Decentralisation is an inevitable course-correction for the Web, says Justin Bingham, CTO of Janeiro Digital. In this episode of The Decentralized Web podcast, Dr James Somauroo, founder of The HealthTech podcast, sat down with Justin to discuss his vision for the future of web decentralization – where data is used virtuously, offering equal value to individuals and organizations.
The fact that the web has become an ever-growing repository of sensitive personal information, Justin contends, was not borne out of ill-intentions or avarice on the part of organizations. On the contrary, perhaps it occurred in plain sight, while we were caught napping, as businesses began trading in that most valuable of commodities – data. The focus towards web decentralization and the Sir Tim Berners-Lee brainchild, Solid, represents a form of course correction, and recognizes Sir Berners-Lee’s original vision for the Web as a medium for the secure, decentralized exchange of public and private data.
Solid is an ecosystem of interoperable specifications and standards, and enables data to come together in a decentralized data store, or ‘Pod’. A Solid server may host several Pods, compartmentalized and distinct from one another, each containing data with varying access and permissioning controls. Crucially, the data rests in the hands of the individual it belongs to. Individuals can determine the apps and entities to share (or not share) the data with. Unlike blockchain, which is a useful distributive ledger for structured, immutable, and consistent information, Solid Pods may contain any kind of information, stored and accessed using standard, open, and interoperable data formats.
The complementary ‘XFORM’ technology enables the flexible and easy interface of the data contained within the Pods with existing enterprise architecture and topology, to help minimise disruptions to information exchange. Justin illustrates the use-case of XFORM in the seamless migration of data from a patient’s electronic health record (EHR) to their Pod. Furthermore, through adding additional layers of anonymisation, the data within the Pod may be de-identified prior to release to certain entities – Justin cites the example of research studies and pharmaceutical companies requesting cohort data, where identifiable data isn’t needed.
The need for web decentralization, Solid, Pods and XFORM is based on the principle of fair data handling. It’s necessary to redress the information asymmetry currently present across so many industries, and empowers patients to be in control of their own data. Moreover, Justin adds, a renewed focus on decentralization may catalyze a change in business models, wherein organizations use data virtuously and for its value, rather than its volume.
Justin’s vision for the future? It’s already here, he says. Janeiro’s and Inrupt’s efforts with Solid are simply a reimagining of existing workflows using in-situ topology and infrastructure; inherently more palatable than proposing radical reform to the status quo. Offering such reassurances, disseminating standards on interoperability, and providing evidence of use-case successes, may go some way towards addressing the apprehensions organizations may have in onboarding with Solid.
He describes an iteration cycle, and concedes that there may be varying degrees of success in using Solid in the early stages. Eventually, as more and more individuals consent to their data being stored within Pods, and as growing numbers of organisations interface with the technology, there will be a ‘snowballing’ of value until it becomes ubiquitous.
Justin is also quick to emphasise that a decentralized web benefits both individuals and the businesses which receive their data. Pods offer individuals entirely new levels of data stewardship, control, and privacy. Organizations may similarly be able to access a much broader spectrum of data and provide more innovative and personalized solutions. This bidirectional benefit is centrally important in ensuring the pace and scale of Solid. As Justin concludes, “Where’s the value on one side, there’s motivation… where there’s value on both sides, there’s an inevitability”.
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