A new company, co-founded by Tim Berners-Lee, one of the inventors of the web, is setting out to reclaim it for users, and pushing a system where users, instead of giant companies like Google and Facebook, own their own data.
“I’ve always believed the web is for everyone. That’s why I and others fight fiercely to protect it. The changes we’ve managed to bring have created a better and more connected world,” Berners-Lee said in a blog post announcing the new company. “But for all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.”
Inrupt, which officially launched yesterday, is focused on encouraging developers to build applications that rely on a technology called Solid, designed by Berners-Lee, that allows users to own and move their data. One app may be a digital personal assistant, such as Siri or Alexa, but more powerful because it would be able to see more of a user’s data.
“Charlie works for you, Charlie doesn’t work for Google, or Amazon,” said John Bruce, chief executive of Inrupt. “When Charlie’s got access to all of your data, it can look at your calendar, it can look at your fitness, your upcoming flights.”
Bruce said the company’s technology is being built on top of the existing web, a move that the company expects will make developer and user adoption easier. Today, much of users’ data is kept by companies like Facebook and Google, and decisions about how it is used are made by the companies. Last week, for example, Facebook said user phone numbers that were provided to enhance security were quickly used to target ads.
“For the service they give to me, they take my data,” Bruce said. “It’s dominated by some huge forces that are taking somewhat of an advantage.”
Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the web nearly 30 years ago. Last year, he was given the A.M. Turing Award, which is given to those who make significant and long-lasting contributions to computing. It is sometimes described as the Nobel Prize of computing.
“There is a wave of concern, and related energy, desperate for change. People want to have a web they can trust. People want apps that help them do what they want and need to do — without spying on them,” he said in the blog post. “Apps that don’t have an ulterior motive of distracting them with propositions to buy this or that. People will pay for this kind of quality and assurance.”
Bruce declined to give a timeline for this new, decentralized web. Inrupt is backed by local venture capital firm Glasswing Ventures. Rudina Seseri, founder and managing partner of Glasswing, declined to share specifics of the investment, but said the company has significant potential.
“I see a tremendous opportunity for the evolution of the web from where it is today,” Seseri said. “Inrupt has the potential to become the enterprise engine that will fuel Sir Tim Berner-Lee’s vision for Solid’s success, where individuals and enterprises have control of their data and data is freed from silos, able to be linked across apps and products.”