We ran an article on Solid this week, a project that aims to do nothing less than change the privacy and security aspects of the Internet as we use it today. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who invented the World Wide Web as a side project at work, is behind it, and it’s got a lot to recommend it. I certainly hope they succeed.
The basic idea is that instead of handing your photos, your content, and your thoughts over to social media and other sharing platforms, you’d store your own personal data in a Personal Online Data (POD) container, and grant revocable access to these companies to access your data on your behalf. It’s like it’s your own website contents, but with an API for sharing parts of it elsewhere.
This is a clever legal hack, because today you give over rights to your data so that Facebook and Co. can display them in your name. This gives them all the bargaining power, and locks you into their service. If instead, you simply gave Facebook a revocable access token, the power dynamic shifts. Today you can migrate your data and delete your Facebook account, but that’s a major hassle that few undertake.
Mike and I were discussing this on this week’s podcast, and we were thinking about the privacy aspects of PODs. In particular, whatever firm you use to socially share your stuff will still be able to snoop you out, map your behavior, and target you with ads and other content, because they see it while it’s in transit. But I failed to put two and two together.
The real power of a common API for sharing your content/data is that it will make it that much easier to switch from one sharing platform to another. This means that you could easily migrate to a system that respects your privacy. If we’re lucky, we’ll see competition in this space. At the same time, storing and hosting the data would be portable as well, hopefully promoting the best practices in the providers. Real competition in where your data lives and how it’s served may well save the Internet. (Or at least we can dream.)
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As it stands on the modern Internet, your data is no longer your own. Your emails, photos, and posts all live on servers owned by large corporations. Their policies give them access to your data, which is mined to generate advertising revenue. And if you want your data back, there are innumerable hoops to jump through. Want it deleted entirely? Good luck.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, as the original creator of what became the Web, has drawn issue with the current state of play. To move the ball on the issue, he’s been working on a design for decentralized internet and the efforts have led to the establishment of the Solid project. The goal is to rectify online privacy and ownership issues and give users greater control over their personal data.
The big question is how do you do that? When SOLID was announced last year there were few if any details on the approach taken by the program. But since then, more details have surface and you can even take an early version of the program for a spin. Let’s take a look.
It looks like a tube made of glass but it’s actually aluminum. Well, aluminum with an asterisk beside it — this is not elemental aluminum but rather a material made using it.
We got onto the buzz about “transparent aluminum” as a result of a Tweet from whence the image above came. This Tweet was posted by [Jo Pitesky], a Science Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. [Jo] reported that at a recent JPL technology open house she had the chance to handle a tube of material that looks for all the world like a section of glass tubing, but was billed as transparent aluminum. [Jo] tweeted this because it was an interesting artifact that few people get to play with and she’s right, this is fascinating!
The the material itself is intriguing, and I immediately had practical questions like what is this stuff? What is it good for? How is it made? And is it really aluminum rendered transparent by some science fiction process?
[KoD] and [Navic] are building solid propellant motors using sugar and potassium nitrate. They cook up the two ingredients along with water and a bonding agent. They find that corn syrup is particularly good for bonding and that cooking the strange brew is more of an artform than science. Either way, the video after the break is proof of the dangers involved in this hobby. Testing the engine thrust with a bathroom scale ends badly for the scale.
There is something satisfying about the ingenuity that goes into the materials. For a casing they’re using PVC pipe, and forming a cone to focus the thrust by using a what amounts to plumber’s epoxy putty. The capping agent for the finished motor is ground up kitty litter.