It's time for Closed Data


As somebody who works on opening data for a living, the irony is not lost on me that I think we need to start thinking about closing our personal data.

Looking at how the advertising supported business model of the current internet titans have essentially broken essential institutions of democracy, I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the “you are the product” business model as amplified by the internet.

Advertising is not new. “You are the product” was the business model that powered newspapers and television in the 20th century - sustaining the very institutions that helped spread democracy after World War II.

However, the extreme efficiency of how gigabytes of data are compiled about us with our tacit and uninformed consent, have installed these titans at the center of our digital lives through network effects that circumvents limiting factors that have allowed earlier networks like the telephone to scale more reasonably without concentrating power to opaque, unregulated concerns.

Going by the recent news coverage, I’m sure policy-makers will not waste this crisis, and institute new regulations to scale back the multi-gigabyte digital dossiers these companies have on us.

However, as the 2007 financial crisis has shown us, regulatory capture has also hampered policy-makers’ ability to reign in bad actors, so regulation is not enough.

There must be something on the technology front - perhaps an “personal vault open standard” and/or an open social media open protocol that the open-source, open standards community can offer to break apart these data broker monopolies and reclaim the true federated web Sir TBL originally envisioned.

What do you think?


It starts with Identity :slight_smile: Then decentralised knowledge storage against identity. Then revocable accreditation to question stored knowledge about someone (not access it, just ask for a response).

This is a pretty relevant and recent release:


I agree that identity is a fundamental part of the solution, as social logins are now pervasive and a big part of the problem as they further entrench the current players.

I quit Facebook three years ago, but I haven’t deleted it because I use it now primarily as a login mechanism. Instead of creating yet another account and blindly clicking on yet another TOS, I just use Facebook.

Perhaps we should start thinking of Facebook and Twitter as utilities - operated in a manner similar to Wikipedia? Or maybe, more like Github - which is an ongoing commercial concern with a sustainable business model with an open source project at its core.

This article also explores additional things like “operating social networks as a utility owned/funded by users” and putting “expiration dates on social data.”


support indie web and roll your own.
everything set up for this initially has been killed off by enterprise: openid, open social, etc.

social logins being part of the problem: its developers and the chrome (new shiny) mentality of not caring.
firefox and github have social logins -> i hardly ever see them being used.

lack of digital literacy keeps us perpetually fighting an uphill battle -> developers not making choices that make this easier as a society makes the battle pointless.

virtually of this relies on having access to web space and being able to point to it.
social media as we know it does not even provide this, as we have no means of accessing it under the hood to tailor it to our desires.
i would love to see some form of a social commons pop up in localities. like wherever you pay taxes or something along those lines. upon receipt, you have access to some digital space that proves who you are. pgp. gpg. whatever. it doesn’t need to be a “functional” space in the sense that you have free reign like you would if you made/paid for access to a server. just space to do a limited number of actions.
all of this, of course, requires money…


We do have open standards for social networking, such as oAuth for authentication and the recently W3C-recommended ActivityPub
We also have open source and secure alternatives for clients and servers of newsfeed and chat.
What I think we’re lacking is the regulatory power to stop these monopolistic companies from sipping data the world over. I think this is the reason (if any) we need a global regulatory body, and also the same reason we will not have one that will be representative of the people.
These companies are too just big and we should do something about them before we are enslaved by a Universal Basic Income and are left with basically no bargain power.
The #DeleteFacebook campaign is an attempt at displaying power, but internet users (useds) are not organized and can’t hit in the same way a worker union does.
I still don’t know how to do it, but I’m happy for the conversation.


i really like that @jqnatividad mentioned tbl’s vision for www.
it blows my mind how many web developers, as well as people in this space are not aware of the history behind the web. not just for the connections to open gov, open data, and transparency, but its basically the blueprint to openness.
i feel like this should be required reading.


I’m pretty sceptical about efforts based on individuals trying to get more (economic) control of their personal data. See

See especially:

Also note we’ve also advocated for greater individual control of their personal data, see e.g. this post by Laura James and I in 2013:

I also did a keynote at the MyData 2016 conference:


To be honest, when I read your blogpost last December, I was somewhat taken aback by your candor, as you were resigned to the passing of the “Internet Dream…”

But in your closing paragraph, you held out hope… (highlighting mine)

We must see this, because even if it is too late to save the Internet dream, we can use our grief to inspire a renewed commitment to the openness that was its essence, to open information and open platforms. And so, even as we take off our hats to watch the Internet pass in all its funereal splendour, in our hearts we can have hope that its dream will live again.

And this was all before the Cambridge Analytica incident… even your follow-up blogpost in February predates the March 17 blockbuster reports from the NY Times and The Observer.

The CA/Facebook episode may very well be the “final nail in the coffin”, the very crisis that sets up the necessary pre-conditions to bring about reviving the Dream.

What gives me pause though is that the playbook that worked for the invention of the Web, may not very well work to reinvent it.

If you read the History of the Web, there are several things that stand out:

  • It was a “Vague but Exciting” project that TBL somehow managed to convince his boss to approve. Would any grant funder/VC using today’s benchmarks approve a proposal like that today?

