In response to the growing threat of data-hungry internet enterprises, Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s new initiative, Inrupt , is aiming to decentralize the web and rewrite the rules of online business with its new open-source project, Solid.
The web “has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.” Berners-Lee explained in a blog post , adding:
“Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible — and necessary”
At the recent Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, Berners-Lee announced that the project is already available to developers and highlighted the potential for journalists who may need enhanced privacy and data security to protect their sources.
Berners-Lee described Solid as an alternative to Big Tech data centers, allowing users to instead store their information in personal online data stores, or “pods.” which would allow companies access only when the user granted permission.
Solid’s “pods” are just one piece of the Solid ecosystem, however. In addition to independent data storage, Berners-Lee envisions a much larger environment including decentralized applications built using tools from the Inrupt website.
One of Berner-Lee’s ideas is to build a new version of Amazon’s Alexa which he calls Charlie . For Berner-Lee, Charlie will provide all of the benefits of the e-commerce giant’s digital assistant, except users will remain in control of data obtained by Charlie. This means users will be able to trust Charlie with their financial and health records, private events, and more.
Berner-Lee hopes that these apps will shake-up the power dynamics between consumers and the tech behemoths that currently rule the web:
“Solid changes the current model where users have to hand over personal data to digital giants in exchange for perceived value. As we’ve all discovered, this hasn’t been in our best interests. Solid is how we evolve the web in order to restore balance — by giving every one of us complete control over data, personal or not, in a revolutionary way.”
Sir Tim Berner-Lee’s timing couldn’t be better. The tension between the average consumer and Big Tech is becoming increasingly palpable. With high-profile breaches becoming more frequent and larger in scale and severity, consumers are looking for alternatives.
From cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology to the outright deletion of social media apps, it’s clear that users are tired of being ‘the product,’ and the general negligence from Big Tech towards data security that comes with it.
According to a new report by digital security specialists Gemalto, over 4.5 billion records have been compromised in the first half of 2018.
Though healthcare networks account for the largest amount of breaches, social media and the financial services industry follow closely behind. Between Twitter and Facebook alone, over 2.5 billion records were compromised, the report noted.
From January to July, Gemalto estimates that the equivalent of 291 records were stolen every second, including financial records, medical records and personal information, putting 2018 on track to be one of the most hacked years on record. The most shocking detail, however, is that only one percent of this data was encrypted, raising questions about how both the companies involved and regulators value the security of consumers’ data.
A Commercial Endeavour
Though Sir Tim Berner-Lee’s vision for Solid is to protect the consumer, he realized that he would need a commercial mindset to succeed.
With that in mind, Berner-Lee recruited British engineer and ex-vice president of Synmantec John Bruce as CEO of Inrupt. Bruce accepted the position and resigned from IBM to fill the position, telling TechCrunch “The world we’ve created on the web [is] not the right one,” adding, “maybe, just maybe, we can put it in the place it was originally intended to be.”
The duo’s goal is clear; they have set out on a mission to reshape the internet as we know it, and they don’t care how it might impact the powers that be.
Berners-Lee stated : “We are not talking to Facebook and Google about whether or not to introduce a complete change where all their business models are completely upended overnight.”
“We are not asking their permission.”
The current state of data security is surprisingly poor. And not just for the average consumer. Attacks on companies and even critical infrastructure are becoming more frequent, and a change in behavior is necessary moving forward.
Cybersecurity firms have noted time and time again how dangerous the game has become, and now users are finally waking up to this fact.
Whether or not the ‘new web’ will be built on Berners-Lee’s latest endeavor remains to be seen, but when the ‘Godfather of the web’ leaves MIT to pursue such a project, it’s worth taking note.
John Bruce shared, “We are at the stage of the new web that Tim was at when he first started the World Wide Web.”
Image courtesy of Libreshot