The future of a different Internet

Kitchentable for a different Internet

Two weeks ago a group of people gathered at my kitchen table to talk about a different Internet. The reason for this were the various scandals in which sites and apps misused the privacy of people.

The group consisted of doers and thinkers: a software developer, a marketer, bloggers, a composer, open data consultant, Indieweb advocate, hacker / security professional, blockchain developer. Because of this diversity, we exchanged interesting knowledge and insights.

This is a short summary of this conversation:

How did we get here?

We talked about history of the Internet: much of the abuse we are talking about already existed before the arrival of sites like Facebook. And not Trump, but Obama found out that you could use Facebook to get detailed user and voting data.

The internet used to be special, partly because it was organized in a decentralized manner – and that has now become a hyper central organization. Before Facebook and others were popular, there were many different voices, via sites, forums and blogs – but most of them have now fallen silent. The central model of sites like Facebook seems to have won.

Is there an alternative to the central data collection model?

The majority of people enjoy the central clubhouse (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Whatsapp, Tumblr) – and rightly so: thanks to smooth design, good usability, great free functionality and psychological insights, it is a pleasant environment. Everything is safe and well cared for. And all your friends and acquaintances are there. It will be difficult to get people out.

How did this happen? By the tendency of capitalism, the business model, by the vision and personality of Zuckerberg?

We do not believe in “killer-alternatives” for Facebook and others. We see many alternatives that are good and probably can serve a special niche. For “nerds” it is not that difficult to make Indieweb / decentral / federated sites. But for normal people making a simple WordPress site is still too difficult.

We now tend online to a “winner-takes-all”-situation – so there is almost no competition. Or does this only seem to be and is the “central model” diluting? Facebook had to buy Whatsapp and Instagram because people were moving elsewhere. At the same time, the old competitors still exist and new have sprung up: Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Weibo, Wechat.

We found out that Facebook is now in the spotlight, but there are many more places where big data are collected that we do not like: Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, AirBnB, Uber, Amazon, Snapchat, but also train companies, municipalities and banks (who follows?). Giving control of the data to government is almost more dangerous than giving it to Facebook and Google – you give an already existing central service enormous power.

Objection to sites and apps as data silos

These sites have created silos, an alternative internet. Inside and outside this space they capture and manipulate our big data. This goes far beyond “just” the use of data that we have issued ourselves: it is also metadata, data about our behaviour, data that we are not aware of. Let alone that we have given permission for its use. We do not like that.

There is a big difference between data that you leave behind and data of your behavior that these sites build up. Online advertising shows what is being tracked: you can select people on the basis of their political preferences, sexual preference, etc. There are 56,000 characteristics. You get access to (very) sensitive information. Info you won’t get to see as a user.

Now we find out: that data is a wonderful tool, but that it can also be a dangerous weapon. Combine a number of innocent data types and the result can be explosive. And until recently we have left that in the hands of other people. And we are not aware of it. The mere fact that 2 billion people have given this weapon in the hands of a small group of parties is dangerous.

Striking: these tools used by these organizations to use (big) data are readily available, but it seems that few organizations have them – let alone use them well. But it is only a matter of time before this becomes available for many more organizations.

How we take back control of our Internet

Determine (parts of you) Identity / Privacy yourself

We want to determine ourselves which information can be used. To whom, when and in what situation. You can do that via other infrastructure, changed awareness of citizens and legislation. Marleen Stikker of the Waag Society mentioned in an interview the App Irma. This app allows you to give only a specific part of your information – instead of uploading your entire computer in one go. Another Waag project is the European Decode Project .

Regulation

The GDPR aims to give control of private data to citizens in the EU. Now, after the 25th of May, it will be possible for every citizen to request what private data a company has, to change or destroy it. If this is properly controlled and sanctioned, there’s hope.

Privacy by design

Society must get a different view of privacy. This is just the beginning of a development: we are talking about a change of identity, privacy in infrastructure, algorithms used, legal, social, etc. And who for instance manages this infrastructure? Trust is good; control is better! Building control will take a lot of time.

Troll the system

You can frustrate data-gathering: by paying in cash, using different phones, buying paper tickets. Use tools and plugins that encrypt your information, making you “invisible” on the web. Or plugins that click on all ads of a site indiscriminately. Or even going completely “data-nude” to some countries: you leave your standard devices at home, buy others and travel elsewhere. In this way you do not show anything of the data that you have built up at home.

Opening up of FaceBook and others

It would be nice if FB and other sites would become more open to third parties – making it easier for you to use information in other places and get it from sites. (but this is probably a utopia)

Project VRM

Another option is the Project VRM from Doc Searls in Harvard: which strives for ownership of your own data. That you decide where and how and what is done with it.

Alternatives to the well-known sites and social networks

Another option is to use alternative apps: there are enough good ones in the market that work well for particular niches. And there are good examples of apps that work well, but are not centrally organized. Think of email – as decentralized as they get.
Disadvantage of decentralisation: who makes a search engine, so that you can easily find people across all those different apps? (e.g. email addresses).

