Join the New Internet

January 2019

Currently, evading Big Tech surveillance and control involves a patchwork of imperfect solutions. What is required is the creation of a radically new Internet, which will place the user in full control of his identity and data, thus destroying Big Tech. This new Internet is already in the process of being built. Here is how you can take part.

There are a number of projects underway that have the goal of creating a new Internet. Three of the most promising are listed below.

 

Blockstack

On May 23, 2018, Blockstack launched an Internet browser that enables its users to gain access to the “Blockstack Internet.”

In an interview the next day with cryptoinsider.com, Blockstack co-founder Ryan Shea briefly described how Blockstack works (https://cryptoinsider.com/interview-ryan-shea-co-founder-blockstack-new-internet-decentralized-apps/):

For readers who are new to the project, how would you explain Blockstack?

It's a new internet that is accessible via a new browser. You download the browser, and you have access to a whole new world of apps that run on your device without remote servers.

The key is that you bring your own identity and data. That means that you're not locked in to any particular app or platform. And the data is stored with you, instead of being locked up in databases owned by the app developers.

There is an important difference here between this model and the model of traditional applications.

With traditional apps, the users revolve around the apps, like Facebook, Google and Amazon. All the data is stored with them, the identity systems are managed by them, the usage and authentication requires their permission.

With this new model, the apps revolve around the user. The data is stored with you, and your identity is under your control, managed by digital keys across all of your devices.

This means that one day you'll be able to bring your reputation with you from AirBNB to Homeaway, and from Lyft to Uber. And one day you'll be able to walk into a hotel room and it will ask permission for your hotel preferences and then it will personalize everything for you.

The browser was launched yesterday. What can users do with that that they couldn't do the day before yesterday?

What we came out yesterday with was the initial developer release of the browser. The goal is to give developers a platform where they can build decentralized applications, and to help them to the greatest extent we can.

Some months down the road we'll be coming out with the full consumer release. Today you can download the browser, set up your identity and data storage, and then sign into a sample application, while bringing your identity and data with you. Signing up and signing in happens with a single click.

It should be underlined that the current Blockstack browser is experimental. However, the interested average user can take part in this experiment by using the browser to access applications that are already available for use. For example, the Blockstack browser can be used to set up an OpenBazaar account.

  

Inrupt

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who in the nineties created the World Wide Web, has recently launched what he hopes will be the beginnings of a new kind of Internet. Based upon the open source software called Solid, which has been around for a number of years, Berners-Lee has established a new company called Inrupt, which intends to use Solid to create a decentralized Internet.

Inrupt plans to use Solid to create software applications that will allow users to store their identity and information in what is called a “Solid Pod,” which will allow users to release their identity and data as needed, and only in a very limited fashion.

According to the Inrupt website:

Photos you take, comments you write, contacts in your address book, calendar events, how many miles you run each day from your fitness tracker… they’re all stored in your Solid POD. This Solid POD can be in your house or workplace, or with an online Solid POD provider of your choice. Since you own your data, you’re free to move it at any time, without interruption of service.

You give people and your apps permission to read or write to parts of your Solid POD. So whenever you’re opening up a new app, you don’t have to fill out your details ever again: they are read from your POD with your permission. Things saved through one app are available in another: you never have to sync, because your data stays with you.

This approach protects your privacy and is also great for developers: they can build cool apps without harvesting massive amounts of data first. Anyone can create an app that leverages what is already there.

One of the first Inrupt projects is a decentralized version of Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant. Berners-Lee says that he intends to create a digital assistant, which he calls “Charlie,” which will reveal nothing to any third parties beyond which the user wants to reveal. Health records, financial records, and your personal calendar would be fully under your control.

However, the “Inrupt revolution” is only in its initial stages. Currently, they are looking for developers rather than for users. And while it is possible to sign up for a Solid Pod, there is not much that a regular user can currently do with that software. Inrupt is a project that is only recently underway.

 

Urbit

Urbit is easily the most radical software project that aims to re-invent the internet.

Whereas Blockstack and Inrupt merely replace the top layers of today’s Internet experience, with the goal of creating privacy for user identities and information, Urbit basically replaces all software currently in use and retains only the basic Internet communication protocol. And even then, Urbit runs on that protocol the way that a train runs on tracks. There is no bridge connection between Urbit’s software and the protocol. Urbit simply manipulates the communications protocol.

Also, Urbit consists of completely new system of software programming languages that have no connection to current software programming. Today, software programs are piled on top of one another, and are manipulated so that they can work together. The result has been an almost infinite number of software holes that hackers can exploit. The new Urbit languages allows an extreme brevity of programming necessary to create the underlying systems, combined with a seamlessness than will preclude hacking to a remarkable degree. 

By the end of 2018, the basic Urbit system was already in place. However, Urbit was far from being user friendly. Nor is it friendly to the most advanced code developers, since its system is basically opaque to them. Urbit coding is so radically different from conventional coding that it is a completely alien system.

Until recently, this writer thought that Urbit might be up and running for the average user within the next two years. More recently, however, it has become apparent that, despite the basic Urbit system being in place, it may be several more years – or many years – before Urbit comes into common use.

The place to begin to learning about Urbit is at: urbit.org. You can get an overview of the system at urbit.org/docs.

For a detailed overview, see the early 2018 interview with Galen Wolfe-Pauley, the CEO of Tlon, the company developing Urbit. That video can be found at: epicenter.tv/episode/205.

In December 2018, a long interview with Urbit developer Ted Blackman reveals that Urbit will not be ready for prime time, except in certain limited respects, for at least several years. See the YouTube video: On Urbit and Exit  - Featuring Urbit Engineer Ted Blackman.  The interview begins in earnest at about minute 13:00.