Since we use the internet we are under the magnifying glass. Always. Every second we spend on the Internet, we leave behind us a trail of digital crumbs known as metadata. This information can be used to track our every move, and sometimes manipulate our behavior.
I know, maybe you are thinking that this is all sordid. But there is no plot behind it. Only the commercial one for companies that sell products online. For them we are the target that they must know well.
This target practice, or rather the era of puppet users, is perhaps about to end.
There are two Swiss companies that are working to create “smoke screens” that blur the trail of data that companies would like to track in order to sell their products to us.
It is a tool that will protect all citizens who use the internet, and also from the surveillance of the government (if there is one) and of the big technology companies above all.
LIKE SMOKE THAT ANIMATES THE SIGHT
The two Swiss companies are Nym Technologies and Hopr.
What did they come up with?
“They use mixnet to scramble the metadata that users leave behind when they surf the Internet, making it impossible to reconnect the digital traces so mixed with individuals.”
The two startups are part of a handful of international organizations, such as Orchid and xxnetwork (founded by cryptographer David Chaum, who first advanced the mixnet concept in 1981), who work to protect online privacy.
“Being under constant surveillance is exhausting. We are being watched every second, with every single click, without knowing what happens to the information we provide or how it is used, and it is starting to affect our long-term mental health, ”said Chelsea Manning, who works as a consultant for Nym Technologies.
Manning was in the US military ten years ago and stole and disseminated confidential documents about the deaths of civilians in the Iraq war and the mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees.
Today it campaigns against data monitoring by governments and large companies. Indeed, it advocates the need for greater online privacy.
Certainly no one, neither me nor them, is against the use of certain practices when it comes to investigating criminals or suspected criminals. Or whether the police need to thwart online scams or thefts.
Manning also explained another singular aspect:
“People know that their privacy is being violated, but they expect someone else to intervene to solve the problem: a government or a civil rights organization. However, things don’t go quite like this.”
But today we are close to a solution …
THE SWARM EFFECT
Both Nym and Hopr believe that, instead of waiting for the legislative bodies to provide the necessary protection, it is better to rely on technology.
So here’s the system they came up with …
Both companies apply the same decentralization idea that blockchain and bitcoin use.
“It is a network of computers operating independently but connected to each other, which together transmit data creating a swarm of information that misleads the user’s traces.
The two companies have already also done a test. The users who participated have been encouraged with digital tokens. Also used by those who want to take advantage of the services offered by the two systems.
This technological tool can be used in a wide range of services:
– From decentralized finance
– To sending personal data
– To host chat digital rooms
Hopr is in talks with a medical technology company, for example.
“The goal is to provide tools that enable individuals to defend themselves. We need flexible systems that allow us to take advantage of the digital universe without Facebook and Google collecting data about us,” said Hopr founder Sebastian Bürgel.
THERE ARE ALWAYS OTHER SYSTEMS IN SWITZERLAND AND NONE OF THIS HELPS CRIME
According to experts, digital privacy is currently in check and there is practically no protection.
“The only way to counter this trend is to use technology, relying on software that makes surveillance impossible or, at the very least, that also presents other options for when surfing the Internet.”
In Switzerland, they have already been ahead of the rest of the world for some time. This country makes privacy one of its strengths. Think for example of the well-segregated Swiss bank accounts that attract a lot of rich people to deposit their money there.
ProtonMail and Threema encrypt messaging and e-mail in Switzerland. The Onion Router (Tor) protects anonymity by routing traffic through relays located at various levels of the system, while Brave eliminates online advertising.
Today there are Nym and Hopr who, as explained above, add a mixnet, that is the most advanced of the privacy services offered by the competition: it is designed for metadata and introduces faster operating models than its competitors.
In all this rush to protect the data of those who surf online, there are those who accuse these companies of providing systems that could also help crime. Because even those who want to act anonymously to do harm can do it undisturbed.
But it’s not really that obvious. For example, upon specific request, these companies will be able to release data of a single user or request the traceability of another.
Harry Halpin, co-founder and CEO of Nym, clearly explains that their work cannot help the bad guys on the net:
“Privacy does not mean hiding from everyone’s eyes, but being able to choose what information to reveal. The introduction of new laws has not put an end to surveillance, it has only introduced a series of annoying extra pop-up windows for users and some mostly negligible fines for companies.”
In fact, it is no coincidence that Nym receives funding for these projects from the European Next Generation Internet Commission. The goal is to create a more inclusive and safer web for everyone.
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