If you choose such an alternative, you will have to accept a period of less comfort: not everyone will be there immediately, but oh well: at the beginning of the internet we were also alone on sites, which are now mega. We can survive this a second time around. (And let’s be honest: sometimes it’s nice not to show all your conversations to your whole family) 😉

Pay for what you really value

If a site / app is paid, you prevent a company from using your data for its business model: it will continue to exist and make a profit, because you pay for it. When they still end up selling your data, you can hold them liable.
An example of a paid option is Signal , which has a fremium model: partly free, but who wants more can pay for it – making the business model continue to work.

Raise awareness

It is good to change people’s perspective on privacy: that it is not okay to follow people’s data “because it is possible”. Exceptions to this rule must be made clear. And the people that have this authority must be clearly defined. And in turn well controlled.

We need an awareness campaign to achieve this. (Or a major accident) and good alternatives if people want to leave the data silos.

Conclusion

It was a special evening with very special people. We have covered a large area in the discussion and made good use of each other’s knowledge and experience.

Soon we will get together again – because this conversation will continue – at this Table and hopefully more and more other Kitchen Tables.

De tijd is gekomen

Het is dan toch gebeurd: de ballon is geknapt, de lijn verbroken, de dijk gebarsten.

Ja natuurlijk heb ik het over Cambridge Analytica en Facebook, wat dacht je dan?

Misschien is het omdat ik ooit jurist was. Misschien omdat ik als geboren Rotterdammer de verhalen ken van wat vervelende mensen doen met bevolkingsdata. En omdat ik genoeg levenservaring heb om te weten dat ongecontroleerde Macht vroeger of later misbruikt wordt.

Er is al meer dan genoeg geschreven over de macht van data, dat Google en Facebook zoveel aandacht en geld verzamelen. Dat we moeten nadenken, niet alles op het web donderen, dat privacy niet verkeerd is. Dat er donkere kanten kleven aan het web en de verbonden technologie.

Maar er gebeurde iedere keer niets.

We waren als online nerds misschien blij dat na 10 jaar trekken éindelijk de maatschappij inzag dat we gelijk hadden: dat internet, dat was pas gaaf. We werden van nerds en losers ineens helden. Alles waar we maar naar wezen werd een hit. Dus ging iedereen als een malloot los op social media. Wilde iedereen een startup. En ging iedereen net zo vreemd als wij met zijn nek naar zijn mobiel kijken.

Nooit was het verkeerd. De schaduw-profeten werden weggejouwd, de twijfelaars verwezen naar het Kamp der Unbelievers. Kritiek hebben was Niet-Geloven.

En nu zitten we dus met de gebakken peren: een inherent onveilig internet, verslaafde smartphone gebruikers, een omgeving die gebruikers zo checkt dat het geheime diensten doet verbleken. Cialdini, Influencers en Analytica worden zonder problemen ingezet om de conversie op te drijven, ook al weten we dat er kinderen aan de andere kant zitten of mensen die minder weerstand kunnen bieden.

Dit is wat je krijgt als je je eigen mooie droom te hard blijft najagen, te weinig twijfelt en kritiek in de wind slaat. Dit is wat je krijgt als je leiderschap bij anderen neerlegt en jezelf ronkend in slaap wiegt.

Wakker worden dus. Zelf weer nadenken. Kritisch zijn. Naar anderen luisteren. Twijfelen en onzeker durven zijn. Omdat het beter moet.

In de zekerheid dat mensen die écht van het internet houden, weten dat het Net niet perfect is, maar het wel kan worden. Tijd om de handen uit de mouwen te steken.

Voor een beter internet. En een mooiere wereld.

Turks Gehakt

Gisteravond sms-tje vriend Edwin mij: Je site is gehackt! En ja hoor:

De eerste reactie was natuurlijk onzekerheid : wat is hier gebeurd? WTF gaat iemand mij hakken? Op Google+ en Twitter kreeg ik gelukkig snel reacties, nadat ik mijn probleem had gepost.

Het was een obscure groep hakkers, die zichzelf Turkse hakkers noemt en een probleem heeft met Nederland. Ja, inderdaad erg duidelijk. Maar gelukkig had ik goed geluisterd naar +Jacques Soudan, die mij een automatische backup voor WordPress had aanbevolen. Dit had ik dus al. Nog een keer de laatste versie van WordPress geinstalleerd en ik was alweer van het probleem af.

De “Turkse” hakkers hadden blijkbaar dit goed gepland, want de volgende dag kreeg ik diverse tweets en mails dat ik “Op NU.NL stond!”.

Teveel eer. Maar ik moet het toegeven: het voelt toch wel raar om je eigen site op een lange lijst te staan. Alsof je het kwaad zelf vertegenwoordigt. Maar goed, als je dit lot deelt met PietPaulusma.nl en Ponyparkslagharen.com dan weet je dat je in gezelsschap bent van serieuze verzetshelden en dat verzacht het leed weer. 😉