back to article FOSS maven says $29 'Freedom Box' will kill Facebook

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 …

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  1. The Original Ash
    Thumb Up

    FreeNet

    Sounds like an always-on FreeNet node. If it works, then awesome. FreeNet needs more nodes to improve bandwidth (it's slow as hell right now).

    1. DrXym Silver badge

      Slow as hell right now?

      Freenet has always been slow, even when it was the project du jour a decade ago. Partly that's because it attempts to anonymize access to data by "hopping" requests around from one point in the network to another. And partly because it doesn't even know where the data is to begin with so it has to send off lots of requests until it finds a node with a cached copy.

      It is also probably the case that the LESS nodes on the freenet the faster it is. It means less hops to find a node that carries the data because there are less nodes total.

      Anyway it's only superficially similar. Freedom box is not "plausible deniability box", or "anonymous box". I assume when you configure a webmail / facebook server to use your box that you enter a unique id like an IP or alias which identifies where your data is and where updates are stored. The server will know who you are to some extent since it will be talking straight to your box through a protocol like https. The box may well use encryption to protect your data in transit and to p2p copies out to friends so in some regards it is similar.

      The box is running Linux of course so it could act as a freenet node too of course if it had the memory and storage to do it.

  2. Gabriele Bozzi
    Black Helicopters

    Render unto Caesar…

    There is a work of a group of European (yes, European... I know it's incredible) that might predate (2009) Mr. Moglen "crusade", it promises to cost less than 29 quids and is even better focused:

    http://www.peerson.net/papers/oliver_da.pdf

    and, more general:

    http://www.peerson.net/publications.shtml

    For what I perused in the Freedom Box website, no reference to this project.

    The two ideas are suspiciously very similar, swap the word "router" for "box" and you get the same kind of animal.

    Is this a blatant case of stealing ideas and not crediting it? If this is the case it's a direct punch to the very principles of Open Source.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Flame

      Re: Render unto Caesar…

      There are a load of projects proposing this kind of thing, and I don't think that Moglen only just came up with the notion that it's a good thing. So you may want to climb down from that high horse of yours and peruse that long list of projects:

      http://wiki.debian.org/FreedomBox/ExampleProjects

      Oh noes: those nasty Freedom Box people are acknowledging the existence of other projects. Sheesh!

      1. Tom 13

        So, if there are lots of these projects around,

        and none of them have ever taken off,

        ...

        Might there be a good reason for that?

      2. Gabriele Bozzi
        Black Helicopters

        @AC: No high horses here...

        ... We ate them all during the crisis of 2008.

        Thanks for mentioning the list but it only poorly rectifies my concerns: these projects do not create a P2P social network tout court; moreover, the list is not visible on the foundation's website.

        I still think that there are too many similarities between Freedom Box and Peerson.

        The latter is a real precursor (Started in 2008) and a truly open project who did the hard work of socially motivating a distributed approach on limited commodity hardware. All is visible and documented.

        It's true, I cannot prove the idea was stolen but I can't believe that Mr. Moglen never tried to google "peer to peer social network"; Peerson comes third in my browser.

        The good guys at Debian might insert Peerson in the list perhaps, that would be nice.

        BTW: we used to have a brown Brabançon, he was high but extremely docile.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Stealing? Only if...

      You need to be aware of the other idea to give credit, or to steal it. If you don't know about it then it's independent creation, or maybe just obvious after changes over time. I don't know if Moglen was aware of those papers, but I wasn't. I have had a Via Epia as a low power server/router for years though, and it seemed an obvious place to put Diaspora or GNU Social when they were announced. Shifting to a GuruPlug to drop power consumption is fairly obvious too, as is selling preconfigured blocks like the MeshPotato. If someone had asked me about it yesterday I wouldn't have been able to mention Peerson, or Moglen for that matter.

  3. Vision Aforethought
    Go

    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

  4. GettinSadda
    Alert

    Two questions

    OK, two questions:

    1) How much storage is this $29 box going to hold? Baring in mind that it will be used for online backups as well as all the other stuff (and so realistically would need to be in the hundreds of GB range for current backup habits)

    2) Sure, Facebook and all the others have quite a lot of servers that could be replaced by a large number of small devices distributed around the world, but there is also lots of IP including a shed-load of code and the developers to maintain it. How do you replace all of that?

    1. copsewood
      Linux

      @GettinSadda: 2 questions

      "there is also lots of IP including a shed-load of code and the developers to maintain it. How do you replace all of that?"

      Take a look at the list of Debian packages sometime. Then go figure that and why most of this code has been developed by people paid to do this (reason: doing this helps sell loads of services and hardware).

      "How much storage ... ?"

      These £29 devices and the USB attached disk drives will become a large enough market to support the open source software in their own right.

      1. GettinSadda

        @copsewood

        "Take a look at the list of Debian packages sometime. Then go figure that and why most of this code has been developed by people paid to do this (reason: doing this helps sell loads of services and hardware)."

        I'm not quite sure what you are saying here - is it that there are already Debian packages that will run a high-quality social networking site (good enough to tempt away current Facebook users) and to run it on a set of massively distributed servers where each and any server may be connected or not at any time or may be powered off or on without warning and where latency and bandwidth to any server may vary wildly? Or are you suggesting that there is enough profit at $29 per server to fund the development and maintenance of such software?

        "These £29 devices and the USB attached disk drives will become a large enough market to support the open source software in their own right."

