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  1. For decades, I have been talking about the importance of individual privacy. For almost as long, I have been using the metaphor of digital feudalism to describe how large companies have become central control points for our data. And for maybe half a decade, I have been talking about the world-sized robot that is the Internet of Things, and how digital security is now a matter of public safety. And most recently, I have been writing and speaking about how technologists need to get involved with public policy. All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I have joined a company called Inrupt that is working to bring Tim Berners-Lee's distributed data ownership model that is Solid into the mainstream. (I think of Inrupt basically as the Red Hat of Solid.) I joined the Inrupt team last summer as its Chief of Security Architecture, and have been in stealth mode until now. The idea behind Solid is both simple and extraordinarily powerful. Your data lives in a pod that is controlled by you. Data generated by your things -- your computer, your phone, your IoT whatever -- is written to your pod. You authorize granular access to that pod to whoever you want for whatever reason you want. Your data is no longer in a bazillion places on the Internet, controlled by you-have-no-idea-who. It's yours. If you want your insurance company to have access to your fitness data, you grant it through your pod. If you want your friends to have access to your vacation photos, you grant it through your pod. If you want your thermostat to share data with your air conditioner, you give both of them access through your pod. The ideal would be for this to be completely distributed. Everyone's pod would be on a computer they own, running on their network. But that's not how it's likely to be in real life. Just as you can theoretically run your own email server but in reality you outsource it to Google or whoever, you are likely to outsource your pod to those same sets of companies. But maybe pods will come standard issue in home routers. Even if you do hand your pod over to some company, it'll be like letting them host your domain name or manage your cell phone number. If you don't like what they're doing, you can always move your pod -- just like you can take your cell phone number and move to a different carrier. This will give users a lot more power. I believe this will fundamentally alter the balance of power in a world where everything is a computer, and everything is producing data about you. Either IoT companies are going to enter into individual data sharing agreements, or they'll all use the same language and protocols. Solid has a very good chance of being that protocol. And security is critical to making all of this work. Just trying to grasp what sort of granular permissions are required, and how the authentication flows might work, is mind-altering. We're stretching pretty much every Internet security protocol to its limits and beyond just setting this up. Building a secure technical infrastructure is largely about policy, but there's also a wave of technology that can shift things in one direction or the other. Solid is one of those technologies. It moves the Internet away from overly-centralized power of big corporations and governments and towards more rational distributions of power; greater liberty, better privacy, and more freedom for everyone. I've worked with Inrupt's CEO, John Bruce, at both of my previous companies: Counterpane and Resilient. It's a little weird working for a start-up that is not a security company. (While security is essential to making Solid work, the technology is fundamentally about the functionality.) It's also a little surreal working on a project conceived and spearheaded by Tim Berners-Lee. But at this point, I feel that I should only work on things that matter to society. So here I am. Whatever happens next, it's going to be a really fun ride. EDITED TO ADD (2/23): News article. HackerNews thread. More Articles on this https://www.siliconrepublic.com/enterprise/tim-berners-lee-expands-inrupt-team-open-source-web https://www.pymnts.com/data/2020/berners-lee-startup-ramps-up-aim-to-decentralize-net/ https://www.protocol.com/Newsletters/SourceCode/tim-berners-lee-web-solid https://www.patentlyapple.com/patently-apple/2020/02/sir-tim-berners-lees-inrup/ Source
  2. Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the world wide web and now he’s calling on us to save it. The British engineer and computer scientist recently released a Contract for the Web – a list of commitments for governments, businesses and individuals to make in order to tackle fake news and privacy violations online. According to a new report by Amnesty International, the internet is threatened as never before by the dominance of companies such as Facebook and Google), which stand accused of “enabling human rights harm at a population scale”. Tech companies allow us to keep up to date with the world and keep in touch with friends and family no matter where they live. We use them to find job opportunities or to create new communities online. But every time you use search engines or social media, your personal data can be hoarded and sold on to other businesses. No doubt these platforms would argue that our data is the cost of using their services for free, but there’s plenty in this arrangement for ordinary web users to fear. Google could be buying your medical data without your knowledge to sell it on to insurance companies. Perhaps you’ve restricted your Facebook privacy settings, but Facebook can still track you across other websites. Maybe you identify as a gender or ethnic group that is served different adverts because an algorithm determines that you’re not appropriate for certain jobs or housing and credit options. Even the news you read online may be deliberately misleading or dishonest, in the hope of manipulating your political opinions. If the power of large tech companies isn’t