Last May I had the chance to meet Prof. Tim Berners-Lee and one of the lead researchers in his team at MIT, Andrei Sambra, when I accompanied Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor, in his visit at MIT.
Andrei presented then the SOLID project, and we had the opportunity to discuss about it with Prof. Berners-Lee, who leads the work for SOLID. The project “aims to radically change the way Web applications work today, resulting in true data ownership as well as improved privacy.” In other words, the researchers want to de-centralise the Internet.
“Solid (derived from “social linked data”) is a proposed set of conventions and tools for building decentralized social applications based on Linked Data principles. Solid is modular and extensible and it relies as much as possible on existing W3C standards and protocols”, as explained on the project’s website.
Andrei explains in a blog post that, in a first step, the project finds solutions “to decouple the applications from the data they produce, and then to decouple the data from the actual storage server.”
“This means that applications and servers are interchangeable, and they can be swapped without impacting the most important part – your data. It’s all about freedom of choice.” (Read the entire explanation in this blog post)
I was so excited to find out about the efforts conducted by Prof. Berners-Lee and his team. At the end of the presentation and the discussion, I asked, just to make sure I understood it correctly: “Are you trying to reinvent the Internet?”. And Prof. Berners-Lee replied, simply: “Yes”. A couple of weeks later I saw this article in the New York Times: “The Web’s creator looks to reinvent it” So I did understand correctly 🙂
But why was I so excited? Because I saw first hand that some of the greatest minds in the world are working to bring back control to the individual on the Internet. Some of the greatest minds in the world are not giving up on privacy, irrespective of how many “Privacy is dead” books and articles are published, irrespective of how public and private policymakers, lobbyists and Courts understand at this moment in history the value of privacy and of what Andrei called “freedom of choice” in the digital world.
I was excited because I found out about a common goal us, the legal privacy bookworms/occasional policymakers, and the IT masterminds have: empower the ‘data subject’, the ‘user’, well, the human being, in the new Digital Age, put them back in control and curtail unnecessary invasions of privacy for all kind of purposes (profit making to security).
In fact, my entire PhD thesis was built on the assumption that the rights of the data subject, as they are provided in EU law (rights to access, to erase, to object, to be informed, to oppose automated decision making) are all prerogatives of the individual that aim to give control to the individual over his or her data. So if technical solutions are developed for this kind of control to be practical and effective, I am indeed excited about it!
I also realised that some of the provisions that survived incredible, multifaceted opposition to make it to the new General Data Protection Regulation are in fact tenable, like the right to data portability (check out Article 20 of the GDPR, here).
This is why, when I saw that today the world celebrates 25 years since the Internet went public, I remembered this moment in May and I wanted to share it with you. Here’s to a decentralised Internet!
Later Edit: The man itself says August 23 is not exactly accurate. Nor 25 years! In any case, it was still a good day for me to think about all of the above and share it with you 🙂
Some end-of-the-year good news: People genuinely care about their privacy
First, I would like to thank you for making this the most successful year in the 5 years life of pdpEcho (I would especially like to thank those who supported the blog and helped me cover, thus, the cost of renting the blog’s .com name). I started this blog when I was in my first year as a PhD student to gather all information I find interesting related to privacy and data protection. At that time I was trying to convince my classic “civilist” supervisor that data protection is also a matter of civil law. And that I could write a civil law thesis on this subject in Romanian, even though Romanian literature on it only counted one book title from 2004. In the five years that followed another book title was added to it and the blog and I grew together (be it at different paces).
In the recent months it offered me a way to keep myself connected to the field while transitioning from Brussels to the US. But most importantly it reminded me constantly that privacy is really not dead, as it has been claimed numerous times. I cared about it, people that daily found this blog cared about it and as long as we care about privacy, it will never die.
I am writing this end-of-the-year post with some very good news from Europe: you and I are not the only ones that care about privacy. A vast majority of Europeans also does. The European Commission published some days ago a Eurobarometer on ePrivacy, as a step towards the launch of the ePrivacy Directive reform later in January.
The results could not have been clearer:
“More than nine in ten respondents said it is important that personal information (such as their pictures, contact lists, etc.) on their computer, smartphone or tablet can only be accessed with their permission, and that it is important that the confidentiality of their e-mails and online instant messaging is guaranteed (both 92%)” (source, p. 2).
“More than seven in ten think both of these aspects are very important. More than eight in ten (82%) also say it is important that tools for monitoring their activities online (such as cookies) can only be used with their permission (82%), with 56% of the opinion this is very important” (source, p. 2).
Overwhelming support for encryption
Remarkably, 90% of those asked agreed “they should be able to encrypt their messages and calls, so they can only be read by the recipient”. Almost as many (89%) agree the default settings of their browser should stop their information from being shared (source, p. 3).
Respondents thought it is unacceptable to have their online activities monitored in exchange for unrestricted access to a certain website (64%), or to pay in order not to be monitored when using a website (74%). Almost as many (71%) say it is unacceptable for companies to share information about them without their permission (71%), even if it helps companies provide new services they may like (source, p. 4).
You can find here the detailed report.
Therefore, there is serious cause to believe that our work and energy is well spent in this field.
The new year brings me several publishing projects that I am very much looking forward to, as well as two work projects on this side of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, I hope I will be able to keep up the work on pdpEcho, for which I hope to receive more feedback and even input from you.
In this note, I wish you all a Happy New Year, where all our fundamental rights will be valued and protected!
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