Jaya Klara Brekke describes how CoBox uses peer-to-peer technology for Internet users to co-operate with each other to securely back up data, without losing out on data sovereignty.
The success of new tech is not only due to scientific and technological maturity, nor to shrewd business sense alone. Equally important is whether the technology resonates with societal imagination, desires and needs. Society has started to embrace peer-to-peer decentralised technologies in recent years and we felt the time is ripe to develop CoBox, building blocks for a peer-to-peer distributed cloud and secure back up system.
From the Snowden revelations of how Internet infrastructures and platforms are used for mass surveillance, to the daily reports on data leaks by major cloud providers of personal and sensitive information (see the recent Amazon S3 data breach of thousands of UK passports for example) and the more deep-rooted problem of centralisation of ownership, wealth and control over data intelligence in a handful of tech giants – there are plenty of reasons why we believe that the appetite for decentralised, privacy-aware and autonomous networked technologies is only going to grow.
We are Magma Collective and are a ‘Think and Do Tank’ formed with the objective to empower people in relation to the technical and economic systems that impact our lives. The collective grew out of collaborations on Dark Crystal peer cryptographic key-recovery system and a shared interest in how distributed ledger technologies intersect with trust, collectives and new economies. We all come from backgrounds in cooperative networks, independent technology and media projects, as well as European technology R&D projects such as D-CENT.
Thanks to the NGI Ledger award, we began development on CoBox, contributing to and customising the Dat peer-to-peer stack, building new tech towards the needs that we have since identified: We realised that we, and many small and medium sized groups and organisations (in fact even large organisations and public sector institutions!) have been increasingly relying on large corporate cloud platforms for day-to-day data management and operations. These large platforms enable large-scale surveillance, profiling, manipulation and value extraction, contrary to our fundamental values.
Our aim is not to try and replicate the products and services of existing giants but instead to focus on collaborating on and building the kinds of infrastructures needed by ourselves and the organisations, cooperatives, freelancers, businesses and trade unions that we consider our friends and allies. The CoBox cloud is not an abstraction in the sky above distant data centres, but resembles more a mist forming beneath and between the trees, close to the ground, and is part of a multiplicity of initiatives that are shifting the culture and political economies of data.
In building CoBox we emphasise four aspects that we believe are only going to become more critical features for organisations seeking to establish and have direct control over their data infrastructures:
With the climate crisis beginning to really affect large areas and compromising critical information and power grids, we believe offline first is only going to become more important. CoBox stores files locally, while replicating the data between known nodes across a local or remote network connection.
Infrastructure is fully owned and controlled by the organizations themselves using cryptographic keys. Data back-ups are blind replications and cannot be accessed by any third party.
New regulatory frameworks like GDPR suggest a changing future in the way that data is handled, and this requires new kinds of legal, technical, organisational and community approaches to managing and making the most of data as a resource and a commons infrastructure. And so on our development road map, we are plotting to connect the technical CoBox network with a social network including a number of excellent like-minded organisations that can offer such services to small groups and organisations that might not have in-house capacity.
Data is encrypted and stored in a network of what we call Supernodes and amongst peers of your choice. If your device is lost or damaged, your files will be restored by your peers.
Finally, the most important aspect of CoBox is the overarching concept of community trust. Trusting a partner organisation to securely host your back-ups, or conversely, trusting yourself to hold other people’s back-ups can be a big ask for some people. We are therefore developing a federated model, working first with similarly minded technology cooperatives as Supernodes so that together, we can form the peer-to-peer backbone of CoBoxes. From there, we will then be able to reliably service smaller groups and people who do not feel technically confident.
“Building a network is more than just making devices, it means building a community like the Next Generation Internet community that we’re excited to be part of”
CoBox is a network technology, and for us, building a network is more than just making devices, it means building a community like the Next Generation Internet community that we’re excited to be part of. Big tech platform businesses do this by attracting people with free services, following two typical business models: start charging once people have been ‘locked in’, and/or surveillance business models, extracting and commercialising peoples behaviours, relationships and content. CoBox will do neither of these. Instead, our aim is to enable and empower people to determine what they want to do with their data, collectively and individually. Our business model is to grow value with a community rather than trapping people and then extracting value from a community.
The Magma Collective:
Jaya Klara Brekke, Mooness Davarian, Kieran Gibb, Dan Hassan and Greg Jones