Fixing the Web: Build an Alternative

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Written by Tim Haight

I'm VP of Technology Services for CGNET. I love to travel and do IT strategic planning.

January 9, 2020

The most famous examples of what is wrong with the Web today are from social media. Fake news. Targeted political advertising. Selling your data. Losing your credentials. This is easy to fix. Build an alternative social medium. A couple of weeks ago, I promised a solution. Here it is.

New social media can replace predecessors. Remember MySpace? Why, you may ask, if it’s so easy, hasn’t it already been done? That’s because the effort needs, for want of a better word, showmanship.

To be a better social medium, the new service would need the following characteristics.
1. No profit motives.
2. No advertising.
3. Encryption of user data and communications.
4. Minimal storage of user data.
5. No selling or sharing of user data.
6. Secure isolation from the hosting company.
7. No way for the medium to be acquired by anybody.
8. No access to user’s news feed or other apps, including by the medium, without express permission from the user.
9. A convenient utility to acquire users’ material from other social media.
10. Showmanship

The list could go on. Why don’t you suggest something?

How do we achieve this list?

No profit motives: The organization would be a nonprofit with utter transparency. The medium would provide a useful service without accompanying exploitation of users.

No advertising: Most of today’s fake news is advertising or unwelcome posts. So don’t have advertising and don’t allow unwelcome posts. But if you don’t sell data or advertising, how would the medium be supported? Grants, gifts and subscriptions. The reality is that running a social medium is not very expensive today, particularly if you don’t waste time trying to make money.

Possibly, the new medium could use AWS or Azure for hosting. This would reduce initial costs and facilitate scalability. Doing this, however, would require protecting users from the hosting companies. More about this below.

Encryption of user data and communications: This is not only for general security, but also to protect user data from the hosts. AWS or Azure would not have access to the encryption keys.

Minimal storage of user data: While it’s obviously necessary to store data users want to share over time, a lot of things the social media store now, such as the Web server records about who is communicating with the service, should be deleted, with the exception of what is needed for security.

No selling or sharing of user data: In fact, how about no collection of user data by the medium? No facial recognition. No copying profiles or friend lists. Etc. Etc.

Secure isolation from the hosting company: Beyond encryption, the hosting companies would have to be kept from other activities that might allow them access to user data. This will require some study of exactly how their hosting works.

No way for the medium to be acquired by anybody: This should be able to be written into the bylaws in some indelible way. Also, the board members ought to think like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. No corruption! Not for sale!

No access to users’ news feeds or other apps without express permission from the user: The purpose of the site ought to be to allow people to communicate with friends and associates whom they choose. Period. Permission revocable at any time.

A convenient utility to acquire users’ material from other social media: People ought to be able to move their historical material from other sites and build on it. They shouldn’t be required to start over. The medium should demand that the existing social media cooperate, lest they be once again publicized as the soulless data hoarders they are. The effort should be helped by requirements in the GDPR and other laws giving users the right to retrieve and erase their data from existing sites.


I am not talking about a few geeks in a garage writing the code for the new medium, although I suspect a few geeks wouldn’t take long to write the code. It’s pretty simple, once you forget about having to make money. I’m talking about something like how the Ford Foundation started public broadcasting.

Back in the 1950s, long before the government got involved, the Ford Foundation supported the creation of public broadcasting stations around the country and arrangements to share material. The effort was highly publicized. Celebrities got involved. Educational institutions got involved. We need that kind of effort now. The alternative should be sponsored by some famous organizations such as foundations and perhaps media like the New York Times. There should be a gigantic publicity campaign and endorsements from scads of famous people.

The effort should make clear that people are free to continue to be exploited by the current social media, but if they don’t want to be chumps, there is now an alternative.

There it is. Now we must go out and do it. Suggestions appreciated.


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