Data is the currency, literally!

This is a repost of an article that David wrote on his own blog https://metaquestions.me on the 15th of August 2017.

Metaquestions

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Photo by Freddie Collins on Unsplash

In the last post, I discussed “the impossible network“, an autonomous network designed to protect the worlds people and their data.  Before moving on to use cases for such a network, I thought it required a little more clarification.

Many people have said that sounds like project … (insert many blockchain products that store data), however I think this could not be further from the case.  SAFE is an autonomous network for a start, I do not think any other project that manages private and public data claims this (private means it must provide some method of self authentication), but would love to hear of any that did. Never mind one with an inbuilt incentive mechanism.

The currency on such a network would obviously be data, but I do not mean that in some abstract sense, I am literally stating the currency…

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The Impossible Network

This is a repost of a piece that David wrote on his own blog https://metaquestions.me on the 12th of August 2017.

Metaquestions

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In recent weeks and months, the MaidSafe team have been very quietly progressing something quite amazing.  The dedication and commitment of the team is admirable, but the task is so great that we forget how huge the prospects are. Not only that we also at times forget to talk publicly about it. This will change I am sure, but in this personal blog I do intend to get the message across and try to really explain the potential here, it is quite astounding and can change our world, but it needs better understood, even by early adopters.

The Back Story

We have had several discussion in house recently about the SAFE network or the MaidSafe design. These discussion are surprising, we are thinking about what we are offering, not the vision, not the design and not the roadmap, these don’t change. The issue we have been discussing is one of…

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SAFE NETWORK DEVELOPMENT SUMMARY – AUGUST 2017

Since the last blog update in May we have published new test networks that are helping us to evaluate much of our recent development work. If you recall, we made several changes to be able to accommodate mobile devices as network clients. These changes included the addition of the Authenticator (a secure access mechanism that is bundled with the SAFE browser) and a new network data type – mutable data – as well as a significant number of changes within the APIs.

Test 17
The current network, test 17, was introduced initially to a small number of forum users, but has since been scaled out in order to accommodate more users. Updated mid July (13th) and re released based on initial feedback (and barring a few minor bugs), test 17 has behaved as anticipated and we’re very encouraged by its stability. We intend to keep a test network in place from now on to enable app developers to develop against this network, rather than resorting to running apps locally.

Forum member Zoki has put together a couple of videos which he has posted on YouTube that demonstrate the use of the Authenticator and the Web Hosting Manager, as well as viewing a few SAFE websites along the way. The Authenticator enables users to create their own network credentials without the involvement of third parties and provides access to the test network.

DNS, but not as we know it
The Web Hosting Manager facilitates users creating their own public ID and service that they can then upload content to and publish for other network users to view. This feature demonstrates a differing approach to the Domain Name Service (DNS) used on the existing Internet that is managed by several DNS providers, such as Dyn and Verisign. Within the SAFE Network, this Decentralised Naming Service, enables web site owners to create their own domain without the involvement and cost of third parties and enables instant publishing of data.

If you are a SAFE Network forum member of trust level 1 and higher, you will be able to participate in this test and play about with these demo apps for yourself, and the following thread contains links to many of the websites published by other forum members.

SAFE email client
The second video produced by Zoki demonstrates the Email application, which is an end to end encrypted messaging app that uses the public key of the recipient to encrypt the message, ensuring that only the recipient can read its contents. Currently using nodes managed by MaidSafe in test 17, SAFE email in future alphas will be decentralised, ensuring that no central entity can view or control access to your communications.

It is important to note that these example applications are intended as tutorials which demonstrate the features of the network while guiding application developers to create more fully featured and polished apps with the SAFE Browser DOM APIs.

Data Chains
What we currently have in test 17 is likely to not have too many more changes before we move to alpha 2. As mentioned above, we are very encouraged with the stability of this network. In tandem with much of the work above the team has been working on a feature called Data Chains. You may remember from our previous blog post that this is a feature we anticipate will ultimately enable the secure republishing of data should the network ever lose power, as well as providing validation that data has been stored on the network. The team has considered multiple implementation options, and subject to simulation tests, has agreed an approach and have started the implementation. Testing of this new Routing design is likely to be incorporated within alpha 3. For plans beyond this, please refer to our roadmap.

