A Magna Carta For The Web

I just want to share with you how I feel about the web today and put forth some ideas about how we might make it better and improve it well into the future.

The web is under way for a fundamental shift in how it is built and operates, and the conditions are now ripe for an evolution of the web unlike anything we have ever seen. The web is all things to all people and it is in the business of anyone who participates on the web to further its progress, and strengthen the already existing protocols we have in place that made it so unique in the first place. Today you can switch on HTTP2, do Micropayments with Bitcoin, exchange sensitive data with others using robust cryptography like TLS, crowd fund world changing ideas, even download a physible over P2P file sharing to fix your broken dishwasher handle.

With all that is possible already, it would be easy to think the enterprise of the web is complete, and that our job as Netizens is to build on the strength of the web and not fix its weaknesses. The problem with that mindset is that is calcifies the web, turning it into a digital city that by design, is difficult to uproot and accept we made a mistake in the many steps we took to architect it. Once a building is constructed, there are very little mechanisms in place to re-organize the structure and iterate on the design. The web tends towards a centralized state as a result.

Once we were young in the Garden...

The topology of the web is starting to change, and what used to appear a decentralised and independent web is coalescing into a centralized one with a growing number of people losing trust in the key players. Our trust is forever lost in services like Google and Facebook and the curtain is being lifted on the ISPs and anyone involved in the infrastructure of the web. The web is becoming less of a black box. This coalescence is not unique, and this behaviour is even observed in nature. Rather than fight coalescence, it is preferable to simply acknowledge it and then see what we can do on an individual level to change this and revert back to what made the web so beautiful in the early days; of the days when a Google search was not a bazaar of profiteers trying to sell you something, and the web felt less top down and less commodified. I can't read an insightful article on the web now without it clamoring for my 'eyeball hours' in an AD sidebar, or monitoring my typing cadence in a Turing test captcha designed like an Orwellian telescreen.

I want the indyweb approach back and want people to run their own mail servers and to self-host their blogs using nothing but their home network. One day I want to read a web page, and upon reaching the end, a Javascript beacon will not be in place which registers the fact I read the whole article. I want my data not to be arbitraged behind closed doors and sold to the highest bidder. I want the circuitry in Cisco routers to not have back doors. I want elliptic curves to not be backdoored and have true random seed values. I want to boot up my Windows machine and have it not phone home to 20+ U.S corporations. I want the $100.00 per month I pay to my ISP to go towards network hardening and IPSec, not simple maintenance. I want to write the words 'pressure cooker' in a novel without feeling the cold gaze of Big Brother registering that on 100+ plus computers with an analyst sitting behind each one. I want to tell my girlfriend I love her without it being ingested into Echelon or PRISM

But oh how we have strayed, sisters and brothers...

One would think that the NSA is there to bolster the web and actually make it secure & private, but this is not the case. Infact it is known they have weakened the web and deliberately threatened freedom of speech as a result. The revelations were a catalyst for hardening the web and decommissioning old legacy technology, and whilst I appreciate the need to police the web, I do not appreciate the dragnet / passive monitoring approach. It is bad for business and has led me to conclude that the web is now fundamentally broken. I am not afforded autonomy on Amazon for example, because I know every item I peruse is plaintexted on the wire and being monitored. Amazon loses my business because of this and my trust is not only lost in Amazon for not responsibly encrypting their site, but the people who allow the monitoring to happen in the first place. The ISPs, the sys-admins who bought those Cisco routers, the DNS providers who log everything, the many un-patched servers my traffic has to go through before it has to reach my computer. Let me just buy a gift for my friend without them knowing, and an analyst knowing too.

Privacy in an age of spies.

The end goal of the web is to make our lives easier and be a utility. We turn a computer or hand-held on, and the web is just there, like water is there when you turn on a tap. The end goal of the web is not to extract as much data from the end user as possible on the scarce hope of profiteering from their eyeball hours or predicting their next travel hop because they once searched for a destination on Google maps. The end goal of the web is also not to be a romping ground for spy agencies to nose around our private lives and know more about us than our loved ones or next of kin. My Magna Carta for the web is simple: free and open access to information with privacy and security baked in as the default. It is not a huge ask, and as I said before the web is all things to all people and it is in our interest to have basic humans rights looked after first before we even attempt to go on-line and have autonomy, freedom of speech, and freedom of association.

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