The User Data Manifesto

Friday, Oct 19, 2012| Tags:

This blog post is about an initiative that I just announced during the Latinoware 2012 keynote here in beautiful Brazil.
As you probably know I care a lot about user data, privacy, cloud and Internet services.

I initiated the open collaboration services standard to build a decentralized social network in 2008 way before it was hip to do it and before Diaspora or emerged. OCS is not federated as newer protocols but it is distributed, open and not centralized. OCS is used in several free software projects like KDE, MeeGo/Mer, Midgard and others.
In 2010 I started the Bretzn project that tries to build an App Store infrastructure for Linux Application that is not bound to a central server as the ones from Apple, Google, Microsoft or someone else. Everybody can run an own App Store node and contribute to the distributed ecosystem. The Appstream project does also use the Bretzn ideas and OCS to access decentralized data. Gratulations to the first release last week by the way. The idea is that the users don´t have a lock-in effect to one central App Store server.
And 2.5 years ago I started ownCloud that enables users to run an own cloud storage service comparable to Dropbox, Google Drive or Skydrive, but hosted on an own server.

The goal of these ideas was always to give the users the control over the own data back and to avoid centralized data silos.
There is always the feeling in the air that decentralized and federated is good and it is important that users are in control of their own data. But what does this actually mean? What does controlling data imply?
Try to explain this concept to a random person why it is better to post messages to Diaspora instead of Facebook and you quickly realize how difficult this is and how big the disconnect to users really is.

After a lot of discussion with people from several different projects I realized that it is probably a good idea to write a few principle about user data rights down. And I wanted to approach it, not from a technical point of view but to describe the fundamental rights that every user should have.

After over one year of discussions and a lot of iteration we have now the user data manifesto. It describes fundamental right that every user has in the Internet age regarding own data.

It is interesting. In the offline world there is a well established understanding what is wrong and what is right regarding own belongings but in the digital, cloud world the corresponding rights are totally unclear for most people.

A few examples:

  • You send your vacation pictures to your friends and family as printouts by conventional mail. It would be totally unacceptable if the post office would look at your pictures and decide to sell it to picture agencies. But exactly this happens in the digital world.

  • It would be unacceptable if people from the government and private companies would come into your house and search your documents and belonging without evidence several times a day. But exactly this happens in the cloud age and people seem to accept it.

  • It would be unacceptable if your documents and belongings are stored on an unknown location and you don´t know and can’t control which international laws apply to it.

When Richard Stallman wrote the free software definition and stated the 4 freedoms in 1986 it was implicitly clear that you control your data if you control the hardware that is sitting under your desk and you control the software because it is free software. But nowadays it is a bit more complex. Even if Google, Facebook and other would release their software under the GPL license then this wouldn´t give the users control over their data. So a next step is needed that defines freedoms and rights that users have over their data and not just over their software.

Because of that we have the “user data manifesto” now.

We already have a short list of services and software that follow these principles
Please contact me if you are aware of other software projects or services that respect this user rights so that we can add them to the list. You can also signup with your name on the website to express your support.
Let´s spread the word and hope that users understand and protect their right better in the future.



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