The current state of Web needs a counter culture!
Since the publications of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, some of our worst worries became true. The Internet got infected by a few sources of power. Mass surveillance by governments and big corporates is the daily routine. People, who fight for transparency are chased (e.g. Netzpolitik.org, Eward Snowden, Aaron Swartz, and other whistle-blowers) or got into some weird trouble. For years, I have the feeling the public discussion about the importance of privacy is very abstract and disconnected for the normal "non-technic" crowd. Even more bad the Open Data movement in the US got also kinda stuck, because there does not exist any really benefit for a goverment to be transparent. Failures (through bad management or even corruption) could be found easier by journalist, but that is not the intent of a running government. However, Edward Snowden tried to explain the problem with the mass surveillance with his famous tweet, which should emphasize why privacy is important and a basic right for a democratic system.
"I don't need privacy, I've nothing to hide" argues "I don't need free speech, I've nothing to say." Rights = Power https://t.co/AOMc79DIOS
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 4, 2015
In my opinion, that statement is correct, but let's still the ordinary "non-internet-culture" people in a dark space. What does that statement mean for a person, who does not make use of free speech?! Difficult to answer... In my opinion the result will be a decrease on diversity of internet content in a mid to long term. That has a direct influence how our personalities and culture will develop over the next years. How do you want to figure what you like and what not? How do you want to know what is true and what not, if other opinions just got filtered out or censored? It is important for a stable society to offer a big diversity. Diversity allows people to find identify with topics, things, people and so on. Even more, a wide range of topics enables finding new solution and pathways.
During my last 8 years of doing Media & Design research and developing new tools, I figured out for myself, no one of this fucking world is a genius. We all depend on stuff - we see, read and hear - and then we extend it or remix somehow. Diversity is OUR basic resource for an evolving society. Nature and its diversity is the best evidence in that circumstance. In contrast monoculture in farming causes more issues than benefits.
Back to the topic, the last decade the Internet evolved from atomistic competition to an oligopoly and now we are almost faced with the circumstance that few corporates (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft) hold a monopoly in some of their services. Are those companies in their nature bad?! No, I do not think so. They just took over the public mass media to a private direct communication model. The only stupid thing is their almost uncontrollable power, which they got inherited through a corporate driven economic system. Those big companies got so much power nowadays that they can decide what we will see, read and hear. This circumstance has a direct influence on our personal thinking. Of course, the government has kinda the mission to protect us against this power (like they do protect us against terrorism...). But in reality this generated user data is also a big wet dream for governments for regulate a society, see their first data mining experiments (see also this conference). Meanwhile, our user data - also called metadata - became a critical analytic tool for the NSA and I am pretty sure other intelligence agencies as well. If General Michael Hayden - former Director of NSA and CIA - really said this:
Then the situation becomes really uncanny and I do not want to know what other bad intelligence agencies are gonna do. If you want to know more what kind of data is tracked, please check this Do not track webisode produced by the German French television Arte.
The exit that won't work for you
If you think, ok that all sounds bad, but there is always one alternative: The exit... But even this got now problematic. If you are not a member of a social network, you might be already suspicious (Deutsche Übersetzung) for corporates and even foreign governments. As a former banker I can tell you, if you had a bad SCHUFA you would not get an account in our Bank. Nowadays, even phone resellers have access to this sensitive data and can add complains/negative entries. If you have only one negative data item, you can be sure that you won't get any new apartment (in a highly demanded area), or a bank account, or a new smartphone contract or bank credit. The next generations of trust analytics are on the way and they are going to integrate your online behavior. Depending on your personal calculated (Schufa) score, you have to pay a higher or lower price than your friends. Dynamic price strategies are very common and easy to implement in a digital world (see my bachelor thesis).
Now what to do?! If you do not want to miss the provided comfort of our digital devices, and think maybe some hacks with solve that issue. Be aware that even adapting or changing a device, which you own, can be illegal activity in the US. That circumstance of ownership became also very weird in farming technology... And even more all TOR user (a service for providing a anonymous identity) are suspicious from the beginning for the NSA.
