Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s latest project

The BBC reports today that web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee is working on a technology and start-up to give people control over their data.

The BBC quotes Sir Tim as saying:

“The web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division, swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas. People want apps that help them do what they want and need to do — without spying on them, Apps that don’t have an ulterior motive of distracting them with propositions to buy this or that.”

It’s great to see someone of Sir Tim’s stature saying things like this. It’s exactly what we’ve been saying for over ten years.

Sir Tim’s start-up Inrupt says it offers:

  • True data ownership Users should have the freedom to choose where their data resides and who is allowed to access it. By decoupling content from the application itself, users are now able to do so
  • Modular design Because applications are decoupled from the data they produce, users will be able to avoid vendor lock-in, seamlessly switching between apps and personal data storage servers, without losing any data or social connections.
  • Reusing existing data Developers will be able to easily innovate by creating new apps or improving current apps, all while reusing existing data that was created by other apps.

That’s exactly what the Mydex platform offers too. It’s particularly important, we think, that Sir Tim has recognised that applications should be decoupled from the data they produce. It’s a fundamental point that many in this space still don’t get.

Nay-sayers

It’s interesting to see critics’ comments. Some are questioning the technology architecture he has chosen. They may or may not be right. But once our society has decided it needs to find a technology answer, it will do so. This sort of objection is only temporary, not fundamental.

And by the way, we’ve been working on the technology question for ten years and have built and operate a live, working platform, capable of operating at scale across any sector, which is independently certified under ISO 27001, and recognised as a bona fide supplier of services to Government under the G-Cloud framework — so we are confident there are workable technology solutions to the goals Sir Tim has set out … er … because they are already working.

Another critic says Sir Tim’s initiative won’t solve the problem because “Even if people could control their Personal Data, what does it do about all the data created about us behind our backs?” That’s a good observation. But all it does is highlight the fact that Personal Data Stores (PDS) are an essential element of a systemic solution, not the complete answer in themselves. It has to be a part of a slew of other legal, commercial and technical developments.

For example, on the technical side, we need the development of ‘personal data inventories’ or directories for individuals (and services serving these individuals) to know what data sits where. And on the legal front, new data portability rights under GDPR can help address the fact that data is always being created about us behind our backs — by giving individuals the right to have a copy of this data.

The upside

But without a PDS, an alternative system can never get off the ground. Whether you call it a POD or a PDS doesn’t really matter. Your POD is your personal storage space. A PDS helps you gather, store, manage, use and share the information you need to manage your life better. It provides you with tools to control what information you share with which people and organisations.

So it’s really good news to see Sir Tim working on this venture (even if it is a little frustrating for us that there’s a huge amount of fuss about what he’s doing, but very little about Mydex which has been banging this drum for so long. But then, he is Sir Tim).

BTW, we first spoke to Sir Tim about his project back in 2015. As the personal data ecosystem evolves many different people will try many different ways to crack the nut. That’s how it should be. It’s something we really welcome because this is a big nut to crack. In turn, it underlines the need for ongoing collaboration and interoperability, and we’re talking to Sir Tim about that right now.