Recruitment
For those who regularly go on our forums you will notice an increasing number of new team members. Recruitment continues to receive significant focus as we scale the team to increase the speed and quality of the network roll out while also spreading the load more evenly across the team. As such, we have brought on board some operations staff at our HQ in Scotland and continue to grow the team overseas, who are currently based anywhere from Australia to Argentina!

We now have 23 people working with the company, but we are still looking for Network Engineers. If you are proficient in Rust, or have experience with C or C++ and have experience within P2P architectures, please visit our careers page for more details on how to apply.

Well, that concludes this update, we really appreciate the continued support of everyone in the SAFE community (investors, testers, forum members). As you know we are doing everything possible to expedite the network rollout and giving you the privacy, security and freedom you all so richly deserve.

Power of the Crowd Series: Number Four

Image: Desi Mendoza
It has been a while since we shared our initial thinking around the challenges facing the internet and we have had some excellent reaction to the discussion so far. We very much appreciate the feedback and it is pleasing to see this is a timely discussion. Everyone from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Wired and the Economist are all debating the impact and consequences that technology, particularly the Internet, is having on society. There have been many different solutions put forward as the best answer to deep rooted issues such as poverty, inequality and social mobility. We agree the current social and economic model, underpinned by the internet and other technologies, has not benefited everyone equally, but we are not convinced by the proposed solutions, such as universal basic income. Therefore, it is time to put forward our suggested response and open it up for further debate and improvement. As technologists we cannot solve all the complexities, but there are ways to use technology, especially an improved internet, to deliver a fairer, safer and inclusive society.

So how can improvements to our internet infrastructure benefit everyone?
At MaidSafe we believe the solution is community-led, hence why we talk about the Power of the Crowd; but for the crowd to be successful control has to shift from a handful of organisations to individual users and we have to develop an open, incentive-based economic model that rewards participation in a community. Technology will continue to play a sophisticated role, but it should be the enabler, not the source of problems and inequality. Above all those that develop the technology should not be allowed to retain an unhealthy level of control.

We believe this will go a long way to addressing the political/philosophical, rational and emotional debates outlined below.

The Political and Philosophical Challenge
No one has worked out how global societies should move forward in their relationship with technology. A lack of consensus means thinking is being informed by both rational and irrational ideas and uncertainty is becoming the only uncomfortable constant. As technologists we are excited by this uncertainty, but as humans we have instinctive responses to fear and threats, which should not be overlooked. While some describe a future that includes flying cars, autonomous vehicles and neural lace that blur the lines between robots and humans, others see no clear path forwards for themselves and their families. These people are what Guy Standing describes as the Precariat – a new class that has evolved as a result of the rapid advances in technology. This community has no job security, is burdened with debt and living in constant fear of social exclusion. They see robots and artificial intelligence as a threat. They look at the dominance of Google, Facebook and Amazon as unfair. Add to this the growing threat of cybercrime and desire for governments to use mass surveillance in the name of national security and it is easy to see why there is growing frustration. Inherent rights to self-determination, employment, privacy and security are being denied or stripped away.

The response of governments, policy makers and regulators are stuck in the 20th Century at best. They believe mass surveillance powers are the only way to combat cybercrime and terrorism, yet there is no evidence this approach works. To address the rapid address of technology they set up innovation funds to foster economic opportunities for future generations and commission academic bodies to analyse the social impact. Yet they skirt nervously around the big ugly question of control and ownership, particularly that exerted by the internet technology vendors. Jonathan Taplin argues that breaking up Google would lead to the same type of innovation explosion that accompanied the break-up of AT&T. Resorting to regulators always makes markets uneasy but you know there is a problem when even free market advocates like the Economist suggest regulation is required!

Rightly the Economist has identified that it is not technology that defines our current era. It is data and that ceding control of all our data to a few vendors is a bad idea. Furthermore the current regulatory model is not fit-for-purpose as it has failed to keep up with the pace of technological change. The answer is simple. We must switch control back to the user and give the individual the rights, education and skills to make informed decisions about how and when they engage with technology, and those providing products or services via the internet.

