Yesterday, Wednesday 12th November 2014, I had the pleasure of sitting down and listening to Aral Balkan talk about Spyware 2.0, privacy and Ind.ie, a UK company working to create a new generation of independent technologies that go against the emerging business models of companies like Google and Facebook. It was refreshing to see someone so passionate for their cause.
What is Spyware 2.0?
Take your mind back a few years, and you’ll likely remember spyware and malware. They were malicious or nosey pieces of software that would make their way onto a computer, and would then send data back to the creator of the software. This might be a log of the keystrokes you’ve types, your web browsing history, random files, whatever.
If you found that your system was infected, you could take steps to remove the offender. This would involve downloading anti-virus or anti-malware software, and hoping that its definitions were up to date enough to find the particular strand of snooping software that was spying on you at the time.
Fast forward to 2014, and the concerns we had about software spying on us seem to have been thrown out of the window. We know openly give our data to companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and more. We do so because they offer us shiny, enticing free services and we’re happy to get something for nothing. We rarely question what’s happening to make this software free, and most people are unaware of how this data is then used.
In short, the data is used to:
- Sell advertising (this is where they make their money, often)
- Run simulations and experiments and see how people react
Once this data has been collected, though, there really is no limit on what these companies can do with it. They’re happy to sell parts of it off, as they do with advertising. They’re happy to run experiments on virtual simulations of people, or run experiments on actual people to see how the new data compares to that they’ve compared before. They’re legally required to hand over any data they’ve collected on a person when this is requested by the US government, where most of these companies are based and operate.
All sounds great, right?
The Business Model of Privacy
If you need evidence that this business model is happening, and that some people are fed up of it, you only need to look at companies whose whole schtick is that they create products that respect your privacy.
A big player entering this space is Apple. As a company, they’ve long believed in creating the best products they can and building privacy in at the core. They’re in the business of selling hardware, software and services to consumers. They’re not in the business of selling their users to advertisers.
Their products are designed so as to store as little information as they can on Apple’s cloud services, reducing the information that Apple can be asked to hand over by governments. With no iMessages, FaceTime logs, Keychain entries, etc stored on their servers, they can’t be asked to hand them over by the NSA, GCHQ or others.
Whilst the business model of Spyware 2.0 businesses is appealing, with its free stuff, the privacy business model, one based on you buying and owning your devices and owning your own data is the business model we should be encouraging.
What is Ind.ie?
Ind.ie is a private company limited by guarantee based in the United Kingdom. It’s a small team of people who are passionate about independent technology (not to be confused with the indie web movement), design, and that businesses should use sustainable, ethical business models (like charging their customers) rather than using the unsustainable, creepy business model of corporate surveillance and data selling currently used by companies like Google and Facebook.
“ind.ie isn’t something new. It’s not a revolution. It’s going back to where we came from: A private, open and interconnected web.” - Patrick Heneise
Their mid-term goal is to design and build their own smartphone, bringing these technologies together into their own Indie OS that will run the platform. They understand, like Apple, that you can only truly own the experience when you create the whole widget. Doing that in the modern world requires building online services, software and hardware that work together and are designed with people in mind.
My Thoughts On Ind.ie
I’ve followed Ind.ie for a while, interested in Aral and the team’s belief that the Spyware 2.0 business model, and “stranger in the middle” behaviour it lends itself to, is having a negative impact on the technology industry and the wider world.
This is a viewpoint I definitely share with Ind.ie. Too long have companies like Google and Facebook lured us in with shiny free products, often with a subpar experience, so that they can vacuum up our data, sell it and run experiments on us.
Having worked in the mobile space, I was very interested when it became known that Ind.ie were working on creating a phone, but I had my doubts. I’ve seen big players like Dell, Palm, HP and Amazon try and fail to create devices and software that people will use and love.
To create a smartphone, possibly one of the most personal pieces of technology we currently use, requires some serious thought, consideration and design chops. Having held the device, I was pleasantly surprised with the industrial design. Now to see how the software and services come together to complete the experience. I’m looking for something that competes with iOS, iCloud and iPhone.
Are you sick of Spyware 2.0?
Are you sick and tired of Spyware 2.0? Do you think we should be encouraging sustainable, independent alternatives in business? Show your support by backing Ind.ie. You can do so at https://ind.ie.
Credit: Images shown here are from http://ind.ie.