  • would government/s fund such a project, that at its foundation, is meant to dismantle the current monopolists? Lobbyists would be all over such a proposal. Witness how “successes” like Net Neutrality and the Paris Climate Accord were turned back…

  • even the incumbents participated - all the proprietary networks of the 90s eventually enabled Web gateways, and over a relatively short time, deprecated their own networks and adopted the Web. With their overwhelming market power, the current incumbents need to be part of the solution, what combination of incentives/regulations will make Facebook, Google, et. al. participate? Will their shareholders with their quarterly horizons even allow it?

As you pointed out in your “mis-diagnosis” addendum, network effects naturally lead to de facto standards. To displace the incumbent standard, you need the new one to be markedly better for it to succeed in the marketplace.

IMHO, the Web succeeded not only because it was open and you didn’t need to pay licensing fees, it was also far better than the Walled Gardens of the 90s - Compuserve, Prodigy, Genie, MSN, etc.

Will the open solution of our New Internet Dream be able to cut the intertwined Gordian Knot of security, internet address space, malware, super cookies, DDOS, social media operating as utilities, identity, algorithmic profiling, etc. to take down today’s Walled Empires? Does it need to? IMHO, it has to have near “silver-bullet” capabilities (at least compared to what we have. As Brooks tells us - there is no SB) for incumbents to swallow the open platform bitter pill that comes with it.

The good thing is that there’s wide agreement that the Internet’s underlying infrastructure needs redress - not even the world’s richest entities, not even nation-states can protect their digital assets on the Web.

But will it be enough to lead to a fundamental change? We’ve been here before with Yahoo, eBay, Uber, JP Morgan Chase, Equifax, OPM, etc. And speaking of Equifax, its profits rose 20% in 2017, with net income rising 40% in the fourth quarter - the quarter after its massive data breach was revealed!

Sadly, the very information cacophony enabled by the Broken Web is giving us all short-term memory. Even trust and reputation mechanisms are starting to fail as we become inured to the latest data breach headlines or the blanket “fake news” dismissal…

As you put forward in your upcoming book - Open Revolution, it’s all about choice. But how can we ensure that most, if not all of us, Choose Open?


Quick notes:

  • Don’t focus on the web: it was just a protocol on top of the internet. The internet was the important thing. (TBL gets credit because it was more recent and a much clearer story with a clear “hero” compared to the internet)
  • Did you read through to my book link in the “Internet Monopolies” post and especially stuff on remuneration rights? To build an open information economy requires a new funding model and one that would be able to replace IP rights. I’m (and we’re) not proposing the gov fund all this stuff in the way it sponsored the early internet.
  • Trying replace / displace current incumbents is really hard. We should a) focus on getting them to open up now (which requires direct gov intervention / regulation) b) putting in place remuneration rights to fund future innovation and ensure it is open so future platforms are open.
  • To build an open information economy requires us to innovate in our institutions. Most simply we need to replace IP with Remuneration Rights. To do this will require us to build a “open movement” for change.

This last point is the essence of the talks i’ve been giving over the last 3-4 years as I’ve been writing the book :smile:


I didn’t read through the preview when I first found the link in your “Solving the Internet Monopolies Problem” blogpost. I read the synopsis, signed up for the update, and only read thru the “Open World” section.

I read the rest of the book preview just now and it’s quite ambitious. As you say - displacing incumbents is really hard - monopolies, systems, institutions, laws, etc.

I guess that’s why you titled your book - “Open Revolution.”

I look forward to reading the rest of the book when its released. Though you do address the blueprint and the transition in the preview, you may want to think about advocacy content for different audiences as well.

Because it boils down to choice, and these are all hard choices.

I found some typos - search “100BILLION.THEN”, “10BNFOR”, “New York: Random House”, “10,000MORETHAN” that your copy editor in RH may have missed/introduced…


Just saw this TED Talk today

some quotes of note:

“What started out as advertising really can’t be called advertising anymore — it turned into behavior modification… I can’t call these things social networks anymore. I call them behavior modification empires.”

“I don’t believe our species can survive unless we fix this. We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them.”

@rufuspollock, this quote made me think about your proposal to replace IP with Remuneration Rights.

“The alternative is to turn back the clock, with great difficulty, and remake that decision. Remaking it would mean two things. It would mean first that many people, those who could afford to, would actually pay for these things. You’d pay for search, you’d pay for social networking. How would you pay? Maybe with a subscription fee, maybe with micro-payments as you use them. There’s a lot of options. If some of you are recoiling, and you’re thinking, “Oh my God, I would never pay for these things. How could you ever get anyone to pay?” I want to remind you of something that just happened. Around this same time that companies like Google and Facebook were formulating their free idea, a lot of cyber culture also believed that in the future, televisions and movies would be created in the same way, kind of like the Wikipedia. But then, companies like Netflix, Amazon, HBO, said, “Actually, you know, subscribe. We’ll give you give you great TV.” And it worked! We now are in this period called “peak TV,” right? So sometimes when you pay for stuff, things get better.”


This is great - what we do need though is a way that we pay for these things not via proprietary platforms such as netflix and spotify (who hope to turn into monopolies) and instead fund via remuneration rights.

I actually gave one of my early talks about remunerations rights with Lanier there in Bern 2 years ago and we had a good conversation about this during the Q&A:

(Unfortunately I can’t find video but the stuff about music for $1 a day was all about this …).

You can see a more detailed version of the ideas and talk in this presentation in Geneva last year: