If you're not happy with tech giants owning and controlling your data and online habits, Sir Tim Berners-Lee's startup, Inrupt, could provide the answer.
Berners-Lee, who's credited with creating the web while working at CERN, has announced the first enterprise-ready version of Inrupt's Enterprise Solid Server, an open-source program that aims to embody the World Wide Web Consortium's (WC3) Ethical Web Principles.
Inrupt wants to steer the web in a new direction, away from its control by a few tech and social-media giants. The company proposes to do this via 'pods' – comparable to a personal USB stick for the web – which aren't locked in to a single platform and give users the controls to access and use their data.
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Inrupt was launched by Berners-Lee and fellow co-founder and CEO John Bruce to back the Solid open-source project, which provides users with the controls to give them a choice about where their data is stored and how apps access that data. The project's goals are lofty but so was the web when Berners-Lee sketched out his ideas for it in 1989.
"The web should empower an equitable, informed and interconnected society. It has been, and should continue to be, designed to enable communication and knowledge-sharing for everyone. In the 30 years since development of the web began, it has become clear that the web platform can often be used in ways that subvert that mission," the Ethical Web Principles state.
Bruce co-founded Resilient Systems, an incident-response platform that IBM acquired in 2016. Resilient integrated with IBM's security information and event management (SIEM) system, QRadar. Inrupt has also attracted fellow Resilient co-founder, Bruce Schneier, a well-known encryption expert who is now Inrupt's chief of security architecture.
Solid has a few high-profile early adopters, including the BBC, NatWest Bank, and the UK's National Health Service (NHS) that help explain how Solid pods can be used to solve real problems, improve privacy for individuals and help with business transformation using the web in a different way.
In the case of NHS, the problem Solid can solve is how to manage personal data stores. Currently, patients can't easily access their complete personal health record and can't control who has access to that data. Nor can they share their data with people who matter and have no way of adding data to that store from, say a smart watch.
According to Berners-Lee, big tech and the way it's used private data have not only led to problems for end users via massive data breaches but have also spurred legislators to create burdensome privacy regulations, such as Europe's General Data Protection Regulation and the California Privacy Act.
"The web was always meant to be a platform for creativity, collaboration, and free invention – but that's not what we are seeing today," said Berners-Lee.
He argues that business transformation is being hampered because the various parts of an individual's life are being managed by different silos.
"But the users and teams can't get the insight from connecting that data. Meanwhile, that data is exploited by the silo in question, leading to increasing, very reasonable, public skepticism about how personal data is being misused. That in turn has led to increasingly complex data regulations," he said.
Regulations across the world that attempt to emulate GDPR could help Inrupt move from a fringe project to a more mainstream success.