I- Issues: the power grab of
Advertising is a legitimate, useful and necessary activity. Left unchecked however, advertising quickly becomes obnoxious, wasteful or even criminal. You are bothered by phone calls in the middle of a peaceful dinner, you are bombarded by pamphlets offering you a service which cannot be delivered (*) or else is totally redundant(**), young children receive inappropriate sollicitations.
Laws and regulations can be and have proven to be a powerful check(***). Unfortunately they are not, they cannot be sufficient. At issue is the economic power of marketing. As long as bad advertising is more profitable than any other solution, bad advertising will have its way, especially on the Internet where unethical activities so easily escape the reach of the law.
And the problem is going to become much worse, beyond your most vivid fears. Developers have perfected how to read your mail and track your slighest move. Marketers are busy turning these technical features into a form of personalized advertising which will put Big Brother to shame.
(*) e.g., my local phone company routinely promotes high speed Internet access to people to whom it does not offer the service.
(**) e.g., young adults are in no need of pharmaceutical products targeted to older men.
(***) e.g., the US federal "do not call registry" is one of the best examples.
The lack of privacy has always been the foundation of justice. Without the power to turn our writings, our finger prints, our DNA into evidence against ourselves, most cases would rest on error-prone witnesses and self-incrimination. Nevertheless one cannot live a normal life and engage in normal business activities without a minimum of privacy. There are just certain things which one must be able to say in private and deny in public.
For example, imagine an executive facing a decision. Chances are a colleague or someone reporting to him or her may want to advise against it, although they would never think of going public about their opposition and risking being taken as whistle blowers. Without privacy, original thinking and team cooperation would soon come to a halt.
Yet Scott Mc Nealy, the CEO of Sun MicroSystems who famously declared "there is no privacy over the Interner, get over it!", has been found correct in ways not even anticipated. The pervasive use of emails for today's informal interactions coupled with the indefinite retention of computer archives have provided a gold mine for lawyers intent on discovery. Every mail you write or receive may be scanned against you.
If you happen to be a service provider, do not think privacy is not your problem. As Yahoo and the Craig List executives found out at their expense, every service known to archive end-user communication (mail, ads, self-expression) can be prosecuted for lack of oversight.
Democratic governments exist for a reason: without them society would soon descend into anarchy. Yet democracy is a fragile construct, notoriously difficult to nurture. Ideally based on the consent of the governed, it perdures through the constraints put on power, the "checks and balances" dear to the founding fathers of the US constitution.
The real challenge of our present Information Age is that modern technology has removed many of these checks. It would be surprising if a responsible government were to ignore the tools modern advertising has put in place to track and profile our tastes, our purchases, our mail. The issue is that this power may be used without sufficient checks. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
II- The four pillars of privacy:
II-1 the sanctity of the mail
The first and foremost principle of ePrio's solution is to give email the same status as ordinary postal mail.
In most countries, it is a major crime to steal or break the seal of postal correspondence. In the US, it is a federal offense. Today your email is given the vastly inferior status of a post card, readable by anyone who happens to handle it.
While ePrio has no power to make law, ePrio ensures that all your electronic correspondence is given back the status it should have, using a commonly accepted standard of security, peer to peer encryption. It means that, contrary to services like gmail by Google, neither ePrio' employees nor its suppliers will be able to read your mail, let alone send you advertising keyed to the words you peruse.
Does it mean your mail is absolutely protected ? Of course not. Given enough time and resources, any code will be broken and ePrio's is no exception. But so is postal mail.
Internet service users are not the only ones to benefit. Restoring the sanctity of the mail also frees Internet service providers from onerous and ever changing legal liabilities and governmental pressures. No one may prosecute the US Postal Service for carrying sealed content of alleged criminal import.
II-2 a level playing field
The second principle of ePrio is much more revolutionary. It can be divided into four parts:
You may very well wonder how can sensitive data be both used and never made accessible. ePrio, which has patented the solution, relies on the power of analysis and of communication of opinon makers to convince you.
- a sender must get permission from each intended receiver before sending
- a receiver may be required to get permission from the sender before reading the message
- permissions may be based on the examination of the most personal and confidential information pertaining to the requester
- no such private information need be made accessible to anyone, including ePrio, its employees and suppliers, and of course the person whose permission is requested.
Imagine tEC, the Electronic confidant, as a mechanical "privacy valve" operating on your machine under your control, which will not let your data go out but allow filters designed to grant permission to come in and permissions, if granted, to get out.
Whether you are the sender or the receiver has not been specified. First it will vary depending on circumstances. Besides the permission-based mechanism is so balanced that it hardly matters who seeks permission first. ePrio truly achieve a level playing field:
ePrio only releases a generic version of tEC Mail, with limited filtering power. Domain makers have unlimited freedom to design match and mail services in their area of influence or expertise.
- no spam: no one can send you a mail you would not welcome
- efficient targeting: you can make sure no one will see your mail if it is not in your interest
- efficient serendipity: because permissions can be based on detailed, formal information, you are not obliged ahead of time to know or trust the sender in order to grant permission to receive, nor the receiver to send, a message of mutual interest.
II-3 individual responsibility
The third principle is the natural consequence of the previous two. Since ePrio's solution removes any possibility of interference from intermediaries and allows unknown correspondents to discover mutual interests among themselves, it squarely puts responsibility back where it belongs, i.e. in the hands of each individual user.
Were the US Postal Service made liable for all the misrepresentations made in the mail it delivers, there would be no more mail. Rather
This is a true challenge. Advertisers, lawyers and governments base their power grab on the assumption that user laziness trumps the desire for real privacy. According to "common sense", users would rather entrust their information to third parties. On the contrary the call by ePrio's solution to individual responsibility requires some effort:
- it is a federal offense to use the US Postal Service to deliver mail in pursuit of a fraudulent scheme
- individuals are warned to beware of marketing claims they receive daily in their mail boxes
- when a user of tEC, the Electronic confidant, picks his or her own password, he or she cannot rely on anyone else to help remember it. Otherwise this intermediary could obtain material access to the data protected by the password, in contradiction with the first two principles.
- when a user of tEC gets a contact of mutual interest with an unknown correspondent, he or she must realize that this person may be misrepresenting his or herself. Technology, no matter how good it is, cannot suppress this fact of life.
II-4 the involvement of the community
The fourth principle is an answer to the issues raised by asking users to take their privacy in their hands. While it precludes reliance on big brothers, ePrio's solution brings users into effective communities to help them exercise their individual responsibility.
- Confidentiality must not be the means to escape responsibility. When an exchange of mutual interest is made by tEC, the Electronic confidant, two unique identifiers can be used to trace each user, one relative to activity, the other to identity. The true identity behind those two ID's is known to both the user and the person by whom he or she was invited to use tEC in the first place.
In case a user abuses the protection offered by the system, for example to commit fraud, ePrio retains the power to follow the chain of invitations and ask each member of the chain in turn to identify the next member down to the person against whom the complaint has been lodged or face service shut down of all the members he or she has invited. Users are made responsible for the behavior of those whom they personally invite and must check any new invitation against a blacklist of "convicted offenders".
- Tracing occurs after the fact, thus protecting honest users from preventive, large-scale snooping. The community can also act preventively without infringing on the rights of privacy. With tEC, third parties can issue verifiable recommendations, positive or negative, which can be used as criteria to ascertain mutual interest.
A tEC recommendation, given some domain of interest such as "real estate in Boston" or "security guards in San Francisco":
With tEC, responsibility can be neither diluted nor manipulated. This is radically different from:
- uncontrovertibly ties a recommender C to a user A, who has requested and be granted an endorsement by C
- uncontrovertibly ties this recommender C to a user B, who has decided in advance to recognize C's opinions
- allows A and B to discover each other based in whole or in part on C's recommendation
- allows B, assuming a match with A, to verify A's claim to be recommended by C by performing a check directly with C
The tEC recommendation scheme encourages:
- popularity indexes or communal feedback, which can be and are manipulated by clever and unscrupulous performers
- background checks performed without the knowledge and consent of the targets, opening the door to egregious and runaway abuses
- anyone who is respected in his or her own community such as a teacher or an expert, to use this influence to facilitate contacts in the corresponding area of influence
- existing third party organizations, such as credit reporting agencies, mortgage pre-approval issuers, bonding companies, the FBI, to carry over their business over the Internet in a new, ethical way
- entrepreneurs to create new, independent, profitable sources of trusted recommendations in their domains of expertise
III- ePrio's solution:
III-1 you are the solution !
This is not a joke. By offering or denying its financial support, the investor community determines the future of new ventures.
According to its "common sense", the companies which can justify the risk of investing in a startup are the ones which cater to the needs of advertisers, law firms and security agencies. Let a thousand big brothers blossom!
