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Who owns and controls your data?

Opinions  •  
Aug 23, 2017
 • logged_by: Joachim

I always believed that I should be in control of my own data and share it accordingly. Therefore in 2002 Jolocom started as an idea in San Francisco. But back then the resistance to open networks and communication was very strong, and the technological barrier to enter the market quite high. In the meantime at first social media and later blockchain changed the rules of the game. This is what lead us to start with Jolocom 3 years ago and ever since we won various grants, build a great team and a functional prototype.

It all started during my time with Lufthansa

From my naive perspective this was kind of crazy. During my time at Lufthansa valuable information existed throughout the company, tons of it. But to actually get access to most of the information was almost impossible. Sharing of information was seen as destroying its value.

That is why the marketing department had to make decisions without much needed information from the sales or finance departments. Needless to say that very often decisions led to conflict, and sometimes even to take the company itself at risk.

In 2002 Jolocom started as a project to help people in companies to better communicate and share information amongst them. It was obvious to me that if we would improve the information flow, the marketing department could make better decisions which would lead to a better alignment towards the overlying goals and strengthen the company itself.

When I tried to talk to SAP

Presenting this idea to companies quickly gave me harsh feedback. Someone at one point even called me a communication terrorist. Later in 2002 I reached out to Hasso Plattner who was just about to leave his role as CEO at SAP. The idea was to embed a communication suite in the ERP software. One of his last acts was to invite me over to Walldorf where he sent a delegate to discuss the project. Needless to say that this led nowhere.

The resistance was very strong, and still the technological barrier to enter the market quite high. So I decided to give it some time.

Skipping a few years ahead we now entered the Web 2.0. Social media and search was on the rise and all of a sudden data was flowing in different ways. Also companies started to move services to the cloud and big data became the thing. I observed this development closely and saw how a monster was created which put us all into data slavery, individuals and companies alike, except for a few that managed to centralize data streams through their platforms.

The internet today has many flaws

“It (the Internet) controls what people see, creates mechanisms for how people interact,” says Sir Tim Berners Lee. “It’s been great, but spying, blocking sites, repurposing people’s content, taking you to the wrong websites — that completely undermines the spirit of helping people create.”

Who owns your data got a serious concern. That is where I picked up the original idea from 2002. Data and information should be about sharing and collaborating. Only now individuals and companies start to have a shared interest to own their data, not least due to the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) by the EU which aims to establish a respectful and ethical way to share data, and clarifying who owns the data. The fact that big data — our data — lies in the hands of a few large platforms undermines the right of privacy. Similar than the inventor of the Web also I felt that the time is here to give power back to the users.

Who gets access, who can share it? Questions how to share data and information to better collaborate felt always off for me. Back then we were not even talking global sharing, we were still in the times of intranet and Web 1.0. We looked at how communication flows or rather didn’t flow in companies. Why? Because the mindset still was that to collect and protect data is the way to go, simply because data was still seen as tangible asset. To share it meant — and to too many minds still means — to give something away.

Own your own data

In spite of all the headwind the idea that data and information should be about sharing and collaborating never escaped my mind. In the end, it took me 12 years, but in May 2014 we officially founded Jolocom. Initially we started to research which technology we should use, apply for grants, etc. In May 2015 we received our first grant from Investment Bank Berlin Brandenburg (IBB) to work with a design agency for building our initial prototype — a proof of concept so to say. The prototype was based on Solid — the project that Tim Berners Lee develops at MIT. This we presented a bit later in San Francisco during our GETD#2 at the RedVic and Internet Archive for the first time, and a next version one year later during the Decentralized Web Summit again at the Internet Archive (see pic with Sir Tim Berners Lee, Brewster Kahle and Nicola Greco).

Later that summer we got news that we won a call from the EU H2020 to build the AGILE IoT gateway. Jolocom’s part was to help individuals control their data that comes from sensors and devices (data is stored in the domain of the user, from where (s)he can share it with whom they wish — instead of being stored on any big data platform by default).

The last nine month we have been collaborating with Fraunhofer FOKUS, the famous german research institution to connect Ethereum to Jolocom’s concept of a self-sovereign digital identity. Along this project we have been developing a SmartWallet which will be available for testing in a few weeks.

Currently Jolocom is a team of nine amazing individuals, mostly based in Berlin where we share the office with Ethereum and great projects like Blockchain Hub, Brainbot, Electrum and Gnosis.

Up until now, we have been mostly in stealth mode, because we wanted a mature prototype before going public. We already have a lot of code and a fairly good idea of what works and what not. Over the next few weeks we will be happy to share more documentation and our insights with you.

Our entire codebase is open source.