16 Mar 2017

Two years with Cozy


It’s been two years already, and it’s still a blast: 2 years ago, in March 2015, I have left Mozilla where I had spent 17 years to join Cozy Cloud. What about summarizing what we’ve done over these 2 years?

The Cozy mission is more inspiring than ever

The fact that I left my job at Mozilla may have suprised a few people, but it made a lot of sense. Mozilla’s initial goal was to “promote choice and innovation on the browser market” and it was reached a few years back. In 1998, things were quite worrying on the client side of the Web (browsers) but now it has vastly improved. On the other hand, there is huge issue on the server side now that most people use SaaS aka Cloud services. It’s what drew me to the Cozy project, combined with Cozy’s way to approach things:

  1. relying on Open Source / Free Software, which I have been supporting for 19 years now, when mozilla.org launched back in 1998;
  2. protecting personal data and privacy;
  3. empowering users when it comes to their digital life.

Many nice milestones

Over the past two years, a lot has been achieved. Here are a few milestones:

  • growing the team to 30 talented and committed people (many of them being super smart Free Software / Open source developers). We’ll introduce them soon on this blog;
  • a new organization that makes Cozy firing on all of its cylinders, from product design to product owners to developers. This deserve a full blog post, coming soon!
  • the publishing of two books of which I’m very proud (in French only, sorry!), one being my own surveillance://, published in October 2016, followed by Numérique : reprendre le contrôle (if you read French, go download it for free!);
  • Cozy’s participation to many events in France and in Europe, around Free and Open source software, privacy, Self Data, etc.
  • Cozy Meetups in several places, with highly committed community members;
  • the upcoming release of Cozy version 3 Alpha, result of a very significant technical investment. This is the moment when we switch from a piece of software that shows where we’re going to an actual product that is scalable and can be deployed in order to reach the masses;
  • the partnerships we’ve built with organizations that are outside the digital realm, such as our investor MAIF, an atypical French insurance company. It’s a strong sign that our ideas, our values, start influencing other parts of society.

Our commitment matters

It’s not enough to know that we’ve achieved a lot. It’s even better knowing that we’re heading in the right direction. Several recent articles published show how important is what we’re working on.

The Father of the Web is worried: “We’ve lost control of our personal data”

As the world wide web is celebrating its 28th birthday; its inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, shares what is worrying him the most. His first worry is strikingly close to what we, at Cozy Cloud, have been working on for the past 4 years:

1) We’ve lost control of our personal data

The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data. Many of us agree to this – albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents – but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services. But, we’re missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realise if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it.

The European Commission and Mozilla polls confirm this

The European Commission has published its final report for the Next Generation Internet Consultation on March 6th. The top three values that are listed there are:

  1. Internet should ensure citizens’ sovereignty over their own data and protect privacy;
  2. Internet should ensure diversity, pluralism and a right to choose;
  3. Internet should avoid the concentration of data in a few proprietary platforms.

What do we do now?

It’s amazing to see that Cozy’s mission is so well aligned with what matters the most to European citizens, ranging from the most humble Internet user to the inventor of the Web! It’s really encouraging to know that we’re hard at work on such a central issue. It reinforces my conviction that we are at the right place to help build a better society, through Internet decentralization, Open source and Free software and personal Clouds, so that everyone can have more control over his personal data!

9 Mar 2017

The chilling effects of mass surveillance

While surveillance of citizens is increasingly common around the world (did you hear about the recent Wikileaks revelations?), it stirs debate around one important question: how bad is it to live in a mass surveillance society? The answer is simple: when we know we may be under surveillance, we become dull, we dare not speak, think or even act for fear of being judged. 

To get a better understanding of this, I could refer you to Michel Foucault’s (fastidious, but important) reading. Foucault is a famous French philosopher and author of “Discipline and Punish”, a reference book on the subject. But for English speakers, one should turn to Glenn Greenwald and his TED talk, aptly titled “Why privacy matters”.   Here is an excerpt:

Now, there’s a reason why privacy is so craved universally and instinctively […]: when we’re in a state where we can be monitored, where we can be watched, our behavior changes dramatically. […]a society in which people can be monitored at all times is a society that breeds conformity and obedience and submission, which is why every tyrant, the most overt to the most subtle, craves that system. Conversely, even more importantly, it is a realm of privacy, the ability to go somewhere where we can think and reason and interact and speak without the judgmental eyes of others being cast upon us, in which creativity and exploration and dissent exclusively reside, and that is the reason why, when we allow a society to exist in which we’re subject to constant monitoring, we allow the essence of human freedom to be severely crippled.

  Glenn Greenwald concludes:

Mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind that is a much more subtle though much more effective means of fostering compliance with social norms or with social orthodoxy, much more effective than brute force could ever be.

Reuters reports about a scientific study, dating back to April 2016, “Chilling Effects: Online Surveillance and Wikipedia Use”. The study confirms, with supporting data, the tendency to self-censorship, when one feels under surveillance.

The study focuses on the evolution of the audience of Wikipedia US, and more particularly on pages whose content linked to terrorism. They are also followed by the US Department of the Interior over a period of 32 months, such as “Jihad”, “Al-Qaeda”, etc. These pages, on current topics, were more and more visited until the Snowden revelations, which made the public aware of the fact that the NSA monitors on-line communications as much as it can. At that point, the audience of the said pages has dropped very significantly (2.7 million monthly visits before the Snowden revelations, 2.2 million, or 500,000 visits less), during the following months. The graph speaks for itself:   Chilling-effects-Snowden-Wikipedia.png

Wikipedia pages linked to terrorism is increasingly visited until Snowden reveals NSA’s mass surveillance. The number of page views drop dramatically after the Snowden revelations.

Thus, even without being aware of it, the fact that awe could potentially be monitored makes us hesitate to learn about certain topical subjects, even if it is legal and even healthy for democracy. In this period of fake news and “alternative facts”, need to keep abreast of the facts. But how can we do this if we dread even reading Wikipedia?   This is why it is fundamental to fight mass surveillance and protect ourselves against it. Surveillance is made possible by new digital technologies, but the way we use these technologies can help it. Indeed, monitoring all communications is much simpler and cheaper when everyone stores their data in one central location and uses the same communication tools. A network without a center and without compulsory crossing points is much more difficult to spy on. Redecentralizing the network is also a great way to oppose the panoptic, to recreate places where we will be protected from Big Brother’s gaze, places where we will again be free to think and express ourselves. This is one of our goals at Cozy Cloud: we intend to help building a world where mass surveillance would be almost impossible because it is too costly. In such a world, freedom and privacy would be protected.

2 Mar 2017

We want our data back using APIs!

Cozy Cloud — the French startup that develops a free software personal cloud — has communicated to CNIL (French DPA) and the Art. 29 WP a comment on the modalities of implementation of the portability part of the GDPR. This comment is co-signed by many digital organizations and thought leaders.

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16 Feb 2017

Brand new My Accounts: Gathering your data has never been that easy

My Accounts Discovery tab

We believe at Cozy Cloud that everybody should get its data back, in the simplest way possible. My Account, our app allowing you to automatically retrieve your data (bills, health data, etc,) plays a central role in this mission. This is why we decided to rethink this app from the ground up. What’s  […]

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10 Feb 2017

Building a Decentralized Internet movement at FOSDEM


Last week-end was held the FOSDEM 2017 event, like every year at the ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles), which where hackers from all over Europe gather to discuss about technology and free and open-source software. The entrance is free (donations are welcome), the event is run only by volunteers  […]

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