The Rational Problem
Perhaps where governments can effectively support this switch in control is to introduce regulation that changes the dynamics of the current internet-led economic model. The most radical answer would be a disbandment of existing intellectual property laws, which the likes of Guy Standing believe concentrate control in the hands of the few. Allowing a small number of companies to hold patents on crucial technologies enables them to defeat competition and maintain regular income flows. This is the key rational economic challenge to overcome. We have to ensure technology does not enhance disparity between the ‘haves and have nots’ but closes the gap.

At MaidSafe, we are sceptical regulation alone can address the economic disparity question. One idea would be that an international governing body oversees the internet and levies a tariff on internet companies, dividing the proceeds between countries to support the expansion of infrastructure and improvement of technical skills. This is unrealistic. Anyone observing the World Trade Organisation attempting to secure agreement on universal trade shows how hard countries find it to set aside national interests.

Another more radical approach is demanding greater adherence from internet companies to the principles of open source and the open web; in particular rebalancing what is considered intellectual property (IP), in order to improve accessibility. It is one of the main reasons why MaidSafe has made the underlying SAFE Network code available under the GPL license and transferred ownership of the underlying and defensive IP to the MaidSafe Foundation, a Scottish charity focussed on fostering education and innovation. Both Jonathan Taplin and Guy Standing talk about the internet companies being the landlords taking rent from those using their IP. We are not suggesting all protection for innovators be removed, but there is an argument that economically we have become over-reliant on patents and should reduce that dependency.

By encouraging the open sourcing of more critical infrastructure technologies it creates the potential for a more even playing field as a start point for those who want access to the internet. Of course the big technology companies will say their business models fundamentally rely on revenue streams from existing products to fund the next generation of products, but they appear to have forgotten that a lot of today’s products and services started out as publicly funded research projects. If commercial companies are going to secure a long-term revenue stream from rentable models then surely they must be encouraged to take a different approach to patents and IP.

More importantly, though it would show willingness from industry to address the even bigger issue of inclusion; despite technologists heralding ever growing numbers of people accessing the internet there are still far too many cut off from its opportunities. Ultimately, this is one issue the policy makers and governments have to address, but adopting a more open source approach can go some way to enabling greater access.
Image Slava Bowman

The Future is a Community-Led Movement
However, we believe the above options do not go far enough. Internet companies, particularly those obliged to report to Wall Street, will always struggle to balance commercial pressures against social good. That is why we have significant doubts about universal basic income, which the technology industry appears to be backing over-enthusiastically. On one level it appears arrogant, suggesting that ‘poor’ people should rely on a form of welfare system to make up for a lack of work. Perhaps we should all be grateful that the top 1% dole out hand outs, but the vast majority of people we know would be offended if their family and future generations had to rely on UBI to get by. It lacks innovative thinking – yes technology will take away jobs, but we also believe it will create new ones and new economic models. Frankly, UBI is not radical enough, borne of traditional approaches to the welfare state.

Our proposal is the network becomes a source of income and economic opportunity based on contribution and participation. Fundamentally it becomes a reward system, where individuals and communities can contribute and feel a sense of accomplishment based on their level of participation. Above all this should be a bottom up approach, led today by communities of like-minded individuals. Network technologies and reward mechanisms are being developed to empower communities to take control of their identities and be more fairly rewarded. This will mean we are less reliant on the dominant internet companies and not waiting for government policy to catch up.

It allows commercial companies still to profit, but it also means users and content producers get to share the spoils. We should be offering users a reward in return for access to their data and we should find innovative ways for users to monetise their computing resources. More and more households and communities will have sophisticated computing equipment which could be a source of capacity that could provide revenue streams when individuals are not working. For example, at MaidSafe we are developing Safecoin, which provides a fair reward and payment mechanism for access to data. Combined with the ability of the SAFE Network to identify the owner of each chunk of data it will be a better way for content producers (artists, bloggers and musicians alike) to receive payment, as well as paying users for access to their spare computing capacity.

The Emotional Challenge
We believe incentivising participation is crucial in addressing the final and most divisive challenge – the ambiguity that the rise of technology has created for many people. Understandably it has led many to react instinctively and angrily to the control of the internet oligarchy. People are worried machines will lead to widespread redundancies and ultimately long-term unemployment with no positive alternatives explained. The only way to address these concerns, which can become very emotive, is to create a community led response. Working together communities should be able to define opportunities, whether they are economic or social. The key is enablement and encouraging groups to work together, which again comes back to rewards and incentives. We already see a lot of this collaborative working in the SAFE Network Forum, which is moderated by members of the community, and MaidSafe is only a contributor.

Using incentives and open source technology will make participation both accessible and beneficial. It will allow groups to work through challenges and create very local solutions. For example, imagine a community-led computing facility that generated income to support the group by offering capacity to the SAFE Network. That income could be shared among the group or used in exchange for products and services with other communities via the platform.

Clearly it is hard to envisage this reality, while the SAFE Network is still in development, but the growth of the SAFE Network Forum emphasises the value of a community-led approach. There is a role for government in supporting these communities, making people aware of them and educating them on ways to participate. This is a central element of the inclusion issue. If governments and education institutions can provide the training and support to help citizens to understand the opportunities this model offers it will empower communities to find their own answers.

However, we should not wait for policy makers to catch up. We have left it to the politicians for too long to come up with the answers and they have failed. We will have far greater influence over our relationship with technology and how it affects our lives if we build a movement that mobilises around our needs. The vision is not one huge amorphous online community, but many different ones focused around common interests and needs, benefiting from open access, being rewarded for participation and being allowed far greater control of our personal data.

One final note to add. While this may seem like a huge and almost unmanageable challenge this is no different to any other stage in history where the pace of technological change has forced a rethink of our approach to society and economics. Take this example:

“The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury.”

This was written in 1890 by Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis in the Harvard Law Review. Similar to today’s technology, advances in photography in the late 19th century were seen as seen as hugely disruptive to society. We survived that inflection point. We got some things right and some things wrong. I’m sure with a willingness to take some brave decisions and a community-led approach we will get through this next stage in our relationship with technology.

SAFE Network Development Summary – May 2017

We’ve had quite few requests on social media and on email these past few days requesting updates on development progress. These messages serve to remind us that not everyone has the time or the inclination to read the weekly development updates which we post each Thursday onto the forum. So many projects, so little time! So the intention with this post is to provide a summary of the most recent events and our hopes and expectations moving forward.

Image: Richard Tilney Bassett

Roadmap
The best place to start is our development roadmap, which we updated and published late last week. This web page tries to encapsulate all the complexities of development over time on 1 page so it’s pretty high level, but it is this snapshot view that most people seem to appreciate. You will notice that the roadmap outlines the major aspects of development and a rough indication of the order in which we anticipate tackling them.

You will also notice that we haven’t included timescales. In the past we have provided timescales for ‘launch’ of the network. These have always been wrong despite our best efforts. We have found it difficult to estimate timescales since, we believe, so much of what we have been working on is brand new technology, sometimes completely bespoke, and other times building on the work of other projects. Testing is also interesting, it really helps us understand more about how the network fits together and how it is utilised by our community, but invariably leads to more tweaking and testing with previously unplanned and unknown rework and test durations.

We believe that publishing release dates that have a high degree of uncertainty attached is not helpful to anyone and can cause more frustration than not publishing them at all. Network related development is typically where the biggest black holes are and as we get into incremental development client-side, we anticipate time scales will become more predictable.

Stable decentralised network
In late March we released test 15, a network that incorporated both data centre resource as well as enabling user run vaults. Within this release, users were also able to run the SAFE Browser, Launcher and demo app, which continue to facilitate the storage of private and public data, as well as create public ID’s and publish SAFE websites.

After 3 days of running a stable network without any lost data we realised we had reached an important milestone. While we had done this extensively in private tests, it was fantastic to see it running publicly and see the community reaction to it. Of course, life has a sense of humour and shortly after it became apparent that a script had been written that created fake accounts and filled the relatively small network with data, stopping the creation of new accounts or the uploading of new data. This was really helpful to us as it enabled us to find out what happens to the network when it reaches capacity in a real world setting. The fact that it behaved as expected was reassuring, although we’d be lying if didn’t admit to finding the spam attack a little frustrating. This is of course something that the integration of safecoin would stop, as the requirement to ‘pay’ to store data will make the attack expensive, while the incentive of safecoin to farmers would lead to a significantly bigger network.