Service, Services, Service bye bye
Until now we observed the topic from a very data driven view. If we look on this topic from a "service" driven view, we forced with some more problems. We all depend on our (internet) cable provider to get access to our beloved web. The topic net neutrality deals exactly with this topic. In EU, Germany and in the US emotionally discussed. The problem here is that the competition declines to a few very big companies. As a result of increasing power (power in assigning prices, power of access, power of filtering and analytics) against the small user. That evolves more to a serious problem, because almost all information we are consuming, we get through the internet cable (IPTV, Video-on-demand, news via mobile or web, telephone is directly connected to the router). Another problem is that data stream might be restricted for certain user groups. Restricted access to the web is a daily routine in China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some other countries. We should not take our access to the web as granted! Therefore, take care where your data is located! In Germany we messed up the whole privacy and mass surveillance thing 2times - the Nazis and the Stasi (at the former GDR/DDR) - so there exist a kinda more conscious about the importance of data privacy. Maybe that would be a real opportunity for the German economy to offer a real good data privacy environment. So that Germany could evolve to a market place for data sensitive applications. Unfortunately, Germany plays this card usually very bad. Switzerland understands such kind of business much better (see their banking confidentiality)...
And that is the direct transition to the next kind of services we use all day: The cloud services. Is the cloud evil? No, of course not! In appreciation of cloud service evolution, we got an idea how to make functionality easily accessible. From a Design view, the cloud services provide nowadays mature User Interfaces with automated updates. On the first view it makes life easier, but the nightmare can come very fast and strong. Usually the software industry plays hard with the business mechanics of the lock-in effect [ShapiroVarian1998]. Another aspect is time. Cloud services do not exist for all the time. I used to be a heavy delicious bookmark service user and was pretty shocked about their shut-down announcement. Luckily, delicious provided a export function (which of course broke down because of the massive amount of usage) and other services offered an import function. Fortunately, this switch was pretty simple, but kept a bad taste for me. More or less 4 years ago, I had developed a website and a mobile app, which used the Qype API. Directly after on week in the iTunes store, Qype announced that they got acquired by yelp. The stupid thing was only that yelp removed all the geo data (long/lat coordinates) from their data (in new Version 2 the geo data seems available again). We had to use another service for converting the address data to geo data, which made our app very sluggish. Yucheee again, I got a kick in my ass for using an external service. The last bad experience was the shutdown of Google Code. For my small projects the version management via SVN was more than enough. I lost all the documentation on my wiki pages. Since this day, I am done with relying on external services (non-selfhosted data stores). My blog runs for almost ten years on my webhosting server and I never had such existential archive issues as I have experienced it with cloud services.
This new start-up, cloudservice, and innovation hype I never really understood. It seems I am not alone, Allison Arieff has a similar view on this, but I also agree with Seth Godin about the chances we are able to develop.
How to improve our situation
In that context, the rest of the text will deal with alternatives and some suggestion. Yeah, the world is not evil! In my opinion there is one simple solution for the current problem:
We need a decentralisation movement for the web!
And luckily there is little by little a growing community around that topic decentralisation for the web. It comes even better for that movement. With the advent of embedded Linux microcontroller (e.g. Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone, Pine64, etc.), such low-cost & low energery computers in combination with AppCache & Services Workers (Offline First movement and Progressive Web Apps) enable developers the production of offline oriented apps and cloud services owned by users. Now everyone could store web apps and its data on their own device (notebook or mobile phone) and can run a pretty cheap webserver (regarding price and energy consumption) at home. Depending on your need and knowledge you can choose between different settings. For a better understanding the introduced tools are seperated in some categories. The publishing channel is dedicated for staying in connection with your friends and sharing your thoughts. The category organizational and utility tools deal with the functionality provided by cloud service. In that context I will describe the transition between collaboration tool and personal/private clouds. In the end we are gonna check alternative hostings service for our decentralized tools, and I will explain you why it is ok to rely on them. Afterwards we will enter the last category of self-hosting tools and explore their advantages compared to hosted services (also interesting for journalists).