challenged with international regulation, human rights could be under threat. Is the world doomed to endure a “digital dystopia”, or could Berners-Lee’s plan ensure the internet remains a common good? Is this for everyone? The Contract for the Web includes ideas such as net neutrality, which would stop internet service providers from slowing down a person’s connection if they browse outside approved or promoted websites. It also includes respect for privacy and data rights, including preventing corporations from handing information over to governments. It includes fighting for the web as a space for positive communities and collaboration – whether this means being more civil when we post online or opposing oppressive moves by governments. This final aim is essential for raising awareness and promoting more inclusive attitudes online, from stopping hate speech to enabling new ideas. This is nothing new. Some of the organisations who support the contract, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have been campaigning for these principles for years. Privacy regulations such as the GDPR have been a small but important step towards protecting data in Europe, and they’ve provided a blueprint for other countries. Groups, including the Mozilla Foundation, promote open-source software that can anyone can download and use. But the fact that Google and Facebook back the contract raises some questions. Do they really want to help reform the web to curb their worst behaviour or will manipulation continue to be the cost of access? The algorithms of Google, Facebook and Twitter determine what people see online, whether that is adverts or political content. The contract does nothing to resolve this huge imbalance in influence and power. Many of us feel like we have no choice but to use their services, and they often use openness – such as free email and free apps like Google Maps – as a way of furthering their control over everything people do online. Google makes money from people using free services, mostly by hoovering up our data to fuel targeted ads, and its business model isn’t likely to change overnight. For internet reform to succeed, it would need international collaboration between governments for effective regulation, along with pressure from users. The early web was full of utopian ideas, like John Perry Barlow’s famous Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. This tried to place the internet as a space separate from government control, but didn’t anticipate the inevitable extent and character of corporate influence. Berners-Lee has remained faithful to this vision of collaboration and creativity for the betterment of humanity. But history, or perhaps the influence of major corporations, has not been kind to the web. While his new contract won’t fix all of its problems, Berners-Lee is right – we need action now from all sectors to reform the web. It has great potential to bring people together and support the diverse needs of humanity, but only if control can be wrestled from giants like Facebook and Google. Source
  3. Creator of the web reveals plan to save the internet from itself Companies and governments need to do better with privacy, and indeed censorship (Image credit: Shutterstock) Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web, was talking about a new plan for the worldwide web last year, to defend it from ‘sources of dysfunction’, and that contract – yes, it’s that official – has now been revealed. The Contract for the Web sets out a number of core guiding principles for governments, companies, and users of the web themselves, to try and make the online landscape a better place on a number of different fronts. Tech giants will actually have to sign up to support the contract – which comprises of 76 clauses in total – and actively abide by it (or at least that’s the theory). Google, Facebook and Microsoft are among the big tech giants to have already signed up, among 150+ other firms, although names notably missing at this point include Amazon and Apple. So what are the principles? Governments are tasked with ensuring that all citizens can connect to the internet, and that all of the internet must be available to them, all of the time. In other words, every individual must be able to get online, and there should be no censorship. Any interference in terms of what can be accessed on the internet should “only [be] done in ways consistent with human rights law”, the contract notes. Those are some big goals, of course, and policies that clearly won’t go down well in some corners of the world. In terms of making sure every citizen across the globe has an internet connection, the contract lays out a guideline of access to broadband being available to at least 90% of citizens by 2030. Companies are also called on to make internet access more affordable, to that end. Privacy push There’s another major push on the privacy front, as you might expect, with the call for both governments and companies to respect and protect the online privacy rights of those who use the web. The call to companies, and doubtless the bit that the likes of Google, Facebook and Microsoft are scrutinizing in particular, asserts what you’d expect in terms of clear explanations of any processes which affect user data and privacy, and the provision of control panels to manage data and privacy options in an easily accessible manner. There’s also a stipulation that firms should carry out “regular and pro-active data processing impact assessments that are made available to regulators which hold companies accountable for review and scrutiny, to understand how their products and services could better support users’ privacy and data rights”. Just as interesting is the section which calls for “minimizing data collection to what is adequate, relevant, and necessary in relation to the specified, explicit and legitimate purposes for which the data is processed”. It doesn’t stop there, though. A further point is to support independent research on