What now?
Looking forward we are currently focussed in 3 main areas:

  • Catering for mobile devices.
  • Enabling greater user participation.
  • Improving the resilience and robustness of the network.

Mobile
The patience app developers have shown to this point is soon to be rewarded. The process of converting our APIs away from a REST paradigm to SDKs was essential to cater for mobile devices, as the requirement for REST APIs to maintain state would not have worked with mobile devices that disconnect and reconnect regularly. Users of the SAFE Network will gain access through the Authenticator, a secure gateway that protects user credentials from the application itself. The Authenticator is currently being bundled with the SAFE browser and will enable users to securely authenticate themselves onto the network, or enable them to browse publicly available data without logging in.

To implement Authenticator the team required to add a new data type, mutable data. The new data type improves the network efficiency, saves bandwidth, and provides the granular access control required by mobile platforms.

With mobile devices being so ubiquitous throughout the world, enabling mobile client access to the network, mutable data has been receiving significant focus. From a resource provision perspective, both alpha and beta versions of the network will require laptop and desktop and in time single board computers to earn safecoin when it is released. In time, we will look at enabling mobile devices being able to farm for safecoins when plugged into a power outlet and when in range of WiFi, however, as we will detail below this is not a priority for now.

More alphas
Some of the example applications that have been created are currently being ported to suit the new data type and to be compatible with the new APIs. The team are updating the documentation and are testing the applications using a mock network, and they seem to be far more stable than previous iterations which looks positive. We anticipate alpha 2 will encompass the new Mutable Data type and Authenticator, SAFE Browser DOM APIs and Node.js SDK, along with example apps, tutorials and documentation.

Image: Clint Adair

Alpha 3 will see our focus shift onto enabling a greater number of users to run Vaults from home by integrating uTP. Presently users must TCP port forward, or enable UPnP on their routers which requires a little set up in some cases. Adding uTP support will make for a more seamless process for many while making the network accessible to more users. uTP is used in some BitTorrent protocols and when implemented effectively helps to mitigate poor latency and facilitate the reliable and ordered delivery of data packets.

During this phase we will also integrate node ageing, a feature that make the network more resilient to consensus group attacks. The team will also implement the first part of data chains, a feature that has been planned for a while which it is anticipated will ultimately enable the secure republish of data should the network ever lose power, and to provide validation that data has been stored on the network.

Looking ahead
Beyond alpha 3 we will focus on:

  • Data Chains, part 2.
  • Data republish and network restarts.
  • A security audit of the network
  • Test safecoin
  • Real-time network upgrades
  • Network validated upgrades

As has been the case to this point we will continue to release multiple test nets regularly between each alpha network to prove the technology in a public setting, and to mitigate against the code regressing.

We continue to be grateful to the huge support of the people that take the time to run these networks and report back, you all know who you are!

The Power of Crowd – Part Three: the Consequences of Change

Photo: Alex Holyoake

As I outlined in the earlier articles I believe we are at a crucial inflection point for the internet. While it has become integral and beneficial to many people, the way it is currently being used strays from the principles of the open web, in terms of equality of access, freedom of speech and transparency. The worldwide web has left a small group of companies holding most of the financial clout, while users are regularly exposed to invasions of privacy or censorship. At an even more basic level, the infrastructure is not in place for a large part of the global population to access the internet. The problem is that we have gone beyond the point of no return in our reliance on the internet to go about our daily lives. It will only become more pervasive in the future, but if we stick to the current model we will only perpetuate the existing problems. Therefore, we must to consider more radical reform to create a fairer, safer and more open internet, in line with the original principles behind the open web.

However, such change will also have far reaching consequences for our daily lives. It could affect how nation states interact with one another. It could alter how companies do business and require people to make more of a financial contribution to receive online services. I would contend that if we can get these changes right they will benefit everyone. We can improve privacy for individuals, protect free speech and foster fairer economic opportunities for everyone. I am not just saying this as a biased technologist. Hopefully everyone can agree the internet has had a positive impact on communities around the world. It has supported the rise of the global middle class, even if that it has left us with a lop-sided “shared” economy. What gives me hope is that there are new technologies emerging such as the decentralized web and crypto-currencies, which create the possibility of very different ways for societies to interact and trade. Philosophically this will be a heated debate, especially if it means suggesting an alternative economic model to the tried and tested ones. However, if we accept the world is filled with significant social and economic imbalances, and that the current version of the internet is helping to exacerbate them, then surely we should air the alternatives? And if a new generation of internet technologies could offer innovation, which might have a positive effect on social mobility, then shouldn’t we consider these options and the consequent effects for economic models?