Publishing (Website) channel: Keep in touch with your friends and readers
As I have already mentioned above, I am running a WordPress blog on a hosted webspace for sharing my thoughts with you. The last 10 years I have not made any real serious bad experience with my setup. Of course, I have to do frequently updates and backups of my blog. Since some time, the minor WordPress updates are automatically installed, which made the whole process simpler. Until now that procedure has not caused any problem yet. For sharing your thoughts, travelling trips I can recommend that tool without any concern. Even their hosting service might be all right to use, because you can export and import your content all the time. Furthermore, there exist plenty alternative solutions for hosting your WordPress blog. That decreases the 'lock-in effect' for the user.
If you are more familiar with social media, microblogging and information streams, then the tool known might be a good alternative for you. You can create content and link this additionally to your social media profiles (on Facebook, Twitter, etc.). The linkage and data exchange between different known users are enabled via RSS/ActivityStreams and the IndieWeb based Webmention procedure. Another cool feature is the support of microformats, which simplifies the import/export of data between various software tools. However, the same as WordPress, you can run your own Known site on your webserver (it runs with the standard requirements PHP & MySQL) or you decide between their free hosting service (pro version is not for free) or the indiehosters offer.
In terms of a full social network the software tool diaspora might be an interesting tool. Unfortunately, diaspora has never reached a critical user base and might not really interesting anymore.
If more sad to hear that it seems infected with radical (political) movements. If someone knows more about it, please leave a comment (changed because of a misunderstanding by me. Please look at the comment by Olivier).
Your Personal cloud: organizational and utility tools
Managing our photos, contacts, files, documents and so on via cloud services have evolved to a standard user pattern. Google, Apple and sometimes Microsoft try hard to gather all your data under their own cloud umbrella. In some points they know more about you then you do.
Luckily, some great developments are ongoing regarding private/personal clouds. Within that category we can see a transition from a classical cloud approach to a hardware tool box for your home network. The classical cloud feeling you can get from software tools ownCloud / Nextcloud, Sandstorm, and Cozy Clouds. All three open-source cloud tools offer you the standard functionality (e.g. contact & calendar manager, photo gallery, file management and so on) and some more features as 3rd Party tools.
A mixture of a cloud service and owning the hardware is provided via NAS Systems [ChipNAS2016]. The closed-source solutions provided by Qnap and Synology deliver a good user experience on desktop as well on mobile phones. Furthermore, you can host your cloud within your local network, which makes mass surveillance much more difficult and has advantage of fast data transmission. However, if you do not want rely on the manufacture's cloud software then you can install other 3rd Party tools, like ownCloud. Depending on your computer & network skills that approach could be interesting for you. If you understand German, I can highly recommend the NAS Special by the German Computer magazine CHIP [ChipNAS2016].
The last group of tools depends completely on your self-hosted hardware and might more appropriate for computer nerds and hackers. For using such private servers, you need the above mentioned embedded Linux microcontroller and a SD Card. Then you download the software from their webpages and copy it on the SD Card, which runs the software on that little linux computer. Such tools are kinda an instant private server system, that are called FreedomBox, YunoHost, UBOS, Upribox, and Syncloud. They offer you a sort of private cloud features (mostly ownCloud or Nextloud) and some nice additional network tools, like a private VPN Server. After the installation you can extend that server system as you work with your other Raspberry Pis/Beaglebons installations.
By all that various software tools and its features, it is very easy to get lost. For that reason, the feature overview table (extended Version as a Excel file) below hopefully makes your life more easy to find the right solution.
The feature list also reveals that Internet-of-Things (#IoT) Apps are not really existent. Regarding the hype about Health apps and Home automation, I hope those alternative tools implement also some features in that direction. Especially, personal health data and the home infrastructure should always stay private as much as possible. During my work for the Health/Medicine Industry can only say I experienced a big motivated hunt for such data by the insurance industry. Never ever provide such sensitive data to a corporate. They will take it and adapt it to their pricing and product strategies. In my personal context that would be saying; "Yeah, nightmare welcome!"
