WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The internet was supposed to empower people, but so far most of that power is being concentrated in big centralised platform companies instead.
The founder of the World Wide Web thinks it’s broken and has a plan to fix it. Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist credited with inventing the web in 1989, announced a new project today that he hopes will radically change his creation – by giving people full control over their data. Something that in today’s world, despite the fact that we’re already seeing the emergence, albeit the very slow emergence, of so called blockchain Self-Sovreign ID systems, like Sovrin, which IBM just joined, and the UN backed ID2020 scheme, is a novelty.
Berners-Lee’s open source software is called Solid and it’s being built in conjunction with MIT, and it allows developers to create decentralized apps that run on data that its users fully own. And if Solid becomes widely adopted, and it’s a big if, then all your apps could talk to each other using the same set of data, which you and only you control.
“A screenshot from Fast Company showing one app that Berners-Lee built on Solid is “like a mashup of Google Drive, Microsoft Outlook, Slack, Spotify, and WhatsApp,” writes Katrina Brooker.
A preview of the new app
Berners-Lee also announced the launch of a company called Inrupt, an obvious gesture to the Silicon Valley cliché “disrupt,” but which sounds a bit closer to “erupt” whose goal is “to provide commercial energy and an ecosystem to help protect the integrity and quality of the new web built on Solid,” writes Berners-Lee – which is to say, it will be a company that provides resources to the theoretically free innovation happening over at Solid.
The new project is a clear rebuke of the tech giants whose opaque use of personal data is core to their businesses success, and whose guardianship of said data recently, with numerous hacks and other scandals catching the headlines recently, has been called into question by everyone from the US and European governments, as well as individuals and multi-nationals.
Facebook’s notorious grip, for example, follows people around the web, even if they’ve signed out or have actually deleted their accounts, and Google’s Android phones track people’s movements, far beyond just their coordinates.
Indeed, Berners-Lee’s antipathy to centralized tech control goes way back. In 1998 he said, “The decision to make the Web an open system was necessary for it to be universal. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it.”
So here’s hoping that, in Berners-Lee’s own words, he “fixes” the internet he helped design and build.