There are many different ideas floating around, some have been around for a long time, some are newer. They might seem abstract in a discussion about the future of the internet, but now is surely the time for bold, if not radical departures from traditional ways of doing things. For example, if the future internet gives individuals greater control over their data, what will that mean for those online businesses who have relied on access to our personal information? If we no longer want to surrender our sensitive data in return for free services, then how should companies trade with us? If companies are allowed to continue to make significant profits from online commerce, should we consider more radical forms of taxation to improve access to the internet for the wider population? Will traditional currency still be needed in the future or would it be more efficient to turn to crypto-currencies entirely? Should we apply the model of open source software more broadly to give more universal, affordable access to products and services? Or should we do away with net neutrality and tier access so that everyone receives a form of internet service, which is commensurate with what they are prepared to paid for?

No matter what your response is to these questions, there are diverse economic and social models emerging, which turn away from many of the accepted principles of free trade economics. Below is a small sample of the theories up for discussion. Would one of these models be more appropriate than what we have today, or should we be even more radical?

Circular economy
This concept has its origins in developing a more sustainable approach to the use and disposal of resources. Rather than a linear view of production as “make, use, dispose” it reflects the cyclical model of nature where nothing is wasted. It is a stretch to suggest it can be applied wholesale to reforming the internet, but some form of circular economy could be more inclusive. Perhaps concepts such as recycling could challenge how we view ownership, with the internet enabling new models of shared or rented usage. For example, we could encourage less car ownership by enabling travellers to receive crypto-rewards for using alternative or shared forms of transport; or we could create a scheme to help less connected communities receive travel allowances from car users, taken as a crypto-tax when they use their vehicles.

Tech-Led Trustless Systems
Johann Gevers has put forward a theory that next generation technologies are encouraging the decentralization of the core pillars of society. This has the potential to enable communities to operate and govern themselves in a different way. He describes it as trustless technology, which means technology exists that removes doubt about the validity of a transaction or a user’s identity. We can guarantee an individual’s identity, be confident about privacy and be sure there won’t be cases of fraud or security breaches because the decentralised model overcomes the issues of the past. Technology of trust is decentralizing:

  • The way we talk to one another, thanks to tools such as encryption which enable more private conversations.
  • The legal system, as it offers individuals greater choice in how decisions are adjudicated.
  • Production, because 3D Printing means there is less of a need for mass production.
  • Finance through the arrival of crypto-currencies.

The biggest challenge for these trustless systems is the large number of people around the world who remain undocumented. If this approach worked it could dramatically change how we structure societies – perhaps moving away from larger sprawling urban environments to smaller communities inter-connected via the internet with like-minded communities sharing economic opportunity.

Digital Distributism
I have mentioned this before but it is a theory put forward by Douglas Rushkoff, which suggests internet culture is giving birth to companies like Etsy and peer-to-peer communities, supported by crypto-currencies. These communities are seen as less global and do not follow the model of organizations like Google and Facebook attempting to rule the world. Rather than be solely driven by profit these smaller societies seek to support everyone within the group, sharing wealth rather than taking it out for individual gain. It harks back to a time before free market economics when societies were more self-sustaining and using barter systems to trade goods and services. It does rely on individuals sacrificing personal gain to support the group and inherently if one community is in a resource rich location, then it will start with an advantage over others.

While these theories might sound like the product of a Silicon Valley brainstorm facilitated by a student of Ayn Rand, they are symbolic of the very exciting debates that are happening today. You only have to look at the emergence of events such as Sonar D+ to realise that some are already well on the path to exploring what a world powered by a different sort of internet might be like. This debate should be much broader, including representatives of every political and social persuasion, because consensus is going to be critical if we are to find the right solutions.

