Sat, 12 Nov 2011

The Internet was originally designed to be a peer-to-peer system where each person, or peer, was free to share what ever information that they desired and it was up to other peers to view it or not. In the original concept, each node on the internet was designed to be its own server and the information that was stored at another location could be accessed by each server.

This original design, however, has been subverted. The internet has gone through a great deal of centralization, with people in effect giving up control of what information they have access to, and leaving open the door for those who have an agenda to control the information that is available to suit their particular goals. By forcing other nodes to go through centralized services, the server administrators gain the ability to block access to information that goes against their overall ideals or agenda. It also creates the ability to manipulate the perception of events, political ideologies or what ever is needed to help shape perception and achieve the desired goal.

The advent of centralized services and the use of software developed to regulate the flow of information, has given these agenda driven individuals the tools they need to regulate access to information. To see a prime example of information control on the Internet, look no further than China (and soon, the U.S. if proposed bills become law.) The Chinese government has an elaborate software-based monitoring system that can block information based on certain words, political ideologies or what ever they deem to be not in the interest of their ultimate agenda.

Proprietary software used by the major search engines directs our searches to the information or ideas that those who control it deem the most appropriate. Although the U.S. is a 'free society', information deemed 'undesirable' can still be blocked, censored and even removed at the discretion of those who control the information. This removes the transparency necessary for free information flow. Does this sound like freedom of information for the general public or of the few controlling the access of the many?

Even more insidious is the amount of spying and lack of privacy that centralized services make possible. In the case of Gmail, it comes with an 'extra' that most of us don't think of: You are also agreeing to be spied upon. Google scans your email, performing a semantic analysis of your email to show you related ads. Online calendars, profiles like those on Facebook and in other places is also subject to similiar treatment. The privacy you think you have when doing things online is simply an illusion.

As if this weren't bad enough, these services comes other little 'extras', free of charge of course, that shred the vestiges of your privacy even further. Tracking software creates logs of your favorite videos or songs, your shopping preferences as well as the websites you like to visit, all under the guise of creating a more enjoyable web surfing or shopping experience.

Think of the data mining that becomes possible if you're the one with access to the logs of all of this. This gives more power to the 'few' to control us in ever expanding areas of our lives.

Eben Moglen gave a very good speech that covers these issues: (part 1), (part 2), (part 3).

Enter the YaCy project. YaCy (pronounced "ya see") is a free software engine that uses peer-to-peer connections to replace the current system of centralized control and surveillance with a free and decentralized model and provides everyone with their own local search portal.

What this means is that instead of going through a centralized server that acts as a gatekeeper and directs you to selected information, when you input search parameters using YaCy you go directly to the information that you requested with no censorship, and no tracking. Plus, you get to keep the logs.

The YaCy project is designed to move control of the internet back into the hands of the people that search engines such as Google have commandeered.

Like most, you are probably looking for ways to protect your civil liberties and freedoms. Now you have an alternative for Internet searches free of survillance and censorship. You can learn more about YaCy at http://yacy.net/ where the program can also be downloaded.

Let's move the internet back to the original design of peer-to-peer communication. Using a decentralized system for search isn't the only thing that's necessary to fully decentralize the Internet, but it is an important one. For others, you can set up your own status.net instance instead of using Twitter, or your Diaspora seed instead of using Facebook or Google Plus.

More work is also needed in other areas, but you can help by using decentralized services and becoming part of the movement to eliminate censorship and restore privacy, freedom, and autonomy on the Internet.