The Internet has come a long way since Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989. Now, in an era of growing concern over privacy, he believes it’s time we reclaim our personal data.
Through their startup Inrupt, Berners-Lee and CEO John Bruce created the Solid Pod or Personal Online Data Store. It allows people to store their data in one central place and control which people and apps can access it, rather than having it stored by apps or websites all over the web.
Users can get a Pod from several providers hosted by Web Services, such as Amazon ( AMZN ), or run their own server if they have the technical know-how. The main appeal of self-hosting is control and privacy, says Berners-Lee.
Not only is user data safe from corporations and governments, it’s also less likely to be stolen by hackers, Bruce says.
“I think we’ve all realized that the value of the Internet is embodied in the data on it,” he adds. “In this new world where you track your own data, it doesn’t live in big silos that are profitable targets for attackers.”
Inrupt’s platform is being tested by the UK’s National Health Service and the government of the Flemish Region of Belgium. The latter plans to use Pods to let its citizens choose how to share their personal data.
In October, the BBC introduced a trial service using Pods for ‘watching parties’, where several friends broadcast at the same time. When the watch party ends, the user can see the data generated, including what program they watched and who tuned in, and choose whether to delete or edit the information, or allow the BBC to use it.
In a blog post, Eleni Sharp, executive product manager at BBC Research and Development, described it as “a radically different approach to data management”.
Launched in 2017, Inrupt reportedly raised $30 million in December 2021, which Berners-Lee says will help usher in the next iteration of the web, “Web 3.”
Paul Brody, a blockchain expert at analysts Ernst & Young, believes Web 3 could change the way we use the Internet. “You’ll hear people talk about Web 3 and decentralization because they’re very similar in concept and purpose,” he says.
“Owning your own data and really controlling your own commercial infrastructure is something that Web 3 will enable. It will ultimately be truly transformative for users.”
Berners-Lee hopes his platform will give control back to Internet users.
“I think the public is concerned about privacy. the fact that these platforms have massive amounts of data and they’re abusing it,” he says. “But I think sometimes what they lack is the lack of authority. You have to go back to a situation where you have autonomy, you control all your data.”