Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has announced that he has put most of his work on hold to develop a way for web users to regain control of their personal data.

The concept, first developed at MIT, is known as Solid. A Solid POD is effectively a secure repository for all our personal data, and from there we can choose what access to grant to other companies and apps …

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Within the Solid ecosystem, you decide where you store your data. Photos you take, comments you write, contacts in your address book, calendar events, how many miles you run each day from your fitness tracker… they’re all stored in your Solid POD. This Solid POD can be in your house or workplace, or with an online Solid POD provider of your choice. Since you own your data, you’re free to move it at any time, without interruption of service.

You give people and your apps permission to read or write to parts of your Solid POD. So whenever you’re opening up a new app, you don’t have to fill out your details ever again: they are read from your POD with your permission. Things saved through one app are available in another: you never have to sync, because your data stays with you.

This approach protects your privacy and is also great for developers: they can build cool apps without harvesting massive amounts of data first. Anyone can create an app that leverages what is already there.

Essentially, you have your own personal APIs for providing controlled access to your data. Your Solid POD would also act as a login to websites, replacing things like logging in with Facebook or Twitter, and thus providing you with greater control over the data shared.

Berners-Lee shared the news in a blog post over the weekend.

Solid is a platform, built using the existing web. It gives every user a choice about where data is stored, which specific people and groups can access select elements, and which apps you use. It allows you, your family and colleagues, to link and share data with anyone. It allows people to look at the same data with different apps at the same time.

He acknowledges that creating a new standard will require a big push, and says that’s why he’s taking a step back from his existing work.

It is going to take a lot of effort to build the new Solid platform and drive broad adoption but I think we have enough energy to take the world to a new tipping point.

So I have taken a sabbatical from MIT, reduced my day-to-day involvement with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and founded a company called inrupt where I will be guiding the next stage of the web in a very direct way. Inrupt will be the infrastructure allowing Solid to flourish. Its mission is to provide commercial energy and an ecosystem to help protect the integrity and quality of the new web built on Solid.

At any other time, I think establishing a new standard like this would be a tough sell – even for someone of Berners-Lee’s stature. But given the high-profile of privacy issues at present, I think it does actually stand a decent chance of taking off.

I’ve registered for an account, and will be following it with interest.

Photo: Shutterstock


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