Last week I attended the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal where I had the chance to rub shoulders with people who are looking to improve our lives, solve problems, and reframe our relationships using technology.
One of those organisations with the important mission to improve the state of the internet today is the Web Foundation. Founded 10 years ago by the founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, the Web Foundation functioned primarily as a research foundation through its first decade of operations. However, under the command of new CEO Adrian Lovett, the Foundation has transitioned to an advocacy organization, under the initiative to bring the 50% of the population of the world which is currently not on the internet, online.
The Web Foundation’s goals include bringing greater exposure to the challenges faced by our modern internet, inviting a diverse array of new stakeholders to the conversation, and building a new global ‘contract’ with pre-existing web participants to create a free and open internet. This parallels the manner in which the Paris style Climate Change Agreement is creating a sustainable climate agreement for the benefit of everyone on the planet.
The organisation itself is predominantly made up of public relations, advocacy and media professionals and it does not have an endowment. Thus, it relies on philanthropic internet users, governments (Swedish, formerly USA) and corporate contributions (e.g. Facebook, Google).
Their goals, call to action, and timeframes are bold, and the cause is a noble one, however I believe they are destined to fail. The sheer scope and complexity of the problem the Web Foundation is setting out to resolve requires a complete team of individuals of who have cultivated expertise in the realms of network architecture and computer science and have an intimate understanding of the technical intricacies.
My main concern lies in their proposal to build an accord utilising the same faulty computer and internet infrastructure that created the problems we see today on the internet.
Let me be clear, I am not at odds with the goal of bringing everyone online; I believe it is now a basic human right to be connected to the internet. However, the mass migration to the internet should be conducted in a safe and responsible fashion and if we do not consider the ramifications of our on-boarding methodology, we will only further impede our internet.
The most glaring flaws of our present internet are its inherent vulnerability to security breaches and its stagnant, inflexible infrastructure, which inhibits economic innovation and empowerment. Without addressing these flaws we will inevitably repeat the same mistakes of the last 30 years and in fact accelerate the destruction of the fair and open internet we all want.
The current computing infrastructure and internet are built by default (1) without ID and (2) with severe security flaws; “this has led to online abuse, prejudice, bias, polarisation, fake news, there are lots of ways in which it is broken” according to Tim Berners-Lee. To protect ourselves from bots masquerading as people and creating mischief online we have created centralised, walled gardens which impinge on our own civil liberties. In particular, the problem with centralised ID solutions is that there is no trust between parties, i.e. Google will not trust Facebook with their data, just as China will not trust America, and vice versa.
Another issue with bringing more people and devices onto the internet in its current form is that we exponentially increase vulnerabilities of people hijacking cameras to spy, stealing bank details, destroying critical infrastructure and supporting giants on the internet. Man in the middle attacks and DDoS attacks that have caused untold damage to economies, institutions, democracy and personal data because we cannot guarantee security for all devices.
In effect, because of security issues, any newly internet-connected device (especially IoT devices or smart cars) can become a weapon if it is not regularly patched with security updates. Effectively we would be adding more weapons on to the internet by pursuing this goal without first addressing the issue of improving the infrastructure of the internet.
We desperately need a network operating system built for the internet. We need one that is:
- Open source – so it is free, accessible, and fully transparent, and no one can limit utilisation
- Lightweight – so it will run on any device inc. IoT devices, and on top of existing operating systems so as to facilitate on-boarding existing and new participants on the internet
- Net Neutral – so that no government or organisation can limit anyone’s access to the same internet (not a Chinese internet, US internet, Indian internet etc. ), which can only be realised if ID’s are distributed and checked through a decentralised ledger (blockchain) controlled by no one, and run by a fully permissionless, public, and transparent open-source code.
- Peer to Peer – for full decentralisation for resilience so that no organisation can ‘bring down’ the internet and can be broadcast through any communication means regardless of internet connectivity
- Fully encrypted by default from source, in transit and at destination – so that commerce and identity can be protected at all times – which can only happen through a combination of an encrypted carrier and decentralised ledger
- Scalable – so it can grow to handle 7B+ users and XB devices online and is powerful enough to use for high computational requirements (graphics/gaming) and where consensus is only required for specific and relevant use cases (eg. Commerce & ID)
- Interoperable – so it works with existing coding languages, existing infrastructure and is built to utilise and take advantage of the existing and idle computer resources that exist today
- Enabling of private data ownership – so a user can monetise, restrict, and build wealth through their digital assets and have them ‘technically’ enforced
- Self-healing and updating – so that users don’t need to force update, like Windows 95, to Windows 98 but more like the internet where there are no ‘versions’ of the internet, there is just the internet.
