Decentralized networks and digital private transit


Dan McQuillan over at internet.artizans has proposed a “Freedom of Expression League Table for Web 2.0” to face the insecurity of privacy and freedom of expression on web 2.0 platforms such as MySpace of Facebook.

While I think such a League Table as Dan proposes it would be helpful, it may only help us to regulate the problems we are facing.

As long as users hand over their data to corporations their will be cases of treason. One should only trust a friend, and while it may be a common proverb today that “Google is your friend”, it isn’t. And so are Microsoft, Yahoo!, Facebook.

These companies have repeatedly spit their users in the face by disdaining their freedom of expression and privacy. They have handed over data to repressive regimes such as China, leading to the jailing of dissidents.

Some of these companies may have founded the Global Network Initiative, committing to support free speech. But what’s a commitment when your shares are plunging? Half-hearted promises are nothing of a guarantee to people who rely on the integrity of the digital tools they use.

The only way out of this situation I can imagine are decentralized networks. Hosting their part of the network, their services themselves users will be their own digital masters and no longer slaves to those who hold their data hostage.

All users having their own server, hosting their own stuff, may seem an illusion today, but I think it isn’t. More and more software for decentralized networks is developed (e.g., which is used for, or noserub).

One may argue that free software can only enable users to be free, but not force them. A lot of users are not capable or simply too lazy to use their own server.

That may by true for today, but times will change. At the beginning of mobility, in the 19th century, people relied on mass transit systems. It was until the invention of automobiles that private transit was a privilege to the wealthy. And even they needed specialized experts, coachmen, to drive their carriages. Still at first, when they were invented, automobiles were only affordable for this same minority. But when the new technology became cheaper, more and more people learned to drive cars. Today, making your driver’s license is a common part of coming off age. It may still be exciting, but it is nothing unusual anymore.

Why shouldn’t this be possible for the next step? Private transit in the digital world is not only possible, but also much needed to keep the users’ privacy.

1 Response to “Decentralized networks and digital private transit”

  1. 1 dan mcquillan Posted November 14th, 2008 - 00:49

    Hi Simon

    Couldn’t agree more.

    At Amnesty, I had direct contact with the Global Network Initiative. Many of the human rights orgs were naive about the net, and IMHO the companies were just playing the CSR game. I’m convinced that it’s doomed (despite the best efforts of the berkman center et al).

    Like you say, the way forward has to be horizontal. I’m sure part of that is the p2p tech you suggest. Also, the kind of ‘social horizontality’ enabled by the social web, where citizen souveillance is applied to keep the companies accountable and alliances are developed between people inside & outside of the impersonal corporations.



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