Tim Berners-Lee at the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva, in March 2019
Tim Berners-Lee: “There is a feeling, a zeitgeist, that change is really overdue” © AFP/Getty Images

Inrupt, the company founded by Tim Berners-Lee to promote a new data architecture for the web, has launched its first enterprise-ready Solid servers for use by more than a dozen partners, including the NHS, the BBC and NatWest Bank.

Sir Tim described the move as a “huge milestone” in the company’s attempts to break down existing data silos on the web and recreate more interconnected networks, which would enable its Solid technology to expand at scale.

“There is a feeling, a zeitgeist, that change is really overdue,” said Sir Tim, Inrupt chief technology officer, in an interview with the Financial Times. 

Sir Tim invented the world wide web in 1989 as an open and collaborative project but has more recently expressed alarm at how it has been exploited by powerful technology companies and is determined to flip it “the right way up” again. 

He said online users had also become increasingly concerned about how their personal data was being misused for commercial and political ends.

Inrupt’s Solid (social linked data) technology, developed by Sir Tim and a team of computer scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, empowers users to create their own Pods (personal online data stores). This enables them to control their own data and grant access to third-party apps at their discretion. 

The NHS, for example, is running a pilot project allowing users to store their personal medical data on their own Pods, upload additional data from other lifestyle apps and share that information with doctors and care providers. Creating such a trusted and secure data-sharing architecture could also help health authorities develop more effective track and trace systems to combat future pandemics, Sir Tim said.

Inrupt is also working with the government of Flanders to provide a public service platform for its 6.5m residents. “If you live in Flanders this will be how you get your online government services,” said John Bruce, Inrupt chief executive.

Mr Bruce said one of the benefits of using Solid technology was that it enabled easy interoperability between different services. For instance, a music fan who used the Spotify streaming service could receive recommendations for a BBC documentary on their favourite band. “They do not need to take your data away to give you value,” he said.

Mr Bruce said Inrupt was still developing the revenue model for its services, but suggested there would be a linear relationship between use and value. Founded in 2017 as a for-profit company to help operationalise Solid and reinvent the web, Inrupt raised more than $10m last year to expand its activities. 

It is now working with thousands of developers, entrepreneurs, tech companies and public officials to develop its technology. But some are sceptical that Inrupt will ever be able to challenge the entrenched power of the Big Tech companies given the ease and convenience of their free services.

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