PRR – Privacy Respecting Router a #freedentity idea

In the next few weeks I will outline more parts of something we (a few friends of me) are calling FreeDentity. That’s why I have added a category and a tag to my posts with the same name. So stay tuned for the philosophy, while in this post I talk about a project idea that actually implements that philosophy.

The PRR – Privacy Respecting Router

The typical internet user in the developed countries has a DSL connection with quite some speed (and unused bandwidth). For many people the main communication paths are email, facebook, twitter. Domain names are cheap. DynDNS etc allow you to reach your router at home with a defined hostname.

Current news show us a future that isn’t that bright. Subpoenas against twitter users that only see the light due to twitter legal department asking to unseal the sealed (thus secret) subpoena are just the tip of the iceberg.

The only solution is actually quite simple. In order to gain more control over your privacy and data, you should keep it under your control whenever possible. Handing your data to Facebook, twitter or gmail however is the opposite of that. You hand over your data under typically broad terms of use that give Facebook, Twitter, Google a lot of rights and leave you in the dark about what actually happens with it.

Two things have happened however that might make a change for some of us (hopefully becoming more and more):

  • Decentralized Open Solutions like statusnet, diaspora and good ole email servers
  • Powerful routers that can handle a lot of work, not just forwarding and NATting IP packets.

So let’s combine all of that into one thing. An Open Source firmware for typical routers that offer these functions, thus keeping your data private but still allowing you to share with the world. All of that under an extremely simple User Interface.

A firmware that when doing its first-time config asks you for your domain name, sets up a local mail server for that domain, updates the DNS entries to make sure your mail comes to you.

A firmware that sets up a simple instance of statusnet, with the possibility to sync your dents to twitter.

A firmware that runs a simple instance of diaspora, allowing you to do the facebook dance from your home.

A firmware that hands out WebID so you can use your server from the internet in a secure way, eg from your android phone, netbook etc when on the road.

A firmware that stores all of your data in a secure way either on flash, USB Harddrive or NAS – but local, not in the cloud.

The requirements are thus:

  • Simple Installation Ask only what is really needed, do everything with automagic in the background.
  • Reliability run forever, use minimal resources.
  • Secure Encrypt whatever goes out and comes in.
  • Open Use only open standards, only Free Software. Royalty Free. No calling home. No central registry of users.

Would that be what Moglen talks about when referring to his freedom box? I don’t know. But I do know that my data is too valuable to let out uncontrolleed or governed by companies that I cannot trust forever.

Why TheSystem and bloggers have a problem

Glyn Moody pointed me to this article:

‘Bloggers’ vs ‘Audience’ is over? or, Will the word ‘blogger’ disappear?

and it lead me to jot down why I think the term writer, author, reader in such discussions really miss the point.

TheSystem, which means the copyright system of publishers, news agencies etc. have a vested interest in keeping us in two worlds. Either you are a producer or a consumer. This makes the media world go round and has been their source of revenue. It all works because in the past it was costly to distribute your product. You had to print books, newspapers, transport them to book stores, little kiosks etc. And so it was natural that the consumer had to pay for it.

Fast forward to the Web Age. With distribution costs close to zero, this old value chain is struggling. And as if that isn’t enough, the consumer does stuff he is not allowed to do – he distributes his own content by using this new system of zero-cost distribution.

So we nowadays have not only a simple top-down market, from producer to consumer, we now have a system with three levels.

We still have producers, stuck in their old value chain, and we still have consumers – willing to pay for the work of the producers, but we now also have ProSumers, people that consume AND produce.

Bloggers are ProSumers. They live in networks of other ProSumers, and they also consume from producers. And this is where the problem starts for the old-.school producers.

As ProSumers remix content they gather, deem interesting, create themselves and distribute that under the same principles – knowing that other ProSumers will remix, the old value chain of Consumer-pays-Producer is under attack.

The old system defends itself with DRM (Digital Restriction Management), putting ProSumers in the same group as pirates and add to that that only real producers (journalists etc.) should be allowed to deliver content to consumers.

And slowly but surely the ProSumers distance themselves from this dying system. With Creative Commons, with Open Source and simply by ignoring the old value chain, they create a parallel system of content creation and distribution.

And this is the real problem. It is as simple as that. It is the value chain

Producer –> Consumer

versus

Producer <--> Prosumer <--> Consumer.

And as long as you try to defend the old chain while combining it with the new system you will fail. Funny thing is that quite some bloggers still see themselves more a producers where they effectively are prosumers.

And the so-called producers of the past have always been prosumers themselves. So as soon as TheSystem accepts the new flow, we will see more creativity and less restriction. If TheSystem fails to adapt, it will die.

Friday Rant: Viruses, Malware – what happened to due diligence?

Every friday I will try to post a rant on a specific topic. Today I’m venting on journalism on the Failboat.

Dear journalists.

Let’s take the current Conficker Mania. Now I know that Microsoft Windows has a huge marketshare on desktops. However – not everyone is using Windows. Still, you journalists ignore this fact over and over again.

Dear journalist, could you start warning the *right* people by adding “Windows-PCs” to your articles? All of these viruses, malware, trojans are aiming at Windows machines. People using Linux are usually safe.

Same goes for all these “warnings” on keyloggers etc. I am NOT saying that Linux is secure, I am NOT saying that Microsoft is bad (although I have a personal opinion on that) – I am ONLY asking to state the correct facts. And the fact is that 99% of your warnings and horror stories affect Windows-PCs ONLY.

I know the world has accepted the fact that Windows can only be used with virus scanners etc that eat up your CPU ressources, slow down your browsing and file opening.

But PLEASE stop shouting that everyone is at risk when in fact it is a Windows only thing. I don’t ask you to start bashing on Microsoft. I only ask you to write your articles in a way that make them factually correct.

Hrmpf.

Sunday Wrapup

I will try every sunday to wrap up the topics that kept me busy over the last week. Sort of like a braindump to make sure I capture those loose ends that otherwise get lost.

  • IBM buys SUN: Now this caught me by surprise. Watching SUN over the last few months was quite interesting. It was all about Open Source etc. However, I still believe that SUN has for more to offer in the hardware area. Yes, SPARC is effectively dying, following PA-RISC. The x86 architecture looks like the Big Winner, however I do have my problems with it. But back on topic – what does this possible takeover mean? Well, IMHO it is dinosaurs uniting. Both SUN and IBM have been fighting over the same accounts for almost twenty years. IBM wants to stoöp this and make the Big Deals a bit cozier. However, seeing how IBM has a lot of inside competition (Power v zSeries v xSeries) I am not convinced. OTOH SUN has decent offerings in the storage area. They are working on some very interesting stuff. Maybe that is the real driver? Time will tell.
  • TomTom v MSFT: The underdog strikes back. Remember how TomTom informed the rest of the world that they spend more money on Patent Stuff as on actual R&D? Maybe it helps them now.  However, MSFT has again proven to be not that friendly towards Open Source.

That’s enough for a starter. Expect more to come as I slowly adapt to being a blogger 🙂