- Participants are private but identifiable – so that bots cannot exist, only those with proven transactional and relationship history can participate fully without exposing personal details
Thankfully we have an operating system like the one above today, and its name is Elastos.
Built over the last 18 years through various iterations for mobile, IoT, and now incorporating blockchain technology, it is the missing link for the current internet, operating systems, and the problems relating to blockchain scalability. Elastos is composed of three separate technologies (blockchain, P2P carrier network and a RunTime) that work in conjunction to build a fully secure environment that runs anywhere and opens an avenue for digital wealth and safety, unlike anything we’ve seen before.
We need an operating system in conjunction with policy agreements because an operating system can ensure technical enforcement of copyrights, ID, and security in a neutral, safe, and functional environment for any user on the internet. And, it looks and performs just like any phone application, so the barrier to entry is very low.
Just as Satoshi Nakamoto developed a solution to prevent a double spend attack for digital currency; a secure trusted computing environment is required to stop a double spend attack for digital assets (music, art, content etc). Currently, if a user places his/her digital assets online, they are freely pirated with no technical enforcement, and legal enforcement is not a viable solution. Once individuals can own their assets and feel secure that they can store them without risk of them being stolen, we can free ourselves from the economic middlemen of the internet (Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc.) and truly exchange intellectual property (and use any software tools) without having to give away a significant cut for the privilege of being locked in an ecosystem.
This is the reason why it is not enough to just have a solution like a Pod, proposed by Solid, because it does not shift the power dynamics between consumers and companies enough to change behaviours. Technically by transferring data ownership to the individual, users will own their data, however, they would have to negotiate a contract individually with large software companies where the information and experience asymmetry is simply too great.
With relatively little bargaining power users would still be required to accept the terms and conditions provided by large software companies and the user would have few or no alternatives. The other issue is that there is no government or institution big enough to police the largest software firms online if they were to breach contracts either.
It’s imperative then that we change the economic incentives and provide a pathway to realising them. Only then can we start to decentralise and distribute power to the common person and rebuild vibrancy into our civil societies. A charter on its own does not go far enough to change behaviours without penalties, and penalties are useless without policing. We need a solution, not where ‘don’t do evil’ is the philosophy upheld by companies, but rather where the very nature of the environment dictates that all participants ‘can’t be evil’ at all.
This shift is also needed in order to create more ways to earn money on the internet outside of ad-based revenue models, such as through a user’s provision of their computing resources to the network. In tandem, a user’s consumption of internet resources must equate to spending money, thus creating a vibrant, borderless, and completely virtual economy, available to everyone around the world.
These are just a few of the reasons why Elastos needs to be at the table when creating these documents with governments, bureaucracy, business, media, and why we need it to show stakeholders options that they previously may not have thought existed.
So, to the Web Foundation, a call to action:
You have strengths in policy, public relations, media etc. and you need people around the table who will be able to offer the technical insight and also know the systems you operate. You need capable technical partners and solutions – you need the Cyber Republic and Elastos at the table. The Cyber Republic is a community with over 1,000 people from all around the world contributing to building the new internet of the future today based on Elastos technology.
We have joined your campaign on a collective and individual basis, and we now ask you to join us. Let’s work together to make our shared goals a reality in bringing the other 50% of the world onto the internet in a safe and responsible way where we can all prosper by the time May 2019 rolls around.
Only through the utilisation of technology like the operating system Elastos has created can we ensure the 9 principles of the Web Foundation’s contract can be realised.
9 DRAFT WEB FOUNDATION PRINCIPLES
- Ensure everyone can connect to the internet – so that anyone, no matter who they are or where they live, can participate actively online
- Keep all of the internet available, all of the time – so that no one is denied their right to full internet access
- Respect people’s fundamental right to privacy – so everyone can use the internet freely, safely and without fear
- Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone – so that no one is excluded from using and shaping the web
- Respect consumer’s privacy and personal data – so people are in control of their lives online
- Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst – so the web really is a public good that puts people first
- Be creators and collaborators on the web – so the web has rich and relevant content for everyone
- Build strong communities that respect civil discourse an human dignity – so that everyone feels safe and welcome online
- Fight for the web – so the web remains open and a global public resource for everyone now and in the future
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Cyber Republic
Roshan Ghadamian is the Growth Team Lead at CyberRepublic.org. He has previously worked in international relations through the APEC Business Advisory Council, formerly appointed as a member of the Business and Economics Alumni Council at the University of Melbourne, and currently is the Growth Team lead for a number of D2C e-commerce businesses. He also has holdings of ELA and other cryptocurrencies.