Solid- A Privacy Centric Web

Worried about your privacy used by free service providers such as Facebook and Google?

Well, you've reached the right place if you want to keep your data secure, and here's all the information you need about this web that is meant for privacy.


The web as we know it today has become incredibly important. But it's not without its problems. In 2017, 28 years after the web was conceived, Tim Berners-Lee wrote about 3 trends that worried him. The first one was that we've lost control of our personal data. Many websites today offer us a free service in exchange for our data. But we're not given a choice. Want to use Facebook? Then you have to accept their terms and conditions, and that includes how it collects, stores, and uses your data. Others do the same thing, and that means that our data is scattered all over the place. Some companies even sell your data to third parties behind your back. We have no idea what happens with our data, and we have no control over it. To solve this problem, the inventor of the web is working on Solid. It's not a new internet, but rather an extension of the web as we know it. You don't need anything special to use it. The goal of Solid is to take all your data that is scattered around and centralize it in a single place that's under your control. In Solid, this place is called a "pod", and it can store any data.


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Your contact information, files, photos, basically all the data that you produce and all data that others produce about you. Your pod gives you fine-grained control over your data. You can choose what you share, with whom you share it, and you can revoke that permission at any time.Here's a concrete example. Today, social networks store all your data on their servers. But a social network built on Solid would keep your data in your pod. So whenever you post something, it goes into your pod. Now, having all your data in one place has interesting side effects.For starters, you could allow multiple apps to access the same data.For example, I use Spotify to listen to music, and over the years, I have built an entire library there. Spotify uses this data, along with my listening history, to understand my tastes in music and help me discover new songs, and here's the problem: Spotify locks up that data. I can move to Apple Music, but that would mean re-building my library and waiting for them to learn my music tastes before it can give me good recommendations. Tim Berners-Lee calls this data "silos", where each company builds its own data store and protects it from others, giving them a competitive advantage. If these services ran on Solid, my music library and listening history would be stored in my pod. Switching services is then easy. Just allow the new service to access the same data, and we're off to races. This means that Solid can help to level the playing field, allowing small developers to compete with the big ones because they can have access to the same data. On a technical level, this is done with vocabularies, a mechanism to describe data so that many applications can understand it. It is almost like standardized file formats, like PDF, JPG, or MP3 files, which can be created and opened by many different apps. Another side-effect is that because your data is in one place, there's a single source of truth for everything. If you moved to a new place, you could change your address in your pod, and everyone that has access to it will see it—no need to go running around, changing your address in countless services and apps, and finally, storing user data has become a liability because of privacy laws like General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act(CCPA). Mishandle the data, and you could be fined.


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But storing data in the user's pod means you automatically comply with these laws. A user can always see what data is being stored. He can delete it and revoke access. But enough about these side-effects. Let's talk again about pods. How do you get one? Well, that's up to you. You can pick any provider you'd like. Maybe one with a good privacy policy or one that's hosted in your country or maybe you don't trust anyone and want to host your own. All of this is possible because the software is open-source and freely available.


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But a pod is only a place to store data, and that's not enough. We also need a way to identify ourselves on the web. That's where Web ID comes in. You can compare it to Login with Google or Facebook. Want to use a Solid application? Just log in with your Web ID. The key difference is that your Web ID doesn't share data with third parties. We could see a future where governments give each citizen a Web ID to access government-related services.


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You can have multiple WebID's, one issued by your government and a personal one. The same is true for pods. Maybe you want a pod for personal data and one for work. But Solid isn't without challenges. Here are a few. Let's start with monetization. Many services today are free because we pay for them with our data. Solid apps could replicate this, ask the user to give some of his data, and show targeted ads based on those. Nothing prevents a Solid app from doing that. The difference is that the user can revoke that access at any time. Another solution could be to charge a fee to use the app. Pod providers can do similar things. They can charge based on the amount of storage you use, or they could ask you to reveal some personal data in exchange for a free service or maybe, they could charge apps for using your data. Ruben Verborgh, a Decentralized Web Technology professor, puts it this way: "future companies should derive their value from the intelligence they provide". In other words: don't lock people in by taking their data hostage, but lock them in by providing the best service out there. Another challenge for Solid is that once an app gets access to some data, it can copy it to another server. There's no technical solution that can prevent this. But there are legal ones, like the GDPR, which make it risky to copy personal data. Professor Verborgh notes that our current lack of privacy is a consequence of unsustainable business models. When the economics of personal data change, there'll be no reason to collect personal data other than the data already in the users' pod. At this point, you might wonder: this is great. Can I use it today? Well, yes. It's still a work in progress, but there are many apps available and tools for developers to create Solid. It is an open standard that everyone can contribute to.

I mentioned before that governments could provide pods and WebID's to citizens. In Belgium, the Flemish government wants to do just that. It has kicked off an ambitious project to form a data utility company. This company will centralize the citizen's data and put them in control. This could kick start the adoption of Solid while at the same time boosting the efficiency of government agencies because they no longer have to keep citizen data up-to-date across different systems. Everything is just in one pod.


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Easy up Tech - Tech Aficionado



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