Fighting back against data harvesting (No. 2)

Privacy and security? All is not lost. The techies are working on it. Read on…………

We need to combine the control and personal autonomy of the early web with the ease and usefulness of the one we have today. A project called Solid, led by none other than Tim Berners-Lee himself, seeks to separate our data from the apps and servers that process it. With Solid, you get to decide where your data lives – on your phone, a server at work, or with a cloud provider, as it probably does now. You have ownership of your most important bits of data. If you quit Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn at the moment all your connections and contacts are lost. With Solid, you carry this information away with you and apply it elsewhere if you wish.

Another company tackling this same problem is MaidSafe, which relies on encryption and the blockchain – the distributed ledger technology that underpins bitcoin – to divorce data from servers. Where Solid would operate as a virtual layer on top of the existing structure of the internet, MaidSafe’s network does away with servers completely. Instead, it asks everyone who joins to contribute a little computing power and storage. To join, you simply download their software, and it is this, rather than central operators like Facebook, that encrypts your data and keeps track of it. With no servers, there are no targets for attackers. No system today provides physical security for your private data.

How do you log in to a website if there’s no server at the other end to deal with the request? The answer in this case is to log into the network itself – which consists of whatever computers happen to be online at the time. For contributing to the running of this serverless internet, users earn a bitcoin-like cryptocurrency called Safecoin. This can be exchanged for services on the network or converted to other currencies. MaidSafe’s fledgling community has already developed a handful of apps, including a blogging platform, a file-sharing application and a basic social network. Email and video conferencing are in the works. Meanwhile, there are a number of other ideas out there, including charging the major companies a small fee whenever they use your data for resale. (An edited version of an article by Hal Hodson, New Scientist).

There is something totally unethical and unacceptable about these big companies taking what you do, who you know, where you have been and what you have bought and selling it without your knowledge. Wresting even a small part of that income from the Facebooks of the world seems unlikely at the moment. But common sense tells me it cannot stand indefinately.

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