You, on the contrary, have been challenged to prove you exist, to show that privacy is not an issue for the lunatic fringe only.
In union with all like-minded individuals, your action has the power to attract the financial backing which will turn ePrio's offer into the sustainable solution you deserve.
III-2 what can ePrio do for you ?
The solution that ePrio offers you has three aspects:
- Think of ePrio as a ballot box. In itself a ballot box is but a box and an empty one to begin with. Yet with it comes power, the power of letting yourself be counted. By taking some of the actions listed below, you aggregate your voice with all those who share your concerns. In a working democracy, one does not even need to belong to the majority to enjoy power and influence. As soon as a sizable minority emerges, competition will not allow this new market opportunity to go underserved.
- Think of ePrio as a bullhorn. If you yearn to do more than cast a ballot, ePrio offers you the way to campaign for privacy. Once you have downloaded your copy of tEC, the Electronic confidant, you are able to enlist, with their agreement, those whom you so choose. This electoral process favors grass root involvement and is designed to bring you into what will soon become the majority.
- The third aspect is both material and practical. ePrio has developed a new email system, tEC Mail, which offers secure communications while eliminating spam by design. You may suggest that there are already many good secure mail system on the market. But please give tEC Mail feature list a careful examination. tEC Mail is but a harbinger of the full catalog of all tEC-based innovative services, covered by several US patents, granted or pending.
As an example of use, tEC Mail is ideal to quickly set up informal email systems for intra and inter corporate work groups which will not end up in permanent archives amenable to legal discovery or industrial spying. Such adhoc email must of course be used as a complement to, not a replacement of, the standard company mail, which constitutes the formal record.
As another example, tEC Mail can be used to send photographs over the Internet without the fear of some third party leaking what can be highly personal and confidential information. The sender may even prevent the receiver to make copies.
III-3 what can you do for ePrio ?
You can support ePrio in several ways and the more ways you can manage, the more efficient your support will be.
- the first action is to get yourself invited to download tEC, the Electronic confidant. That you need an invitation is not here to turn you away. It is to bring you three essential benefits:
Here are some of the ways you can get yourself invited:
- since ePrio will not invite you directly, ePrio will hold absolutely no information on you. ePrio does takes your privacy seriously.
- it gives you someone to rely upon when you first encounter tEC: the one who invited you will answer your questions on this alpha release with first hand knowledge.
- by taking whatever steps it takes to get invited, you will make your ballot count more than if it had been an impulse action, soon satisfied, quickly forgotten.
- personally know someone who has already been invited. A colleague at work, a family member, a friend.
- ask people around you, since after all there are only "six degrees of separation" between ePrio and you
- write to opinion makers or a known domain maker. ePrio have invited them and they have the resources and expertise to help
- become a domain maker yourself. ePrio focuses its own resources on supporting domain makers.
- get someone to become a domain maker. ePrio will see to it that you get rewarded for bringing business.
- once you are familiar with tEC, you can start to enroll the members of your own personal network. Pause a moment to consider that, contrary to all other social networks, ePrio will not have any information on those whom you enroll as it has none on you. Responsibility is yours to invite only those whom you trust not abuse the absolute confidentiality offered by tEC.
- if ePrio puts up a tECsurvey to gather statistics on its users' profile, make the effort to answer the survey questions to the best of your knowledge. It will increase your ballot power even more.
Note that, while ordinary surveys need to take possession of your data in order to compute the statistics, a tECsurvey leaves your profile data inaccessible behind your privacy valve and simply increments central counters.
- if you have your one, make sure to link your own web site to http://www.eprivacy.com as it will make ePrio more visible on the search engines and help your campaign for privacy.
- in keeping with its grassroot strategy, ePrio does sollicit your financial help. A $20 contribution is suggested and all amounts above this level will be either refunded or donated to the Comité International de la Croix Rouge (CICR). All correspondence should be addressed to ePrio Inc., 14 Barbara D. Lane, Tewksbury MA 01876.
III-4 a disclaimer
You are entitled to hold ePrio to the highest level of honesty.
While its legal disclaimer follows common software industry practice, please find here in plain sight a plain English summary:
ePrio regretfully declines any responsibility as to the ability of its products and services to perform as claimed, as well as any damage whatsoever which could result in their use.
This legal warning may not be as dire as it seems. Once invited to download tEC, you are free to try and see for yourself. And you may choose to rely on the opinion of the one who invited you as well as the expertise of well known opinion makers.