A group of 12 organizations has come together to lay the groundwork for what they describe as an “alternative Internet” to that controlled by big tech corporations, outlining a set of principles for creating a privacy-focused Internet for the public good.
Various well-known developers of privacy-focused services, such as web browser operators Brave and the Tor Project, Neeva mobile search and web browser, and secure email solutions Proton and Tutanota have signed the privacy agreement.
The group says the five key principles contained in the Privacy Statement, which does not endorse or reflect any specific government policy or technology tool, will serve as a starting point for restoring the Internet to the original vision of its creators – a vision of an open, democratic and private platform , which promotes the free exchange of information, open communication, and individual privacy, as opposed to the regressive attitudes of big technology and surveillance capitalism.
The moves come as a growing wave of ordinary web users abandon services controlled by the likes of Google and Meta, and as governments around the world consider tougher online privacy laws. Therefore, the signatories believe that it is important that the private sector takes the initiative to create a private Internet.
Andy Yen, founder and CEO of Proton, said it was clear that the internet was no longer working in the interests of ordinary users.
“What was once a bright light for the free exchange of information, the democratization of knowledge, has become a tool for those in power. Giant corporations routinely monetize our private lives, trying to sell us a false commitment to protecting our privacy. But there is another way,” he said.
“Companies like those who signed this pledge are putting forward a private alternative to the status quo. By adhering to higher ideals, we believe we can set an example for other innovators and offer users true privacy. Working together, we can bring the Internet back to the way it was meant to be.”
Sridhar Ramaswamy, CEO and co-founder of Neeva, added: “For too long, big tech has used consumer data, abused market share, taxed small businesses and stifled competition to remain the most powerful gatekeepers to all of our online access. The “free” model of the Internet is very expensive; we pay for it with our attention and privacy. Consumers deserve a greater choice of services that put users’ privacy first.”
“In today’s Internet, people are giving up their right to privacy by agreeing to unread terms and clicking privacy warnings,” said Tutanota CEO Arne Mele.
“The reason for this is simple: we learned that this is how the Internet works. We were taught to hate cliques. We’ve been trained to hate reading deadlines. But big tech is using this attitude against us. The internet we have today is fast, easy and the enemy of all things private. That’s why we’ve launched the Privacy Pledge along with other privacy-conscious companies. Because a better Internet is possible.”
These five principles are outlined as follows:
- The Internet, first and foremost, should be built to serve people. This means that it respects basic human rights, is accessible to everyone and ensures the free flow of information. Companies must operate in such a way that the needs of users are always a priority.
- Organizations should collect only the data they need to prevent abuse and ensure the basic functioning of their services. They must obtain people’s consent to collect such data. People should also be able to easily find a clear explanation of what data will be collected, what will be done with it, where it will be stored, how long it will be stored and what they can do to delete it. To the extent that organizations must collect information, they must use data management practices that put user privacy first.
- People’s data should be securely encrypted in transit and stored wherever possible to prevent mass surveillance and reduce the harm of data breaches and leaks.
- Internet organizations must be transparent about their identity and software. They should clearly state who their management team consists of, where they are located, and what legal jurisdiction they fall under. Their software should be open source where possible and open to review by the security community.
- Web services must be interoperable because interoperability does not require unnecessary data collection or undermine strong encryption. This prevents the creation of walled gardens and creates an open competitive space that fosters innovation.
The current list of signatories includes:
- Data rights activist, educator and Netflix subject Big Hackprofessor David Carroll.
- MailFence encrypted email service.
- Mojeek search engine without trackers.
- An open provider of the Open-Xchange electronic platform.
- OpenMedia Digital Rights Nonprofit.
- The Tor Project.
- Secure Threema chat app.
- And You.com’s privacy-focused, ad-free search engine.