The Power of the Crowd – Part Two: the Tricky Questions

Photo: Emily Morter

What follows is by no means a comprehensive list of tricky questions, but if we are seeking to build a new framework for the internet, we must debate the ones where there are no black and white answers. Though some may be unhappy with the conclusions, reaching consensus is essential. When it comes to something as pervasive as the internet we will have to find a way to reflect the diverse opinions of every section of society and accept that perhaps there will be some uncomfortable compromises.

Here goes with the initial list of questions and I would ask those of you reading this post to add others to build the list out.

Question one: what sort of internet do we actually want?
This is the most obvious, but also the most fundamental question. Since the arrival of the worldwide web many of us (particularly in developed economies) have become accustomed to convenient online services and “free” apps. Yet the same benefits are not available to everyone. Only 3 billion people are online today and access is heavily skewed in favour of people in developed economies. What about the rest? The speed and quality of access varies dramatically, even in the developed world. According to the Office of National Statistics, 11% of UK households have no internet access. Surely we should have resolved universal access to the Internet by now as a basic right in line with the United Nations’ decree?

Question two: how do we police the internet?
The pace of technological change will always leave regulators scrambling to keep up with its impact on the internet and how it affects us as citizens and consumers. Today, though, we appear to be living in a wild west scenario where nation states are using the internet legally to monitor their citizens and conduct cyber-attacks in what could be at best described diplomatically as economic and political espionage. Freedom House has said internet freedom has declined for the sixth consecutive year and two-thirds of internet users live in countries where the authorities use censorship to limit access. And democratic countries are just as guilty of intrusion as supposedly more authoritarian regimes. The Governments of the “free world” have enacted new laws that legalise the mass surveillance that many have been conducting for at least 10 years. If we are to hold nation states to account for their oversight of the internet, then surely we all need to live by the same code of conduct? There has been talk of non-proliferation treaties in the same style as the nuclear disarmament treaty to encourage governments to moderate their behaviour.

However, if the United States officially says it is building an offensive cyber-security capability, then it goes without saying other countries will see that as a green light to follow suit.

Photo: Luca Bravo


Question three: who should be in charge?
We all live in countries with borders. We have passports that say we are British, American, Chinese or South African. And yet the internet has moved rapidly to break down geographic barriers. This has been a good thing in one sense, because it has enabled the sharing of information, such as scientific research for the betterment of everyone. Equally, though, it has allowed hackers to conduct criminal activities from jurisdictions beyond the reach of the law enforcement officials in individual countries. There are also those, who no longer see themselves as represented by their nation state and are using the internet to build new communities. Indeed the dark web and crypto-currencies are creating the potential for individuals to live by alternate social, economic and legal structures. This is of course an extreme alternative, how far do we allow the internet to encroach on traditional national boundaries? And how far do we allow national political agendas to determine the freedoms offered by the internet? What do we do if internet communities no longer want to adhere to the rules of one nation state?

Question four: how do we fix the foundations underpinning the internet?
There are billions of people around the world who are not connected to the internet. Without a physical connection the conversation about the future of the internet is a non-starter. More importantly there are many people around the world, in both developed and emerging economies, who continue to struggle to receive the minimum standards of education to enable them to read and write. Without these basic human rights the internet is pointless for them. Furthermore, there are many individuals without proper documentation. If these people do not exist then how can they participate in the opportunities of access to the internet? Given that cyber threats are so prevalent, if we cannot trust the identities of the people who are using the internet it will create barriers.

Question five: who owns the internet and all the content in it?
The principle of the open web, as outlined in the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, was that people on the internet were outside the control of governments. The Cluetrain Manifesto told companies that they could join their conversations, but that they didn’t have any right to control the conversation. Sadly today’s worldwide web is anything but a reflection of this aspiration. It is big business and that means those with a vested interest will resist change with all their might. Today Google and Facebook receive 65% of all advertising revenue through digital channels. And yet all that revenue is reliant on us surrendering personal information in exchange for services. This is not a fair exchange when you look at the profits the internet mega-brands generate from our data. Should we not have more of a say in how our data is used? Should we not have greater ownership of our data? Or should we accept that intellectual property, copyright and ownership are out-dated concepts? Clearly we cannot expect vendors to invest in technology and products without some form of recompense, but we need to agree that the current economic model is not distributing wealth evenly.