New global network promises end to privacy fears

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New global network promises end to privacy fears

The newly launched Respect Network promises an end to users' worries that their personal data will be misappropriated.

More than 70 founding partners - including IaaS providers, app developers and even tech giant NEC - have signed up as founding partners of the private, peer-to-peer network, which allows users to monitor, migrate or delete their data.

Underneath the Respect Network is a new protocol, Extensible Data Interchange (XDI); this open standard allows the users themselves, not e-commerce sites or social networks, to own their own data.

XDI has been under development for the past decade at global internet consortium the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

According to OASIS, "XDI enables most of the technical Privacy By Design features in Respect Network. Decentralised and distributed in architecture, it enables people to use their real names, pseudonyms or both."

To join the Respect Network, users first sign up for a "cloud name": a user identity that works across any sites on the Respect Network and is linked to a user's "personal cloud".

The organisation defines this personal cloud as "a collection of compute, data and application capabilities owned by an individual, and used as a person-centric platform for online life management, communication and commerce".

Thanks to the XDI protocol, users can transfer this personal cloud between any of the five hosting partners signed up to the Respect Agreement.

This kind of portability is one of the "five principles" of the Respect Network, said chief executive Drummond Reed.

The other principles cover the right for users to control their own data and conditions around data protection.

"We started out and designed the network around the problem, 'How can you share personal information with sites and businesses with much higher confidence that it will not be used without your permission?'" said Reed.

"What goes through your mind when a site asks for your personal info. Do I trust these guys? Will I get spam? Will I get telemarketing?"

Reed said users were particularly concerned about social login buttons. "Oh my god, what will they see on Facebook?"

Respect Network will launch its own version of the social login, dubbed the Respect Connect button. "Our goal is to give sites and users a button that they know they can click and have no privacy worries. That button is linked to their personal cloud and they know the site has agreed to the Respect Agreement."

The Respect Network has established the infrastructure – now it is up to partner organisations to develop applications on top. Reed said. For instance, users could install a dashboard app for an overview of any websites with which they had shared information.

Australian development partners include new companies such as privacy-centric browser Meeco and CRM company Flamingo. "Like any disruptive technology, it will start with smaller players and it will be grassroots up," said Reed.

While it seems unlikely that Facebook or Amazon will jump onboard, Reed does expect interest from bigger players. "For the e-commerce sites, we strongly believe that the advantages of the Respect Connect button and having the Respect connection between that site and the user's personal cloud will be an overwhelming competitive advantage."

The network's local hosting provider is Onexus, which is one of a dozen Australian and New Zealand partners.

Onexus CEO Brian Grimmer told CRN that his company's ambitions go well beyond providing infrastructure for the Respect Network.

Grimmer said there was plenty of enterprise potential in the network, for instance, mobility and collaboration applications. "Hosting is a commoditised offering. It is part and parcel of what we do but it is only part of where we want to go, which is a valued-added offering.

"The big will win out, the Amazons will flog everyone to death. What people will really be interested in as this space matures is niche, valued-added services, so we want to layer these services on top of a network that is private and secure and has the ability to push and pull and share around the network."

The Respect Network was inaugurated with a launch event in London on 23 June, with another celebration planned for San Francisco on 30 June, followed by Sydney on 7 July, then further events in Tel Aviv and Berlin.

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