In a summary I can give those recommendations:
- Keep as much of your data within your local network, a private VPN Server is a good choice.
- Self-hosting is a good way to protect your data, but it gets complicated if it should connected with the internet. DNS, port forwarding configurations and a slow internet connection can make your experience suffer.
- Using a hosting service is more easier and OK to use, if they meet those requirements
- Check the data privacy terms (no use of your data for data mining)
- Import/Export of your data is possible (backup, data compatibility)
- the code base is open-source (avoiding the black box metaphor)
- the tool is also offered by other hosting service (decreasing lock-in effect)
- Do frequently backups of your data! It does not matter where the data is hosted..
If you have the feeling I missed something in my article, please write a comment!
********** Update 19.11.2016 *************
This website Fair Web Services - What makes a web service free as in freedom? also provides a very good overview about the requirements of good web services.
[Wattenhofer2016] Wattenhofer, Roger. The Science of the Blockchain. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
[Tapscott2016] Tapscott, Don and Alex. Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World. Portfolio, 2016.
[ShapiroVarian1998] Carl Shapiro, Hal R. Varian. Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy. Harvard Business Press, 1999.
Kurz, Constanze. Strafanzeigen belegen, wie BfV-Präsident Maaßen das Verfahren wegen #Landesverrat inszenierte. Website Netzpolitik.org, 2015.
Borchers, Detlef. Die Wahrheit ans Licht - Whistleblower unter Druck. Website C't, 2016.
Hare, Jason. The current state of open data in the US government. Website opensource.com, 2016.
Boyd, Danah. If You're OK With Surveillance Because You Have "Nothing to Hide," Think Again. Website future tense, 2013.
MacFadyen, Gavin. Die Nazis, die Stasi - "Ihr wisst, was Überwachung ist". Website Stern Online, 2014.
Nunez, Michael. All of the Creepy Things Facebook Knows About You. Website Gizmodo, 2016.
Hunt, Troy. Website enumeration insanity: how our personal data is leaked. Website Troy Hunt Blog, 2016.
Dolan, Brian. In-Depth: What Apple's Health app tracks and what it forgot to include. Website Mobi Health News, 2014.
Byung-Chul Han. Tut mir leid, aber das sind Tatsachen - Die heutige digitale Gesellschaft ist keine klassenlose Gesellschaft. Website Zeit Online, 2014.
Godin, Seth. The computer, the network and the economy. Website type pad blog, 2016.
Morozov, Evgen. The rise of data and the death of politics. Website The Guardian, 2014.
Holland, Martin. US-Justiz: Algorithmen benachteiligen systematisch Schwarze. Website heise online, 2016.
Beuth, Patrick. NSA hält alle Tor-Nutzer für verdächtig. Website Zeit Online, 2014.
Dopheide, Niklas. Der Kampf gegen den falschen Schufa-Eintrag. Website Handelsblatt, 2015.
Cutlack, Gary. Tech Startup Uses Social Media to Calculate Your Credit Worthiness. Website Gizomodo UK, 2015.
Conference Website. Preconference Call for Papers - Algorithms, Automation and Politics. Website International Communication Association.
Kokalitcheva, Kia. Spotify Reportedly Says Apple Blocked Its App Update Because of Competition. Website Fortune, 2016.
Kobie, Nicole. Diaspora accuses PayPal of blocking donations - Alternative social network says its account has been frozen. Website alphr, 2011.
Barrie, Joshua. Instagram censored a photo of a woman on her period and the internet isn't happy. Website Business Insider UK, 2015.
Sidahmed, Mazin. Dennis Cooper fears censorship as Google erases blog without warning. Website The Guardian, 2016.
Wikipedia Authors. Censorship by Apple. Website Wikipedia accessed on Auguste, 2016.
Wikipedia Authors. Censorship of GitHub. Website Wikipedia accessed on Auguste 2016.
