Decentralization cannot be marketed


The Redecentralize conference at the London office of ThoughtWorks this past weekend was framed as:

Taking back the net. A weekend to learn, connect and make technology that shapes society.

I can’t imagine for one moment that your weekend was more enjoyable! πŸ™‚

This post doesn’t attempt to cover the full depth and breadth of the presentations and conversations, but rather offers up my view on our common purpose and a way forward in light of these.

Why decentralize?

As and when a company can centralize the action it can achieve economies of scale and make corresponding investments that benefit it and its customers. Right? In terms of those benefits, your online world may be dominated by just a handful of companies – the likes of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo for example – and you may not be thinking of leaving their orbit because, well, it just works fine thank you very much.

There is however irrefutable evidence that if we all coalesce around the services of just a few companies then we all lose something rather precious. It’s a bit like a tragedy of the commons in so much as everyone makes an independent rational choice but the collective suffers. When that phrase was coined it referred specifically to unregulated grazing on common land, and its use has expanded to include all unregulated resources especially those in the natural world. And it’s this natural world that tells us that centralization of the Internet and related services doesn’t bode well.
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Toward a Social Compact for Digital Privacy and Security

GCIG – Toward a Social CompactThe Global Commission on Internet Governance ( was established in January 2014 to articulate and advance a strategic vision for the future of Internet governance. The two-year project is conducting and supporting independent research on Internet-related dimensions of global public policy, culminating in an official commission report.

I was invited in June this year to discuss an interim statement – Toward a Social Compact for Digital Privacy and Security – with Dame Professor Wendy Hall and Sir David Omand at a Web Science Institute event.

The core elements advocated in building the new social compact are:

  1. Privacy and personal data protection as a fundamental human right
  2. The necessity and proportionality of surveillance
  3. Legal transparency and redress for unlawful surveillance
  4. Safeguarding online data and consumer awareness
  5. Big data and trust
  6. Strengthening private communications
  7. No back doors to private data
  8. Public awareness of good cyber-security practices
  9. Mutual assistance to curtail transborder cyber threats.

The full video of this session is available on YouTube. Here is what I had to say on behalf of the hi:project …

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Drucker Society – The human web and sustainability

Drucker Forum

The upcoming 7th Global Drucker Forum (#GPDF15) will look at the technology revolution through the lens of humanity. It will address such questions as:

  • In a technology-driven economy, does management need a fundamental makeover?
  • How can digital technology be leveraged to augment human capacity as opposed to automate and replace it?
  • Can we achieve breakthrough innovation across the board creating new opportunity for people?
  • Based on the new technology infrastructure – is a new economic order in the making?

I am delighted then to have had the opportunity, on behalf of the hi:project, to contribute a pre-event post to the Drucker Forum – The human web and sustainability – reproduced here in full. Continue reading

Establishing the open Web as a basic right and a public good

Web Foundation homepage 2 July 2015Sir Tim Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Foundation in 2009 with the mission to establish the open Web as a basic right and a public good. The Foundation is intent on “building a future in which the Web empowers everyone, everywhere, to take part in building a fairer world.”

web foundation logoAs described on its new website (launched 26th May 2015), the Foundation has three over-arching programmes:

  • Expanding Access
  • Raising Voices
  • Enhancing Participation

I’ll introduce each briefly, and then identify how we aspire to play our part. Continue reading

We The Data grand challenges and the hi:project analysis

The We The Data community describes its purpose in these terms:

The Arab Spring and Zipcar are part of the same data revolution. How? Right now, data may be what we intentionally share, or what is gathered about us – the product of surveillance and tracking. We are the customer, but our data are the product. How do we balance our anxiety around data with its incredible potential? How do we regain more control over what happens to our data and what is targeted at us as a result? We The Data have the power to topple dictators, or empower them. We The Data can broaden economic opportunity to new, as yet unimagined kinds of entrepreneurs, or further consolidate economic power in the hands of a few large corporations. We The Data can create new forms of social cooperation and exchange, or give us more of the same corporate obsession with better targeted advertising. It’s up to us: #wethedata

We The Data has undertaken some unprecedented, fascinating and valuable analysis of the emerging data landscape based on 30 expert interviews, identifying what they describe as the Grand Challenges. Concurrently we have been synthesising the hi:project to address some of those challenges. Continue reading

We need a social compact – The Global Commission on Internet Governance

WSI launch 2014 – Professors Shadbolt, Carr, Halford, Hall
The Web Science Institute (founding directors pictured) invited me to its event on personal data, privacy and security in London this week. The event marks the Institute’s first birthday, and I joined Dame Professor Wendy Hall and Sir David Omand to discuss the recent statement from The Global Commission on Internet Governance.

