Personal data, universality, and the World Wide Web

Ruben Verborgh, Ghent Universityimec

Lecture in the course Human Rights: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 30 March 2020

Personal data, universality, and the World Wide Web

Ruben Verborgh

Ghent University – imec

[Mozilla advertisement: “Food. Water. Shelter. Internet.”]
©2016 Ruben Verborgh

The world before the Web
was highly heterogeneous.

©2017 Michael Fraley

The Web strives to be universal
through independence of many factors.

©2008 Lucélia Ribeiro

CERN decided to make the Web
available royalty-free in 1993.

This is for everyone #london2012 #oneweb #openingceremony @webfoundation @w3c

Tim Berners-Lee July 27, 2012

The Web brings freedom of expression
to everyone across the world.

©2012 Luke McKernan

People started their own blogs and sites,
sharing things on their own terms.

©2012 Gregor Fischer

A generation of social platforms
helped people interact and share.

The Web brings permissionless innovation
at a global scale.

©2012 SparkFun Electronics

Permissionless innovation has brought
unprecedented creativity to the world.

The first threat to universality
were the browser wars.

[Internet Explorer logo]

This battle was replaced by another:
the search engine wars.

[Google logo]

This battle was also replaced by another:
the platform wars.

[Facebook logo]
© Tim McDonagh

Our data has become centralized
in a handful of Web platforms.

Within the walled gardens of social media,
you have to move either data or people.

© David Simonds

Ironically, permissionless innovation
even allows platforms that prevent it.

The Facebook founder has no intention of
allowing anyone to build anything on his platform
that does not have his express approval.

Having profited mightily from the Web’s openness,
he has kicked away the ladder that elevated him
to his current eminence.

John Naughton, The Guardian
[photo of a ladder]
© Vinayak Shankar Rao

Facebook tries to replace the open Web
that enabled it to exist.

[Indian prime minister Narendra Modi with Mark Zuckerberg at Menlo Park in 2015.]
©2015 Bloomberg

Do we continue to say no
to a caged version of the Web?

[A billboard advert for Facebook’s Free Basics initiative in Mumbai.]
©2015 Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

In December 2017, US regulators
voted to repeal Net Neutrality.

[picture of Donald Trump]
©2017 Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Solid is about choice.

The Solid ecosystem enables people to pick the apps they need, while
storing their data wherever they want.

People control their data, and share it
with the apps and people they choose.

©2007 plien

People choose where they store
every single piece of data they produce.

They can grant apps and people access
to very specific parts of their data.

Separating app and storage competition
drives permissionless innovation.

Solid is not a company or organisation.
Solid is not (just) software.

[the Solid logo]

A typical data pod can contain
any data you create or need online.

Any app you can envision,
you can build with Solid.

The best way to predict
the future is to invent it.

Alan Kay
[photo of Alan Kay]
©2008 jeanbaptisteparis

The best way to invent
the future is to predict it.

John Perry Barlow
[photo of John Perry Barlow]
©2007 Joi Ito

Solid needs a diverse community
in order to succeed.

Let’s assemble the brightest minds
from business, technology, government,
civil society, the arts and academia
to tackle the threats to the Web’s future.

Tim Berners-Lee
©2011 Dave Pitt

Personal data, universality, and the World Wide Web