Time for digital emancipation

Civilization is a draft. Provisional. Scaffolded. Under construction. For example:


That’s Thomas Jefferson‘s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration hasn’t changed since July 4, 1776, but the Constitution built on it has been amended thirty-three times, so far. The thirteenth of those abolished slavery, at the close of the Civil War, seventy-seven years after the Constitution was ratified.

Today we are in another struggle for equality, this time on the Net. As Brian Grimmer put it to me, “Digital emancipation is the struggle of the century.”

There is an ironic distance between those first two words: digital and emancipation. The digital world by itself is free. Its boundaries are those of binary math: ones and zeroes. Connecting that world is a network designed to put no restrictions on personal (or any) power, while reducing nearly to zero the functional distance between everybody and everything. Costs too. Meanwhile, most of what we experience on the Net takes place on the World Wide Web, which is not the Net but a layer on top of it. The Web is built on architectural framework called client-server. Within that framework, browsers are clients, and sites are servers. So the relationship looks like this:


In other words, client-server is calf-cow. (I was once told that “client-server” was chosen because “it sounded better than ‘slave-master.'” If anyone has the facts on that, let us know.)

Bruce Schneier gives us another metapor for this asymmetry:

It’s a feudal world out there.

Some of us have pledged our allegiance to Google: We have Gmail accounts, we use Google Calendar and Google Docs, and we have Android phones. Others have pledged allegiance to Apple: We have Macintosh laptops, iPhones, and iPads; and we let iCloud automatically synchronize and back up everything. Still others of us let Microsoft do it all. Or we buy our music and e-books from Amazon, which keeps records of what we own and allows downloading to a Kindle, computer, or phone. Some of us have pretty much abandoned e-mail altogether … for Facebook.

These vendors are becoming our feudal lords, and we are becoming their vassals.

It’s handy being a vassal. For example, you get to use these shortcuts into websites that require logins:


To see how much personal data you risk spilling when you click on the Facebook one, visit iSharedWhat (by Joe Andrieu) for a test run. That spilled data can be used in many ways, including surveillance. The Direct Marketing Association tells us the purpose of surveillance is to give you a better “internet experience” through “interest-based advertising—ads that are intended for you, based on what you do online.” The DMA also provides tools for you to manage experiences of what they call “your ads,” by clicking on this tiny image here:


It appears in the corners of ads from companies in the DMA’s AdChoice program. Here is one:


The “AdChoices” text appears when you mouse over the icon. When I click on it, I get this:


Like most companies’ privacy policies, Scottrade’s says this: “Scottrade reserves the right to make changes to this Online Privacy Policy at any time.” But never mind that. Instead look at the links that follow. One of those leads to Opt Out From Behavioral Advertising By Participating Companies (BETA). There you can selectively opt out of advertising by dozens of companies. (There are hundreds of those, however. Most don’t allow opting out.)

I suppose that’s kind of them; but for you and me it’s a lot easier just to block all ads and tracking on our own, with a browser extension or add-on. This is why Adblock Plus tops Firefox’s browser add-ons list, which includes many other similar products as well. (The latest is Privacy Badger, from the EFF, which Don Marti visits here.)

Good as they are, ad and tracking blockers are still just prophylactics. They make captivity more bearable, but they don’t emancipate us. For that we need are first person technologies: ways to engage as equals on the open Net, including the feudal Web.

One way to start is by agreeing about how we respect each other. The Respect Trust Framework, for example, is a constitution of sorts, “designed to be self-reinforcing through use of a peer-to-peer reputation system.” Every person and company agreeing to the framework is a peer. Here are the five principles to which all members agree:

Promise We will respect each other’s digital boundaries

Every Member promises to respect the right of every other Member to control the Member Information they share within the network and the communications they receive within the network.

Permission We will negotiate with each other in good faith

As part of this promise, every Member agrees that all sharing of Member Information and sending of communications will be by permission, and to be honest and direct about the purpose(s) for which permission is sought.

Protection We will protect the identity and data entrusted to us

As part of this promise, every Member agrees to provide reasonable protection for the privacy and security of Member Information shared with that Member.

Portability We will support other Members’ freedom of movement

As part of this promise, every Member agrees that if it hosts Member Information on behalf of another Member, the right to possess, access, control, and share the hosted information, including the right to move it to another host, belongs to the hosted Member.

Proof We will reasonably cooperate for the good of all Members

As part of this promise, every Member agrees to share the reputation metadata necessary for the health of the network, including feedback about compliance with this trust framework, and to not engage in any practices intended to game or subvert the reputation system.

