Your tools shouldn’t spy on you.
Our fundamental freedoms and democracy are under threat from the monopoly of a business model called corporate surveillance.
Corporate surveillance treats human beings as natural resources to be surveilled, studied, and exploited for profit.
It is the business model of offering you free and subsidised products in exchange for the right to mine your data and to profile you. In this relationship, you are the quarry being mined. Your data is the raw materials that corporations study to analyse, predict, and manipulate your behaviour and motivations.
Corporate surveillors strive to understand you better by creating a profile of you. This is a virtual you; a digital self. It is a simulation of you (your sim).
Corporate surveillors cannot keep your corporeal self locked up in a lab to study you and experiment on you to understand you better but there are currently no regulations against them doing that to your sim. In our current system of laws, although your corporeal self has rights, your virtual self — your sim — does not. (We must work to change this so that your sim is eventually afforded the legal rights of a person.)
The goal of these corporations is to eventually exploit what they learn about you for financial gain by influencing your behaviour to their actual customers.
Corporate surveillance is the dominant business model on the Internet today. It is the business model of huge publicly-traded transnational corporations like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, and Twitter as well as many other venture-capital-subsidised smaller companies and startups that are currently looking for exits either to larger corporate surveillors or to the public in the form of an IPO.
Corporate surveillors tell us that if we do not want to be spied on, we do not have to use their tools, services, and platforms. They say that their products are optional, not essential.
This is not true.
The tools and services provided by corporate surveillors are essential to participating in modern life today and are becoming even more so with every day that passes.
The lack of viable alternatives to corporate surveillance leaves people with an unacceptable decision to make: either accept being spied on, studied, and manipulated for profit, or disconnect from modern life.
Corporate surveillors tell us that if we oppose their business model, we are Luddites who oppose technology, innovation, and the creation of jobs.
This is poppycock.
We oppose neither technology, nor innovation, nor the creation of jobs. We simply oppose their toxic business model of corporate surveillance that treats human beings as walking bags of mostly data and is detrimental to our fundamental freedoms and democracy.
As concerned individuals and organisations, we are working to change this status quo by shifting the ownership and control of consumer technology and data from corporations to individuals.
To achieve this goal, we will create new organisations that are independent, sustainable, design-led, and diverse.
We will not play in your gilded sandboxes.
We reject the myopic and destructive cycle of venture capital and exits that leads to the proliferation of ‘free’ services. We spend our time creating businesses that we love to work in, not dreaming up exit strategies. We are not sponsored by corporate surveillors. Our companies are sustainable businesses guided by the social mission in this manifesto. We fund our organisations in ways that help us to protect that social mission (e.g., bootstrapping, non-equity-based crowdfunding, revenue-based investment).
We are to corporate surveillance what organic farming is to factory farming.
We do not reject making a profit; we simply want to make an ethical, sustainable profit. We want to create successful, sustainable businesses that grow organically. We reject the excessive greed of the venture-capital-backed business model of corporate surveillance. We adopt alternate business models that are transparent, forthright, and easy to understand.
We sell products and we sell services that help people to maintain their tools and data. We sell seamlessness, we sell ease-of-use, we sell time saved.
We do not sell people. We will never build businesses that monetise people’s data or violate their privacy.
We start small and grow organically.
We must design the organisation before we can design the product.
Design is not a layer, it is a cross-cutting concern. Design does not bubble up an organisation, it must trickle down from the top. Design begins at the business model and affects everything that comes after it.
The problems of a diverse audience can only be solved by diverse organisations.
The problems we face are societal ones. They affect a diverse population and they require diverse, interdisciplinary teams to tackle them.
We will use these organisations to create a new category of consumer products that are beautiful, free, social, accessible, secure, and distributed.
We design for the whole-term.
We have a design vision for our products. We filter everything through this vision. We create beautiful defaults and we layer the seams. We understand that features are commodities. We understand that without a unified design vision, a product is far lesser than the sum of its features. We understand the difference between a component of a consumer product and a consumer product. We understand that we cannot compete with consumer products if we are making components of consumer products. We understand that a consumer product today is a combination of hardware, software, services, and connectivity that work seamlessly together to create a beautiful continuous experience. We compete on experience.
We design from first principles. We build focussed, beautiful experiences that give people superpowers. We don’t shy away from making tough decisions. We say ‘no’ a lot. We make every feature go through a trial by fire to earn its right to exist. We understand that design is not decoration.
We design iteratively; design leads development and development informs design. Our process is unapologetically and necessarily undemocratic. We do not design by committee. We listen to the community but we filter feedback and requests through our own design vision. We focus on making simple, beautiful products that work exceptionally well. If differences of opinion exist, others are welcome to fork our work and to take it in different directions. And we, in return, are free to pull that work back into our products if we eventually realise that it does, in fact, fit our design vision.
We make mistakes. We learn. We iterate.
Our products empower people in the short-term with great experiences and in the long-term by giving them ownership and control. We call this ‘design for the whole term’.
Our licenses protect the freedom of our work and the freedom of the people who use it.
We license our work under free (as in liberty) licenses.
We cannot cut people off from corporate surveillance, we must wean them off.
We do not cut people off from their existing networks, we wean them off by making the canonical location of their data a place that they own.
People use existing social networks and the tools that spy on them because they get short-term value from them. We cannot gain traction by ignoring this value or by cutting them off from their friends and their social spheres.
We must enable people to easily weave their existing networks and tools into their personal data stores. Inversely, we must also enable them to easily distribute their content to existing networks. When interacting with existing corporate surveillance networks, we must treat them as untrusted networks and strive to protect the privacy of the person to the highest degree possible.
A person using a tool that they own does not have to ask a corporate surveillor for permission to access and use data that should rightfully be theirs to begin with. We favour scraping over APIs. We understand that an ‘open’ API is just a key to a lock that can be changed at any time.
We must support the existing networks only so far as it is necessary to slowly wean people off them. We can only wean people off of corporate surveillance and retain them if we can create as great, if not better, consumer experiences.
Accessibility is a core design concern.
Our products treat accessibility as a core design concern, not as an afterthought. Accessibility is simply usability applied to audiences with special requirements. To design accessible products, we must design accessible organisations that value diversity and equality.
Security must be seamless.
Encryption and security of people’s data cannot be an afterthought. We must include encryption at the core of our designs and make sure that it is as seamless and easy to use as possible.
Making distributed systems seamless is one of the great design challenges of our time.
Our products will be distributed and peer-to-peer at their core. This will not be easy to achieve but it is the only way to ensure long-term structural change. We may support this core with centralised nodes that guarantee availability and findability in the short term. (Otherwise, we may not be able to match or exceed the user experience of current centralised systems.) But, if anything, we see this as part of the weaning process. Once our distributed networks have enough momentum, we can take the training wheels off.
We call this new category of technology ‘Independent Technology’.
We are tackling a societal problem that cannot be solved by technology alone but which also cannot be solved without the creation of viable technological alternatives. To tackle this societal problem, we must have a diverse, interdisciplinary base. We must be politically and socially active. We must avoid the pitfalls of technological determinism. We must be critical in our approach. And we must be accessible to a mainstream audience.
We will build Independent Technology to enable all people, regardless of technical capability, to own and control their tools and data.
We will build Independent Technology to protect our fundamental freedoms and democracy.
Here’s to a beautiful, free, and independent future.