The inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee is terrified by the way the internet has developed from a utopia where everyone has access to unlimited data, to a dystopia where individuals are sucked up by a few data slurping molochs that monetise whatever you do, wherever you are.

By Sir Tim Berners-Lee
I’ve always believed the web is for everyone. That’s why I and others fight fiercely to protect it. The changes we’ve managed to bring have created a better and more connected world. But for all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.
Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible – and necessary.

Rather then standing by the sideline to watch his brainchild going down the tubes, he is actively trying to repair and change the way web applications work in a project called SOLID (SOcial LInked Data). The main feature will be that users are the true owner of the data they generate when interacting with the internet, plus a substantially improved privacy. The open source project is hosted by MIT and a string of universities, but it attracts hundreds of developers from all over the world.

Imagine a sort of personal data vault that contains all your social data, browser history, GPS tracker data, fitness app data, photo albums etc etc. You decide where the vault is stored and you are free to move it anytime. The content is decoupled from web applications and you get to decide which part of your data you will gave access to , to whom and to what extend this can be used. No need to fill in personal data again and again, just give a one-time permission to get it from your vault. It will also prevent vendor lock-in situations as you can migrate your data easily when you switch apps.

This in contrast to a few big players owning all the data and often using it in ways that only helps their bottom line, leaving the user clueless how their content and personalised data is sold over and over again. Of course, the major players will oppose and obstruct the Solid technology as it is threatening their business model, but there is growing awareness in the general public that something is terribly wrong with Facebook and similar monopolies. It will not be long before some really big stink will make people turn away, close their accounts and realise what privacy is actually worth. Let’s hope Solid has passed some big technical hurdles by that time and is ready for mass adoption; i.e. the user experience should be just as simple and pleasant to use as todays most favourite apps in order to provide an alternative. By that time, website apps that are prepared for Solid will see fast growing user bases.

It’s not (yet?) mentioned on the Solid website, but a distributed storage of the vault would add to the security, just as all permissions you hand out should be made immutable on a blockchain. There are a few companies active in this realm of private data and no doubt they will cater to the new Solid protocols.

Don’t expect completion in a year, this is a long term project. Trying to fix 30 years internet development is not done overnight. But already you can register a Solid Pod (Personal Online Data Store) or run a Solid Node Server on Linux (nerds only at this stage) to get a feeling of the direction the project is taking. Or at least register for the Solid mailing list to keep you posted.

A new startup Inrupt is building a commercial ecosystem based on Solid technology, allowing App developers to ride this new wave of innovation. I find it a fascinating development as the world really needs to return to an internet governed by open, community-controlled services. Links below will give you more details when you are interested.

LINKS

https://solid.mit.edu/

https://www.inrupt.com/

https://solid.inrupt.com/

https://solid.inrupt.com/how-it-works

https://www.inrupt.com/blog/one-small-step-for-the-web


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Responses

  1. James Diegel

    As a child growing up in small town North America, our doors were almost always unlocked. Often times we would come home and family or friends had a pot of coffee on waiting for my parents. It took a long time but now even in that neighborhood, now the doors are always locked. When I first got on social media a few years back I went in with the same trust I had as a child in our community. Unfortunately now, just as in my hometown, I can no longer go about my day leaving my valuables unchained. It may take a long time to fix, and it has been a while coming, but I think that projects like this are necessary to ensure that we remain in control of our privacy and what we choose to reveal to the world. That said, nice overview Peter, much appreciated 🙂

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  2. CryptosDecrypted

    Tim Berners-Lee is clearly not one to rest on his laurels. As you note, this is a very longterm project but one worth being aware of and supporting. Signed up for email updates and followed on Twitter and LinkedIn. As usual, a very useful post-Peter. Thanks!

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