The Commission was established in January 2014 to articulate and advance a strategic vision for the future of Internet governance. In its statement for the Global Conference on Cyberspace meeting in The Hague in April, the Commission calls on the global community to build a new social compact between citizens and their elected representatives, the judiciary, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, business, civil society and the Internet technical community, with the goal of restoring trust and enhancing confidence in the Internet. Continue reading

Open up to the GDPR and the IoT

The bridge to GDPR compliance

During our round-table on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) we explained technological compliance in terms of a bridge metaphor. It’s 50% about Alice, our name for the citizen, and 50% about the organization, referred to as BizCo.

The GDPR tells organizations that Alice takes primacy when it comes to personal data. Yet Alice cannot be best served by a panoply of enterprise IT solutions for her side of things (the clue is in the name, β€œenterprise IT”). We need to help Alice help us by equipping her with her own half of the bridge. Indeed, doing so amplifies the investment the organization makes its side of the bridge, as anyone who has tried to cross a chasm with just half a bridge will testify! Continue reading

Questions of VRM, privacy and consent, advertising and technology

PostShift kindly hosted the hi:project’s second London meetup yesterday evening. This post is not intended to be a record of the conversation, more a Q&A based on some questions raised at the meetup and in other fora in the past week or so.

By the way, Alice is our name for the citizen, the individual we seek to serve across all her roles in life.

Why does Jon Husband call the hi:project the epitome of VRM?

Many ProjectVRM ventures have focused on storing personal data, seeking then to monetise that service. This is fatally flawed. Personal data needs to ‘breathe’, to be situated within other data, in order to become more useful. And Alice doesn’t want to pay for her personal data bank, much like she doesn’t want to pay for personal banking (and that’s something she actually understands!)

Alice doesn’t get data. She gets when she’s overdrawn. She gets when her diabetes is erratic. She gets when she’s in too many meetings. In other words, she gets information, not data. Continue reading

Open and meaningful compliance – the hi:project GDPR round-table


The hi:project hosted a round-table this morning on the topic of the technological response to the General Data Protection Regulation. The corresponding issues lie at the heart of the hi:project.

The hi:project team believes:

  • The GDPR tells organisations that the EU citizen takes primacy when it comes to personal data – and if personal data is the lifeblood of 21st Century organisation, these 500+ million people are now at the heart of your European operations
  • The EU citizen cannot be best served by a panoply of enterprise IT solutions for her side of things (the clue is in the name, “enterprise IT”)
  • The response is non-differentiating, requiring the formation of an open community and the development of open technology
  • The best response is designed with a deeper and broader vision in mind, as we articulate here at the hi:project, in order to turn this regulatory challenge into an opportunity.

As one of our members puts it, we champion meaningful compliance to help (re)build trust and create mutual value. The alternative – meaningless compliance – is a box-ticking exercise that may only do more harm than good.

The round-table was held under Chatham House Rule so I won’t mention any of the participants by name or organisational affiliation. The types of organisation are described on our pre-event blog post.

If you would like to be involved in our open response to the GDPR, for direct and related reasons as discussed elsewhere on the hi:project website, please get in touch by emailing

Privacy AND openness fosters collective intelligence and accountability

Matatus in Nairobi Kenya
Data, information and knowledge may be described as open if anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share it for any purpose – subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness. We apply an open license to all the stuff we create and publish on this website (see the Creative Commons reference in the footer).

You might describe privacy in personal data terms as having control over who has access to what data and for what purpose. Obviously some data needs to be shared with a service provider in the very provision of the service in question, and such terms should be communicated unambiguously. Additionally, the definition of what constitutes personal data is typically broader than many perceive. It includes meta data for example – that is data about data, eg, your location when you made a mobile phone call.

The hi:project is recognised for addressing challenges associated with personal data and privacy (amongst other things) and in banging that particular drum we find that quite a few people confuse privacy and openness as opposites. They are not. Actually, they are entirely compatible and in its letter of endorsement for the hi:project the Web Science Trust identifies our dedication to propagating openness as well as our focus on privacy. Continue reading