Crawford, Douglas. Grindr app can be used to track down gay men. Website BestVPN blog, 2015.
Wikipedia Authors. Internet censorship and surveillance by country. Website Wikipedia, Auguste 2016.
Hamann, Götz. Die schmutzige Säuberung - Wie es in der Türkei um die Meinungsfreiheit steht – und welche Lehre darin für Europa steckt. Website Zeit Online, 2016.
Hauswedell, Hannes. Why Privacy is more than Crypto. Website Blog, 2016.
Maciej Cegłowski. The Moral Economy of Tech. Website Idle Words, 2016
Maciej Cegłowski, Leonhard Dobusch und Hendrik Obelöer. Zum Ethos der Tech-Szene in der digitalen Ökonomie: Zwischen Anspruch und Wirklichkeit. Website Netzpolitik.org, 2016.
Kim, Eugene. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos signed the $250 million Washington Post deal with no due diligence. Website Business Insider Deutschland, 2016.
Bhuiyan, Johana. The head of Google’s Brain team is more worried about the lack of diversity in artificial intelligence than an AI apocalypse. Website recode, 2016.
Derakhshan, Hossein. The Web We Have to Save: The rich, diverse, free web that I loved — and spent years in an Iranian jail for — is dying. Why is nobody stopping it? Website Medium, 2015.
Varda, Kenton. Decentralization is about diversity. Website Sandstorm Blog, 2016.
Reweaving the web - A slew of startups is trying to decentralise the online world. Website The Economist, 2016.
Chayka, Kyle. Same old, same old. How the hipster aesthetic is taking over the world. Website Guardian, 2016.
Eyal, Nir. Hooks: An Intro on How to Manufacture Desire. Website Blog Nir & Far, 2012
Harris, Tristan. How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist. Website Medium, 2016.
Viner, Katharine. How technology disrupted the truth. Website The Guardian, 2016.
Rushkoff, Douglas. The New Nationalism Of Brexit And Trump Is A Product Of The Digital Age. Website Fast Co.Exist, 2016.
Oremus, Will. Who Controls Your Facebook Feed. Website Slate, 2016.
Tsotsis, Alexia. Is Yahoo Shutting Down Del.icio.us? [Update: Del.icio.us Responds]. Website TechCrunch, 2010.
Lunden, Ingrid. Yelp Pays $50M To Acquire Its Big European Rival, Qype, To Beef Up Its Recommendations And Listings Business. Website TechCrunch, 2012.
Rao, Leena. Google Shuts Down Photo Service Picasa. Website Fortune, 2016.
Summers, Nick. Google Code is shutting down because everyone loves GitHub. Website engadget, 2015.
Hern, Alex. Revolv devices bricked as Google's Nest shuts down smart home company. Website The Guardian, 2016.
Wiens, Kyle. We Can’t Let John Deere Destroy the Very Idea of Ownership. Website Wired, 2015.
Arieff, Allison. Solving All the Wrong Problems. Website The New York Times, 2016.
Tonkinwise, Cameron. The Interaction Design Public Intellectual. Interactions ACM Journals, May-June, 2016.
Dash, Anil. Toward Humane Tech. Website Medium, 2016.
Kriss, Jesse. Human scale technology. Website Medium, 2016.
Finley, Klint. Meet the Hackers Who Want to Jailbreak the Internet. Website Wired, 2013.
Balkan, Aral. Beyond The Clouds. Website indie, 2016.
de Jong, Michiel B. Backend-as-a-Service platforms. Website unhosted web apps - freedom from web 2.0's monopoly platforms
Meyer, David. The Inventor of the Web Wants Europeans To Rescue Net Neutrality. Website Fortune, 2014.
McMillan, Robert. What Everyone Gets Wrong in the Debate Over Net Neutrality. Website Wired, 2014.
Edwards, Phil. A map of all the underwater cables that connect the internet. Website Vox, 2015.
Ferguson, Kirby. Everything is a Remix. Website Everything is a Remix.
Arte TV. Do not track. Website, 2015.