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A group of 12 organisations have come together to lay the groundwork for what they describe as an “alternative internet” to that controlled by large technology corporations, outlining a set of principles for building a privacy-focused internet for the public good.
The Privacy Pledge has been signed by various well-known developers of privacy-centric services, such as web browser operators Brave and the Tor Project, mobile search and web browser Neeva, and secure email solutions Proton and Tutanota.
The group says that the five key principles contained in the Privacy Pledge, which does not endorse or reflect any specific public policy or technological tool, will serve as a starting point to restore the internet back to the original vision of its creators – that of an open, democratic and private platform that facilitates the free exchange of information, open communication and individual privacy, in opposition to the regressive attitudes of big tech and surveillance capitalism.
The action comes as a growing wave of ordinary web users switches away from services controlled by the likes of Google and Meta, and as governments around the world consider adopting tighter online privacy laws. As such, the signatories believe it is important that the private sector takes the initiative to lead toward a private internet.
Andy Yen, founder and CEO of Proton, said it was clear the internet was no longer working in the interests of ordinary users.
“What was once a shining light for the free exchange of information, the democratisation of knowledge, has become a tool for the powerful. Giant corporations routinely monetise our private lives while trying to sell us a false commitment to protect our privacy. But there is another way,” he said.
“Companies, like those that have signed this pledge, are putting forward a private alternative to the status quo. By holding ourselves to higher ideals, we believe we can set an example to other innovators and offer users genuine privacy. By working together, we can return the internet to what it was supposed to be.”
Sridhar Ramaswamy, CEO and co-founder of Neeva, added: “For too long, big tech has exploited consumer data, abused market share, taxed small businesses, and stifled competition to remain the most powerful gatekeepers to our entire online experience. The ‘free’ internet model has come at a steep price; we pay for it with our attention and our privacy. Consumers deserve greater choice in services that put user privacy first.”
“In today’s internet, people sign away their right to privacy by agreeing to unread terms and clicking away privacy warnings,” said Tutanota CEO Arne Möhle.
“The reason for this is simple: we have learned that that’s just how the internet works. We were trained to hate clicks. We were trained to hate reading terms. But big tech uses this attitude against us. The internet we have today is quick, easy, and the enemy to all things private. This is why we have launched the Privacy Pledge along with other privacy-first companies. Because a better internet is possible.”
The five principles are set out as follows:
- The internet, above all, should be built to serve people. This means it honours fundamental human rights, is accessible to everyone, and enables the free flow of information. Businesses should operate in such a way that the needs of users are always the priority.
- Organisations should only collect the data necessary for them to prevent abuse and ensure the basic functioning of their services. They should receive people’s consent to collect such data. People should likewise 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 for, and what they can do to have it deleted. To the degree organisations must collect information, they should employ data management practices that put user privacy first.
- People’s data should be securely encrypted in transit and at rest wherever possible to prevent mass surveillance and reduce the damage of hacks and data leaks.
- Online organisations should be transparent about their identity and software. They should clearly state who makes up their leadership team, where they are headquartered, and what legal jurisdiction they fall under. Their software should be open source wherever practical and open to audits by the security community.
- Web services should be interoperable insofar as interoperability does not require unnecessary data collection or undermine secure 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 subject of Netflix’s The Great Hack, professor David Carroll.
- Encrypted email service MailFence.
- Tracker-free search engine Mojeek.
- Open email platform provider Open-Xchange.
- Digital rights non-profit OpenMedia.
- The Tor Project.
- Secure chat application Threema.
- And ad-free, privacy-centric search engine You.com.
Read more about internet privacy
- Google’s proposed Privacy Sandbox initiative – which will see third-party cookies phased out in the Chrome web browser – has been pushed back to 2023.
- While the four most common browsers – Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari – have largely the same feature sets, there are subtle differences when it comes to privacy and security.
- Campaign groups Privacy International and Liberty are gearing up to bring further legal action after a court found that UK spy agencies unlawfully collected phone and internet records.