FOSS maven says $29 'Freedom Box' will kill Facebook
You say you want a revolution?
Concerned about Facebook, Google, and other companies that make billions brokering sensitive information, free-software champion Eben Moglen has unveiled a plan to populate the internet with tiny, low-cost boxes that are designed to preserve individuals' personal privacy.
The Freedom Box, as the chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center has christened it, would be no bigger than power adapters for electronic appliances. The inexpensive devices would be deployed in a peer-to-peer fashion in homes and offices to process email, voice-over-IP communications, and the sharing of pictures, among other things. The decentralized structure of the devices is in stark contrast to today's biggest internet providers, which offer the same services in exchange for users turning over some of their most trusted secrets.
Public enemy No. 1 is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who in Moglen's eyes, “has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age.”
“He has to remarkable extent succeeded with a very poor deal, namely 'I will give you free web-hosting and some PHP doodads and you get spying for free all the time,'” Moglen said during a meeting last year of the Internet Society's New York branch. “And it works.”
As Moglen envisions them, Freedom Boxes would be used to perform a wealth of services that most of the world has been brainwashed into believing are better performed in the cloud. Secure backups that automatically store data in encrypted form would be performed on the Freedom Boxes of our friends, just as their encrypted data would be stored on ours.
The boxes would also be used to send and receive encrypted email, VoIP calls, and to act as a safer alternative to social-networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
The guts of the boxes would be the Debian distribution of Linux, along with countless free applications that would presumably be developed under the same model as most of today's open source software.
The Freedom Box website gives no timeline for delivery, but Moglen told The New York Times that he could build version 1.0 in one year if he could raise “slightly north of $500,000.” The cost of plug-in devices is about $99 right now, but Moglen said they'll eventually sell for about $29. They'll run on a low-power chip. “You plug it into the wall and forget about it,” he told the NYT.
With Facebook and Twitter getting credit for fomenting protests and revolutions in the Middle East, Moglen says the ability to connect online carries immeasurable promise. But right now, most of the organizing is taking place on centralized, for-profit websites with ethics that can easily be compromised.
“As a result of which, we are watching political movements of enormous value, capable of transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of people, resting on a fragile basis, like, for example, the courage of Mr. Zuckerberg, or the willingness of Google to resist the state, where the state is a powerful business partner and a party Google cannot afford frequently to insult.”
The worthiness of a tiny, low-powered device that makes Facebook obsolete is matched only by its implausibility. We wish the Freedom Box well, but we won't be buying any stock just yet. ®
This story was updated to correct when Moglen spoke to the Internet Society.
Actually, my employer is toying with the same idea
It is not as crazy as it sounds. This reverses the cloud concept such that we each own our own servers. Don't forget, that is what the Internet was originally all about - masses of disperate machines all sharing data to maintain the integrity of the 'system' after a catastrophe, such as nuclear war. All we're proposing here is what P2P wireless will hopefully do the (nefarious) carriers and that is eliminating the ISP from the equation.
If I told you in 1992 when we were all communicating using faxes and pagers that a few years later it would be possible to electronically share with anyone anywhere in real time any item of content, you would have thought me mad. Two years later, Mosaic changed everything.
Well, the personal 'server' and all manner of P2P comms will be as ubiquitous in a few years as the reverse is today. It is inevitable.
@oflife #p2pwireless #projectprecisely
I admire your spirit (and the obligatory geek-fu) but I think that you are mistaken about what most people want.
Facebook is successful because the vast majority of the general public actually like what it does and even how it looks. They like all that stuff that turns you off. That's why Zuckerberg is ridiculously rich.
To the average Facebook user, your suggestion of setting up and running a nice little 'family and friends mail-do-hicky' is about as attractive as the idea of growing your own organic cotton and hand weaving it into your own clothing. They would rather just pop down to Tesco or Asda and buy Jeans for £3 and a T-shirt for £1.50 in an 'attractive' range of designs.
I host a number of websites, some are exclusively for family content. However, these days when I do post something on these sites most members of my family just say "why don't you put it on Facebook, then I'll see it along with all my other stuff".
I don't understand all of this...
But I think I want one ASAP.
I beg to disagree, sir.
After all, Justin Bieber is only 16 or so.
Look at the damage he's inflicted. I fear he's only getting started...
I think if this had happened ten or fifteen years ago then it might have worked, but are people that currently have Facebook really going to want to buy a mini server, then buy an external drive, then buy a deep-geek book on how to set it up, then give up doing it themselves and pay some sort of consultant to finish the job for them?
Why spend loads of time and probably a good three figure sum getting this new device to work? What is in it for them? They have Facebook, and so do their friends and family. They swap photos and videos (maybe uploaded from their phone via an existing app) play FarmVille or Mafia Wars, IM each other through the day, track their favourite bands' fan pages, search for old school friends and even buy Facebook gifts. And what does all this cost? Nothing (except the gifts and any in-game charges). How long did it take for them to set up? Five minutes if they type slowly! Oh, and they give away their privacy - but then to be honest very few Facebook users actually care much about that!
I would be amazed if 0.5% of the developed world wanted one of these things, so there is no real prospect of it ever reaching 50%
I also think you may be underestimating how big a job getting a global system like this working reliably would be. Sure, you could set up Drupal and Wordpress on your personal box, even set up photo and video serving, but this is not a Facebook replacement, it is just your own personal site, like most of elReg readers probably have already.