Saturday, September 26th 2015,
The Internet has evolved a lot in the last 5 years. In 2009, using online services meant trusting third-party services to keep your data safe. For example Facebook knew everything about your activities and your friends, Google Docs had all the documents you collaborated to, Gmail had all your emails… All these services had quite unclear terms of services. They claimed that they wouldn’t use your data in wrong ways but they used it to display targeted ads. And you could never be sure that they wouldn’t lose your data or get hacked. This trust problem made difficult to use cloud services systematically, though their advantages were becoming obvious.
Now this problem has been at least partly fixed thanks to Internet Service Providers. My situation is very common: I have a very fast and symmetrical optical fiber connection. My Freebox v8, my new Internet box, is always connected to the Internet and includes a server that hosts all my personal data and data from other members of my family. Our family computer, my personal notebook, my Jolicloud netbook and my IPhone are constantly synchronized to the hard disk of our Freebox (through our private network or through the Internet).
The server of the Freebox consists mainly of an HTTP server with a web interface, and many APIs. A web interface is available for each member of the family at http://nickname.free.fr. Mine is at http://twisterss.free.fr. It resembles a personal blog with many social features.
This URL also is the key to my digital life. It is used by many websites to access the APIs of my Freebox using OAuth. Facebook stores the messages, links, pictures and videos I share on my Freebox using these APIs. My freebox has the authorizations to access data of my friends too. They all have an unique URL like mine, giving acces to the same APIs. First Facebook didn’t want to use this architecture because it made them lose control over the data of their users, but seeing new competitors growing rapidly using this new architecture made them change their mind. Now they even have developed a proprietary plugin with a special API extension that is more rapid and makes more features available than the default one. I could install it on my freebox in one click, but I prefer the default open-source one, as I’m not really sure what the closed-source Facebook plugin does. Now the value of Facebook is in the way they sort data to show the most interesting, and in all the third-party applications available to manage one’s digital life. And they don’t have to pay for the huge servers they used to have for pictures and video uploads, as they are directly sent from the user’s server.
Google uses this architecture a lot too: it searches both in my friends’ data and on the Internet, and can even tell me when some friends made searches related to mine (if they agreed to make it public, obviously). As Facebook, they propose a proprietary plugin that indexes data more efficiently. Jolicloud uses my private server to synchronize apps and files on all my netbooks, and to propose me applications my friends like.
With this architecture, users have a much better control over their data, as it is stored on their private server, and most of the time only meta data is sent to the websites (links and descriptions for Google or Facebook…). All data is synchronized on all computers, so it can be restored if a hard disk fails. Data sharing is made much more efficient and fast as it isn’t sent to a central server. But this architecture isn’t perfect: if users install malicious plugins on their box, or if they give access to their data to any website through OAuth, then their privacy is still threatened.
This idea of the future is the Internet that I would like to use in 2015. For this to happen, we would need to find standards for the APIs that everyone accepts, and web services like Facebook would have to understand the importance of privacy. ISPs probably have interest to make this happen as they would play a much more important role on the Internet. But only users can make this happen if privacy really matters to them.