The Respect Network has gathered several dozen founding partners in a common effort to leverage the Respect Trust Framework into common use, and within it a market for VRM and services that help out. I’m involved with two of those partners: The Searls Group (my own consultancy, for which Respect Network is a client) and Customer Commons (in which I am a board member).

This summer Respect Network launched a crowd-funding campaign to get this new social login button rolling:


It’s called the Respect Connect button, and it embodies all the principles above; but especially the first one: We will respect each others’ digital boundaries. This makes itthe first safe social login button.

Think of the Respect Connect button project as a barn raising. There are lots of planks (and skills) you can bring, but the main ones will be your =names (“equals names”). These are sovereign identifiers you own and manage for yourself — unlike, say, your Twitter @ handle, which Twitter owns. (Organizations — companies, associations, governments — have +names and things have *names.)

Mine is =Doc.

Selling =names are CSPs: Cloud Service Providers. There are five so far (based, respectively, in Las Vegas, Vienna, London, New York/Jerusalem and Perth):

bosonweb-logo danube_clouds-logo paoga-logo emmett_global-logo onexus-logo

Here’s a key feature: they are substituable. You can port your =name from one to the other as easily as you port your phone number from one company to another. (In fact the company that does this in the background for both your =name and your phone number is Neustar, another Respect Network partner.)

You can also self-host your own personal cloud.

I just got back from a world tour of places where much scaffolding work is going up around this and many other ways customers and companies can respect each other and grow markets. I’ll be reporting more on all of it in coming posts. Meanwhile, enjoy some photos.


This entry was posted in Business, Identity, infrastructure, Personal clouds, Places, Social, Technology, Travel, VRM. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Time for digital emancipation

  1. Anon says:

    It’s not just feudal, it’s tribal. That’s how humans are put together. But it’s possible to (mostly) opt out: block facebook, use the Ghostery addon, choose multiple DNS providers that don’t track, don’t use a smartfone (ref: Stallman), “cloud” at home or not at all, use a mom-n-pop ISP & email svc., don’t email much, etc. Trust isn’t won with empty promises, and once it’s gone (like now) it doesn’t come back, ever.
    Ref: Groucho Marx: “I don’t want to have anything to do with any organization that would have someone like me for a member.”

  2. Brian Grimmer says:

    Brilliant Synthesis Doc

    Information Asymmetry is where the imbalance of power and therefore abuse of power lies.

    Loved the calf-cow, client-server, slave-master analogy amongst other things

  3. client server?
    “master slave” was already taken by personal computers. back in the day of one ide channel, supporting two disks.

    The only way to rein in the over reaching data spying is to make it prohibitively expensive to collect.

    Javascript is the most popular vector for infecting your personal computers, and the current crop of web designers live and die by jQuery and other more invasive script libraries.

    Sites that tell you that the use of ‘cookies’ is required to see the ‘features’ of their whizz-bang site, have already have their hands in your pocket and are working on taking the rest of your personal information.

    This is bullshit as you only need a hand full of HTML tags to display any type of content, without setting cookies or using java script.
    Sites that say that they only share with their partners are the guys going through your desk, glove compartment and medicine cabinet.

    Browsers have gotten bloated to hundreds of MB’s to service these ‘features’.

    That being said, My favorite app would be a cookie scrambler.

    This would be an add on for browsers that accept requests for information and writes the results to zeros, 0000000000, before sending it back.

    Gigabytes of null data will make tracking an unprofitable venture. It may go a long way toward reducing click fraud which is still enjoying ‘excellent’ growth.

    You continue to bang the drum of information symmetry/asymmetry in terms of information sharing.

    when you go to the corner store or flea market and buy an item and pay cash, your symmetry requirement is met. my money for stuff riff.

    when you buy a new porsche, ideally you maintain that symmetry, even though you are providing much more information, how you are paying, loan, financing, ect.

    The imbalance occurs when the other guy is selling that information to third parties, or giving up website real estate for ads, 1 pixel drive by data collection, trackers and browser fingerprinting.

    The best way to stop these bad actors, and they are bad actors, is to not do business with them. Not just in terms of money for stuff, but also in terms of time attention.

    One of the best ways to bring about change is to identify sites, whose ‘partners’ are on ad blocker lists and getting a 24 hour boycott to not visit these sites.

    Probably need to get the EFF, VRM, and your Berkman center together to make it work.

  4. Pingback: News of the Week; July 30, 2014 | Legal Constraints on (Digital) Creativity

  5. Pingback: Why Digital Freedom and Digital Privacy Are Flip Sides of the Same Coin | Respect Network

  6. Pingback: Doc Searls Weblog · What do sites need from social login buttons?

  7. Pingback: Cluetrain’s One Clue | ProjectVRM

  8. Pingback: certified ethical hacker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *