British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet navigation system – known as the World Wide Web – three decades ago in 1989. And now he wants to remake cyberspace once again to empower users.
Berners-Lee revealed details of his latest venture – Inrupt, which he co-founded with John Bruce in 2018, in an interview at the Reuters Next conference. He has been working on an open-source software project called Solid (Social Linked Data) that “aims to radically change the way web applications work today, resulting in true data ownership as well as improved privacy”.
Solid comprises a feature to store data in decentralised data stores called Pods (personal online data stores) that enables the users to decide which apps running on the solid platform can access their data. The feature intends to allow users more control over their data, and also aims to end the siloed nature of today’s web. Another striking feature of the application is that people can use a single sign-on for any online service. Furthermore, the pods would be free to the public.
The 65-year-old scientist, Berners-Lee has not been much appreciative of the recent web. In an open letter in 2019, he discussed how the internet has “created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crimes to commit”.
“We don’t have a single global sign-on and worldwide identity for people and so as a result of not having that single sign-on for the web we don’t have a global identity,” he said.
He added, “But what if we extended the web and we said actually groups and logins are going to be global. They’re going to be a standard web thing. Anybody can log into anything with anything.”
“Solid protocol is simple. It allows you to write any data you like so you can write an app.”
He is also optimistic about cooperation with social media giants.
“Probably if we ended up making all of those sign-ons compatible so that you could sign in with Solid and that would allow you to have your identity work just as well on Facebook and Google. I think that they’d go along with that,” he said.
In recent years, the big tech companies are facing tougher privacy rules in Europe and America, such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). And the companies like Google and Facebook have been filed antitrust suits too.
“They’re getting fed up of a lack of control, with silos. It’s not the privacy, it’s a lack of empowerment,” he said.
Berners-Lee believes their new app can fix these problems. He said Solid “will make it easier for people introducing things like GDPR”. He also added, “All you have to do is be Solid compatible and you’ve checked the GDPR box largely.”
The tech company – Inrupt as revealed by John Bruce who is also the CEO and co-founder of the company, had signed up Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), the BBC and the government of Flanders in Belgium as pilot customers.
The National Health Service has been working with Inrupt on a pilot project for the care of dementia patients. Each patient has been given a Solid pod with an “All About Me” form which holds the patient’s electronic health record.
With Inrupt, John Bruce said, the NHS could give everyone “a holistic presentation of your medical history,” with various doctors and other service providers able to update that record even as it remains in the user’s control.
One of the main objectives of Inrupt is to get software developers to write programs for the platform. And it promises to be applicable for a wide range of purposes.
“The use cases are so broad, it’s like a do-over for the web,” Berners-Lee said.