Security / Tech

Tim Berners-Lee wants to give us back control of our personal data

As the years have passed, companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, media conglomerates, and others have taken control of the flow of information and harvesting of personal data.

Tim Berners-Lee is famous for inventing the world wide web some 30-years ago. The world-wide-web has grown exponentially since its inception, and as far as Tim Berners-Lee is concerned, probably not for the better.

Back in the early days of the web, things were like the wild west. There were very few rules, there were very few regulations, and for the most part, people just wandered around like in a town square. There were also no big tech or big corporate entities controlling any of it.

As the years have passed, companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, media conglomerates, and others have taken control of the flow of information and harvesting of personal data. Tim Berners-Lee is proposing a new effort to give “data sovereignty” to internet users. This also means gaining back control of the personal information we’ve all surrendered to this point.

security privacy risks Tim Berners-Lee
This also means gaining back control of the personal information we’ve all surrendered to this point.

Applied to all web users, data sovereignty means giving individuals complete authority over their personal data. This includes the self-determination of which elements of our personal data we permit to be collected, and how we allow it to be analysed, stored, owned and used.

This would be in stark contrast to the current data practices that underpin big tech’s business models. The practice of “data extraction”, for instance, refers to personal information that is taken from people surfing the web without their meaningful consent or fair compensation. This depends on a model in which your data is not regarded as being your property.

Scholars argue that data extraction, combined with “network effects”, has led to teach monopolies. Network effects are seen when a platform becomes dominant, encouraging even more users join and use it. This allows the dominant platform more possibilities to extract data, which they use to produce better services. In turn, these better services attract even more users. This tends to amplify the power (and database size) of dominant firms at the expense of smaller ones.

Tim Berners-Lee isn’t just backing data sovereignty: he’s building the tech to support it. He recently set up Inrupt, a company with the express goal of moving towards the kind of world-wide-web that its inventor had originally envisioned. Inrupt plans to do that through a new system called “pods” – personal online data stores.

The Conversation

For more on Tim Berners-Lee and his ongoing plan to take back personal data from big tech, check out The Conversation’s excellent write-up.

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