never going to put applications on our app store that exploit your data, like most applications do today,” Balaa said. 

Another feature of the Fractal Data Safe is that the device will turn off when it is not being used, effectively making the users’ data offline. When users need to access their data, they only have to use their phone to turn the software back on from a distance. This feature protects data from potential hackers and conserves electricity. Users can also share their data access with their friends or family.

“Fractal Networks is essentially an operating system for building your own private cloud or your own sort of home server operating system,” Balaa said. 

Justin Russell has been the head software engineer since 2021. He explained how having this connection would help users not depend on third-party applications.

“Your data is not in the hands of other people. It’s in the hands of you and the select people that you bring into your personal cloud. One of the benefits of the architecture we have is a full end-to-end encryption support, which means your data is secure only with people that actually are in the group,” Russell said. 

Joshua Britt, a senior information tech services major at MSU and former editor-in-chief of The Reflector, joined the company as the director of business operations in March. He said that he was immediately interested in the core foundations and goals of the company.

“Fractal Networks differs from typical technology companies because this is a public benefit corporation, which means that the mission of the business has to be about promoting and generating social good,” Britt said. “What that means with Fractal Networks is not only giving back to the users of our products across the country, but giving back to the city that we’re in, the place that we’re in, and across the board, being good, providing good services and making things better than we found them.”

Russell commented that Fractal Networks is dedicated to creating a user-friendly space for customers to manage their data. 

“It’s our ethos of empowering the average user or even developer. Our goals are to get people off of the cloud and into their own private cloud that they’re running,” Russell said. “That’s really our goal is to make it a little bit easier for people to be a bit more independent.” 

Balaa said that big technology companies usually view the user as the product, but that said that Fractal Networks functions much differently. 

“We’re unconventional in the sense that we want to give people the tools to get the true value of their data and to allow people to come together and create groups where they can anonymize their data and then offer it up to these data exchanges of the future, which don’t really exist yet,” Balaa said. 

Balaa also said that Fractal Networks is to advance the available knowledge of the digital world. Fractal Networks is committed to helping the public understand technology more and how they can take control of their digital footprint. 

“Our mission as a benefit corporation is fundamentally educational. We’re here to educate people and give them the tools they need to thrive in the future through technology, not in spite of it,” Balaa said. 

Britt said Fractal Networks is dedicated to answering the questions people have on where their data is being sent, which people can retrieve that data, how that data is being utilized and how it will affect the customers’ lives and network of businesses and contacts. He also said that Fractal Networks is working to allow people to own and manage their data.  

“There’s not a lot of opportunity like this,” Britt said. “Even beyond Starkville, this is something that’s really unique. I mean, on a global scale, this is pretty unique, and it’s something that I knew I would want to get involved in. Working with the close-knit team of people to create and really materialize something is something that’s really interesting to me and what I find myself doing a lot. Pretty much as soon as I learned what Fractal Networks was doing, I knew that I wanted to help.” 

Balaa said that Fractal Networks aims to inform the public about their ability to take control of their data. Its goal is to give IT capabilities back to people outside of big conglomerate companies. He said he realized this after noticing how these big conglomerates that control the cloud were requiring more and more institutions and people to rely on third parties for their data needs. 

“That was one of the big motivations for finally going out on my own and starting a company that wants to keep the physical infrastructure of the internet in the hands of more people instead of less people,” Balaa said. 

Balaa, a native of Starkville, said that Fractal Networks is focused on local empowerment in the community. He shared information on the local project they are working on. The project, named, is set to promote both Starkville and its local businesses while also being owned by the community and sourced through the Fractal Networks technology that is being developed.

Balaa said that Fractal Networks focuses more on helping and supporting small businesses than big corporations. 

Balaa said that he has had a newfound appreciation for Starkville since childhood. He recounted his gratitude for returning to Starkville, growing closer, and giving back to the community and university that influenced his upbringing. 

“We want to have a long-term sustainable positive impact on the digital landscape,” Balaa said, “and I think Starkville is a perfect place for something like that to happen.”

About the Contributor
Emma Hardy
Emma Hardy, Staff Writer
Emma Hardy is a senior communication major. Emma is currently a staff writer for The Reflector.
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