At the end of the second semester of my freshman year in college, I was assigned a project in my Principles of Business Management class. I was to create a new business and develop a business plan with a group of my classmates. I took the assigned task of creating a “new business” quite literally, and decided to pitch my group an idea that I’d been conceptualizing which was an entirely new kind of business that did not yet exist : a Universal Reputation Rating system. We were going to offer individuals an inexpensive, universal system for gauging reputation, and market it at first to employers and job seekers and then, as it caught on, to anyone who had a need for establishing trust quickly and reliably. Users of the system would be able to rate each other positively or negatively, and disputes would be resolved with private arbitration and subsequent rating adjustments. Even though my group got an A on the project and my classmates and professor were all intrigued by the idea, it sat idle for the next year and a half while I worked hard continuing my schooling and learning both on and off campus. Well, today this idea is an idea whose time has come.
The recent rise of peer-to-peer collaborative consumption, or the “sharing economy,” has sparked dialogue about the future of trust in society due to the fact that collaborative behaviors often involve trusting strangers despite having little-to-no background history of them. Frictionless global e-commerce which spans – and even purposefully subverts – all legal jurisdictions has been made possible with decentralized, peer-to-peer payment technology such as Bitcoin and Ripple. These developments are fueling a rapidly growing need for open, universal standards for rating reputation and communicating that rating as efficiently as possible.
At the same time as people are sharing more than ever, privacy has also become a major topic of discussion. The research has been done and the results are in: people want to share, but they also want control of their privacy. Right now, these two desires are almost impossible to attain on the same platform. Facebook and Google not only have full access to all of the data that users store on their servers, they make money selling this data to advertisers. Social media users often do not realize that they are not the customer, they are the product. Well today, I would like to tell social media users that they can have their cake and eat it too: it IS possible to have the ability to share freely while retaining full control of personal data. We just have to create a platform that has privacy, rather than surveillance, built-in.
What a Universal Reputation Rating System accomplishes is the creation of a new kind of identity on the web: one which is portable, and relevant in various contexts. But if your identity is portable, doesn’t that mean that all the data which makes up that identity should be as well? This leads to the second half of the system: a secure personal cloud to store data in, with full customization capabilities to control who has access to what data. An online identity will be able to securely communicate, collaborate, and engage in commerce with other identities while exchanging reputation ratings in the process to streamline future interactions. Putting a Universal Reputation Rating system together with the secure personal cloud gives us the concept that my idea from college has now evolved into: a secure personal cloud community codenamed “Safe Haven,” which will be operating as a Benefit Corporation. There are a lot of loaded terms here, so let’s unpack them one at a time:
Secure – Users of the personal cloud, or “Peers,” are in complete control of who can access their data. All data is secured by standard encryption algorithms, and access is variable using web-of-trust permissions settings for each new connection in the personal cloud community. This keeps different aspects of your digital life securely separated into different groups called Contexts. What an employer or co-worker has access to can be different than what a family member or close personal friend will have access to, and the number of Contexts you can create is unlimited. The software underpinning the whole system is all open source and fully audited, with security checks performed regularly to patch any possible holes and assure Peers of their privacy.
Personal – Each Peer controls their own space in the cloud, and has the freedom to take their data and move to another community at any time. Because of the security offered, information stored in the cloud can be as personal as the user desires. Private conversations between people occur under digital conditions identical to being in a private room together. This will encourage and enable sharing on a vast scale like never seen before as people can feel more certain that they won’t be scrutinized by unwanted third parties for sharing information in private groups.
Cloud – Peers can store any type of data in the cloud and share it with their different Contexts. Clouds can be used for cloud computing to perform tasks in the cloud normally accomplished on a local operating system. Peer identities can also be stored in the cloud. Identities will be independently verified and assigned a reputation score which represents the sum of all interactions in the social marketplace plus verification and endorsement badges.
Community – Upon voluntarily entering the cloud community, all Peers agree to a simple set of rules which encompass the axiom “do no harm to others.” This agreement is extended into on- and off-line relationships. Community members agree to peacefully settle disputes within the community, using mutually trusted third party arbitrators when necessary. Because the software behind the cloud community is completely open source and creative commons, anyone may host a community and become certified as an official Safe Haven cloud community host.
Benefit Corporation – Safe Haven itself will be rated and certified by a third party, using the benefit corporation legal status and Certified Benefit Corporation standards set by B Labs. From the benefit corporation website at http://www.benefitcorp.net: “A benefit corporation is a new class of corporation that voluntarily meets higher standards of corporate purpose, accountability, and transparency.” For more information about benefit corporations, check out the Benefit Corps FAQ.
The role of Safe Haven in the secure personal cloud community is that of a “community facilitator.” We create the initial conditions required for secure interaction in the cloud community, and then let the Peers self-organize. While we are developing the Safe Haven secure personal cloud community platform, we will offer auditing and certification services to businesses and individuals which indicate levels of trustworthiness to community members. Safe Haven will be just one “community facilitator” amongst many that we predict will adopt and adapt the open source technology in new and exciting ways. We’re going to build a “mimimum viable product” using lean and agile development processes, and then let the community take over refinement of and addition to the platform. Many of the functions of the cloud community platform will be crowdsourced and crowdfunded; the open source software and standards will be very much “for the community, by the community.” From there, personal cloud communities will only increase in numbers and become the social internet that the internet should be: as secure and open as each Peer in the network desires it to be.
Does this vision interest you? You can help make it happen by submitting a contact form here. You’ll be the first to receive progress updates as we reach major milestones in the development of the Safe Haven secure personal cloud community.