The Great Digital Escape

AP Photo/Patrick Sison

Did you know you can back up your social media data? It’s officially a good thing to do and the major social media platforms provide utilities to permit this.


The Data Transfer Project was launched in 2018 to create an open-source, service-to-service data portability platform so that all individuals across the web could easily move their data between online service providers whenever they want.

  1. Here’s a use case link for Facebook.
  2. The equivalent link for Twitter.

Of course, the question becomes: where does one move the data to and to what end? Enter the emerging world of personal data services, which allow you to store your data under encryption and let you control access and potentially sell your data to anyone you choose.

For decades, Big Silicon has been making billions by Hoovering up their users’ data and monetizing it. Now some entrepreneurs see a business opportunity in providing storage spaces to users that companies have to negotiate permissions to access. The New York Times writes:

Three decades ago, Tim Berners-Lee devised simple yet powerful standards for locating, linking and presenting multimedia documents online. …

But now, Mr. Berners-Lee, 65, believes the online world has gone astray. Too much power and too much personal data, he says, reside with the tech giants like Google and Facebook — “silos” is the generic term he favors, instead of referring to the companies by name. Fueled by vast troves of data, he says, they have become surveillance platforms and gatekeepers of innovation. …

“Pods,” personal online data stores, are a key technical ingredient to achieve that goal. The idea is that each person could control his or her own data — websites visited, credit card purchases, workout routines, music streamed — in an individual data safe, typically a sliver of server space.

Companies could gain access to a person’s data, with permission, through a secure link for a specific task like processing a loan application or delivering a personalized ad. They could link to and use personal information selectively, but not store it. …

He began an open-source software project, Solid, and later founded a company, Inrupt, with John Bruce, a veteran of five previous start-ups, to kick-start adoption.


Solid, according to their website, can store “any kind of data can be stored in a Solid pod, including regular files that you might store in a Google Drive or Dropbox folder, but it is the ability to store Linked Data that makes Solid special. Anyone or anything that accesses data in a Solid pod uses a unique ID, authenticated by a decentralized extension of OpenID Connect. Solid’s access control system uses these IDs to determine whether a person or application has access to a resource in a pod.”

Moving your data to yourself is a whole level more radical than moving it to another platform belonging to someone else. This is far from a new idea.  George Spix and I had roughly the same idea in the book Open Curtains. But the fact that Berners-Lee and startups have taken it up may mean it’s finally gotten traction.

It won’t be easy. A number of blockchain-based search engines (BBSE) have been trying to make headway against Google. “Unlike Google, BBSEs do not have centralized controls. Instead, they are distributed across multiple networks. With a blockchain-based search engine, no company can lay claims to your data or access your search history and other related information.”

But apart from the difficulty of competing against a monopoly, the inconvenience of using peer-to-peer networks, encryption, and understanding the arcana of security are challenges yet to be overcome.


However, the growing realization of tech abuses, once confined to a few whistleblowers and subject-matter experts, may now be affecting the wider public. The New York Times bannered: ‘Millions Flock to Telegram and Signal as Fears Grow Over Big Tech’.

The encrypted messaging services have become the world’s hottest apps over the last week, driven by growing anxiety over the power of the biggest tech companies and privacy concerns. …

Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur, also weighed in last week with a two-word endorsement: “Use Signal.”…

The result was a mass migration that, if it lasts, could weaken the power of Facebook and other big tech companies. On Tuesday, Telegram said it added more than 25 million users over the previous three days, pushing it to over 500 million users. Signal added nearly 1.3 million users on Monday alone, after averaging just 50,000 downloads a day last year, according to estimates from Apptopia, an app-data firm.

“We’ve had surges of downloads before,” said Pavel Durov, Telegram’s chief executive, in a message on the app on Tuesday. “But this time is different.”

Surveillance, censorship, and data ownership, once an arcane subject, are now massive political issues. They are subjects on which neither the GOP nor the Democrats are completely trusted.


The inaugural committee for President-elect Joe Biden reportedly returned a $500 donation from former California Sen. Barbara Boxer after it was learned she registered as a foreign agent for a Chinese surveillance firm.

Axios reported that the committee rejected Boxer’s donation since the Chinese firm — named Hikvision — has been “accused of abetting the country’s mass internment of Uighur Muslims.” According to Justice Department documents published Friday, Boxer provides “strategic consulting services” to Hikvision’s subsidiary in the United States. …

In a statement to Axios, Boxer stated, “When I am asked to provide strategic advice to help a company operate in a more responsible and humane manner consistent with U.S. law in spirit and letter, it is an opportunity to make things better while helping protect and create American jobs.”

There’s just too much money in trafficking data and too little in protecting the Deplorables.  While at least someone in Washington is looking out for the Uighur Muslims, you might have to look out for yourself.

Books: Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy — Andy Ngo’s book on the “Idea” that burned cities and perhaps much else.

Follow  Richard Fernandez at



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