Inrupt, the start-up company founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee to redesign the way the web works, is expanding its operational team and launching pilot projects in its quest to develop a "massively scalable, production-quality technology platform".
Sir Tim, who invented the world wide web in 1989 but has become increasingly critical of the way it has been captured by giant corporations, said there had been a "rush of interest" from open source developers, entrepreneurs, tech company executives and government officials to support Inrupt's mission to decentralise the web and hand power back to users.
But Inrupt now had to focus on the complexities of turning its underlying Solid technology into a scalable platform. "For the world to experience the true value of the web we're building, we must address the vital issues related to privacy, trust and security," he wrote in a blog post.
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To tackle those challenges, Inrupt has hired a further five leading technologists, including Bruce Schneier, a veteran cryptography expert, as head of security architecture. The company is also working with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority in the UK to pilot an innovative "early years" app that will digitise children's healthcare records up to the age of 2.5 years.
Mr Schneier said he believed in Sir Tim's vision of creating a new distributed data ownership model to challenge the "digital feudalism" of the big tech companies. "The problem is that your data is not under your control. It is on computers owned by lots of other people. And you have no control over it and you do not have access to it in ways that are useful to you," he said in a telephone interview.
Mr Schneier said it would be an immense challenge to create workable authentication and permission processes to enable Solid to work at scale, but he was convinced it was achievable. "It is 'going to the moon' hard rather than 'faster than light travels' hard," he said.
"It is easy if some big party is in control. It has this massive power that decrees this and this is allowed. But if you want to distribute that authority so that users are in control, it is a lot harder."
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Inrupt was founded in 2017 to operationalise the Solid decentralisation technology, developed by Sir Tim's team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Last year, Inrupt raised a "significant" sum of money, in excess of $10m, from interested tech companies, individuals and institutions to fund the company's development.
Some of the big tech companies privately dismiss Solid as a quixotic academic project that is unlikely ever to succeed because users are so path dependent on existing data platforms. But some of the biggest tech companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter, are publicly backing the Data Transfer Project, launched in 2018, to help create an open-source, data portability platform that could integrate with Solid.
John Bruce, Inrupt's co-founder and chief executive, said the company was working on several pilot projects, including the one in Manchester.
"We are seeing if we can collectively deliver better healthcare to UK residents. At the moment that data resides in silos across the NHS. Wouldn't it be cool if it could be securely delivered straight to your nurse or your caregiver," he said. "You would then have a holistic representation of your healthcare."
Written by: John Thornhill
© Financial Times 2019