Sunday, November 1, 2009

Getting over stone age of the internet: discovering agriculture and building homes

If you look at the current internet, giving its age and the type of problems it's facing, you can see clearly that we're still in the middle of, what I'd like to call it, the stone age of the internet.
We're talking about a technology that's only 30 years old, it has yet a lot of potentials to be discovered and drawbacks and problems to be solved. The problem I want to expose here is privacy. I'd like to compare the real stone age (5000 years B.C.) to the internet stone age (1985 to 2009).
The stone age:
During the stone age humans lived in the forests and took cover in caves from the rain, they lived in tribes that shared the same interest and cared for each other's interests. Communication between those tribes was almost impossible and they probably fought over everything (territory, food, women, etc). They slept right there in the open thinking that they are well protected that way. Invented some traps and protection systems to protect them and maybe considered those who got eaten by predators just flows in the protection system they had and they probably had their engineers work on that flow. By the end of the stone age humans made some of the most important discoveries in the history and those were agricultural and building homes. Sick of being exposed to all what nature had hidden for them, they built homes to protect themselves from the predators that intentionally meant to hurt them and other occasional incidents such as rain. Building homes close together they formed cities with a great building in the middle of the city forming the city hall. That city hall is were messengers from other cities went to communicate with that city.
The internet stone age:
I think by now the analogy should be a little bit clear. We're now creating profiles leaving them exposed one some public servers with some security and privacy measures that are broken and patched all the time. Leaving the data of our teenagers exposed to all kind of e-predators and think by having that easily breakable privacy measures we're doing our best. Also we're scattering our information amongst different social networks and services that can't really agree on a way to communicate and that most of the time are fighting over the money coming from the ads business.
We're basically making one "Ahmed Saeed" appear to be 5 different persons because he has 5 accounts on different social networks and services. And by that we're wasting the precious data that can be inferred by knowing that those 5 men are basically the same (Google is working on that but it's just another patch). On the other hand, this "Ahmed Saeed" is leaving his data out there for people he don't know to use in all sorts of ways.

I guess we're close to getting out of the internet stone age as the work suggested in "Privacy, Cost, and Availability Tradeoffs in Decentralized OSNs" published in Sigcomm's WOSN 2009 suggests what's near to discovering homes in the stone age. Probably over time we'll start building homes that are sustainable and reliable to provide us with the online cities we all dream of.


  1. Nice though discussed with a good philosophy.
    I liked the 5 "Ahmed saeed" persons idea :D I try to uniform my ID on most of my profiles to make it easier for anyone to reach me, I though it is a good thing to do but now I think I will reconsider it :)

  2. The paper is excellent, I like the idea of VISs and I recommend the hybrid approach. I also like the expression of the current internet age as the stone one, great analogy. But even though, I think there are some hidden problems in this way of privacy. Keep in mind that the exposure of user's (private) data, helps in better personalization of his web experience. and this is an example of what i mean. Being so private means less personalization, and there is no way to work around. But after all, it's a good point of view :-)

  3. Excellent post .. one of your best :)

    I agree with Badawi's comment about the personalization issue. However there may exist a better approach for it.

    I'll read the paper and recomment again.

  4. great analogy.

    I think this is very similar to what FOAF and SIOC try to accomplish through semantic web. they aim at describing social networks without the need for a centralized database.

  5. Keeping your personal data protected is achieved by leaving them at home or in a bank treasury. When you expose your data on social networks, you are the one responsible for that based on your intention.

    Overall, the analogy is almost perfect. I liked it very much.

    Finally, whatever good guys do to secure us; bad guys always find their way to us. Consequently, good guys do extra effort, it becomes harder to break-in, but finally bad guys also find their way in, ... ... ...

  6. Maybe we need to be careful when we use a different social networks and services but most of people say they value their privacy but behave as if they don't value it, really we don’t care about our privacy as much as we say!

  7. I think u dont protect ur data except when u own the hardware where it resides. But leaving them out there is ofcourse being used by somebody. As for carrying the identity across social networks i think that things like openID makes a very good example of how identity should be.