how interface designs affect the process of getting consent from users (as well as other considerations) and how these could “influence privacy outcomes”. In other words, this sounds like a call for no more sneaky wording or other potentially misleading UI tricks we’ve seen in the past (like clicking on a cross icon being taken as consent for an OS upgrade). The contract also says that there should be controls over how personal data is collected, and also used, which can easily be viewed and adjusted by the user. Big asks There are some pretty big asks, then, on the privacy front, and it will certainly be interesting to see how this affects the tech giants who have signed up to the contract going forward. The natural cynical assumption might be that this won’t realistically happen, at least not as it’s laid down in black-and-white here. However, if the companies who have signed up to the contract can’t show that they are indeed implementing the principles, and working to move forward with them, they may face being booted out from the group of organizations backing the plan. Which may well cast a shadow on the public perception of a firm, if it were to happen… As Berners-Lee told the Guardian: “If we leave the web as it is, there’s a very large number of things that will go wrong. We could end up with a digital dystopia if we don’t turn things around. It’s not that we need a 10-year plan for the web, we need to turn the web around now.” A raft of other measures in the contract include the requirement to diversify workforces, and laudable measures to help bring forward a more inclusive web built around strong communities that respect human dignity. There are a lot of good intentions set out in the contract, that much is clear, but how this all translates into reality as we move forward remains to be seen. Skepticism aside, it’s easy to believe that at least some good will come of it – and hopefully much more than some good… Source: Creator of the web reveals plan to save the internet from itself (TechRadar)
  4. Tim Berners-Lee: 'Stop web's downward plunge to dysfunctional future' Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web before launching the first ever website in 1991 Global action is required to tackle the web's "downward plunge to a dysfunctional future", its inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has told the BBC. He made the comments in an exclusive interview to mark 30 years since he submitted his proposal for the web. Sir Tim said people had realised how their data could be "manipulated" after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, he said he felt problems such as data breaches, hacking and misinformation could be tackled. In an open letter also published on Monday, the web's creator acknowledged that many people doubted the web could be a force for good. He had his own anxieties about the web's future, he told the BBC: "I'm very concerned about nastiness and misinformation spreading." But he said he felt that people were beginning to better understand the risks they faced as web users. "When the Cambridge Analytica thing went down [people] realised that elections had been manipulated using data that they contributed." He added that in recent years he has increasingly felt that the principles of an open web need to be safeguarded. In his letter, Sir Tim outlined three specific areas of "dysfunction" that he said were harming the web today: malicious activity such as hacking and harassment problematic system design such as business models that reward clickbait unintended consequences, such as aggressive or polarised discussion These things could be dealt with, in part, through new laws and systems that limit bad behaviour online, he said. He cited the Contract for the Web project, which he helped to launch late last year. But initiatives like this would require all of society to contribute - from members of the public to business and political leaders. "We need open web champions within government - civil servants and elected officials who will take action when private sector interests threaten the public good and who will stand up to protect the open web," he wrote. Wandering round the data centre at Cern, Sir Tim Berners-Lee was in a playful mood, remembering how he'd plugged the very first web server into the centre's uninterruptible power supply over Christmas so that nobody would switch it off - only for the whole place to be powered down. But as we talked about what had happened since he submitted his proposal for the web 30 years ago - described by his boss as "vague but exciting" - Sir Tim's mood darkened. In the last few years, he told me, he'd realised it was not enough to just campaign for an open web and leave people to their own devices. Sîr Tim has a plan - the Contract for the Web - to put things back on the right track but it depends on governments and corporations doing their part, and the citizens of the web pressing them to act. When, as my last question, I asked Sir Tim whether the overall impact of the web had been good, I expected an upbeat answer. Instead, gesturing to indicate an upward and then a downward curve, he said that after a good first 15 years, things had turned bad and a "mid-course correction" was needed. His brilliant creation has grown into a troubled adolescent - and Sir Tim sees it as his personal mission to put the web back on the right track. Sir Tim's vision was "at once utopian and realistic", said Jonathan Zittrain, author of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. It rested on the idea that a free and open web would empower its users, rather than reduce them to simply being consumers, he explained. "I see Tim's letter not only as a call to build a better web, but to rededicate ourselves to the core principles it embodies," he told the BBC. Those principles, he said, included universality of access and transparency - the ability to see and understand how web applications work. Source
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