        So, a) you have increased the price from $29 to £29, b) it is now £29 plus a USB drive (which is likely to be >£29 itself) and c) You seem to be suggesting that the profit from selling the external storage will go to supporting the code (this can only really work if there is some sort of vendor lock-in... nice!)

        1. copsewood
          Linux

          @GettinSadda

          OK fair points. There is also a large potential market for services here, suggest by AC saying he wants one but doesn't understand it. Who is going to set this up for him and is he willing to pay a contractor or trainer or book author to help him, e.g. by buying a book or paying for a training course ?

          True the disk drive doesn't connect to the software support revenue directly. But the hardware market here is really massive, if you can imagine selling one of these to 50% of households in the developed world (which will double in population over the next 20 years).

          You'll get some idea of who funds development of the Linux kernel program and why from this article:

          http://www.linuxfoundation.org/docs/lf_linux_kernel_development_2010.pdf

          The reason they do this is because there are few households now not containing consumer electronics making some use of Linux - it's probably in your broadband router, almost certainly in any set top boxes, cable TV boxes, satellite boxes or high end TVs bought in the last 3 years. The same applies to much of the open source software stack which isn't kernel code but which drives major hardware and service industries.

          Another factor is because of the reusability of existing open-source/free software which comes as part of major Linux distributions (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora) developing this proposed networking software will probably involve 95% or more of the code required involving reuse of existing components. I very rarely need to create much new code from scratch these days for a new project, I tend to reuse an existing library that does most of what I need.

          1. GettinSadda

            @copsewood again!

            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.

            1. copsewood
              Linux

              @GettinSada again

              Half my family are on Facebook and all of my family are on my own GNU Mailman list hosted on my own server. When this becomes available in a way I can reasonably install and use, then I and a couple of other family members are likely to leave FB other than as a reducing and automated output-only message and URL feed because it sucks big time. Why am I on FB now ? Because I don't want to miss the traffic exclusively on there, but also so I know what we need to establish in competition.

              So as far as I am concerned this doesn't compete with FB because the latter sucks so much. It does compete with GNU Mailman, and it promises to do so quite well:

              a. by reducing the geekiness of the skills needed to operate your own server to something a greater proportion of the population are likely to want to do, e.g. making this more like setting up your own broadband router. Many users configure these devices, but most probably just plug them in and play.

              b. By using the Rsync protocol over SSL to exchange files and photos rather than the SMTP protocol used by GNU Mailman. Rsync is much more efficient for this job, SSL gives it the privacy.

              c. Running your own SMTP server and keeping spam off your network is really hard, hopefully running GNU Freedom Service will be designed to be a lot easier.

              True, early adopters who want to make some money off it will need higher levels of skill than later plug and play adopters.

              Mailing lists are also too inflexible. It is possible as I do, to have one hosted by yourself for your extended family, and very useful. But you want to do social networking with friends and family, and family extends to in-laws and their many seperate networks as with friends. Mailing lists have a binary membership relationship with each individual - you are either in or out and subtleties such as limited sharing based upon authenticated friend of friend relationship protocols are too subtle a requirement for a set of mailing lists and sublists to handle.

              The hard part of this will be getting the software both sufficiently simple so anyone can buy one at their local supermarket and plug it in, and enough users can also understand how to configure it. I suspect that early adopters who have moderate tech skills will be more willing to seed and centre these networks of family and friends. Later adopters will simply want to run in synchronisation mode so they get at all their media and messages more quickly without having to administrate very much, other than to input a few domain names of groups they are attached to and personal credentials they have with these groups.

              1. GettinSadda
                Boffin

                @copsewood 3

                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".

              2. Anonymous Coward
                FAIL

                Pay people and they'll do it

                "Half my family are on Facebook and all of my family are on my own GNU Mailman list hosted on my own server."

                Good luck with your hobby and all that, but you seem to be in total reality denial.

                "The hard part of this will be getting the software both sufficiently simple so anyone can buy one at their local supermarket and plug it in, and enough users can also understand how to configure it. I suspect that early adopters who have moderate tech skills will be more willing to seed and centre these networks of family and friends. Later adopters " [blah blah]

                Yes it is hard, isn't it? And GNU nerds and Unix beardies have never been able to do it. Not once. If they could, we wouldn't need Microsoft or Facebook.

                They prefer sitting around and talking about it - that's all they've done for 20 years. Maybe paying people for their work isn't such a bad idea. It's the missing incentive.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Ubuntu.

                  Canonical, publisher of Ubuntu, has done more than just sit around talking about getting a Linux distro onto nearly every desktop. So much so, that their critics accuse them of aping Apple. I, like you, made complaints about the open source community, but Canonical has listened to, and what is more important, acted on our complaints. I am so impressed with their work that I am betting on them to rule the internet in the near future. Oh, and what is Ubuntu based upon? Why, its a fancy version of Debian! The same OS that is proposed for this cheap little box.

                  Getting the picture yet, Anonymous Coward? This so-called "freedom box" will NOT be the final answer. There will NEVER be a final answer because the busybodies and wannabe rulers of this weary old world are very busy going about what they perceive to be their business, even if they have to stick their long noses into yours and mine. I think that taking a whack at those long sensitive noses with this sort of thing is well worth the trouble and expense. Let's say it will cost 100 USD. What would that come to in pounds? See what I mean? Even if the costs have been underestimated by a factor of three, it will be fine because if it works, it works, and everyone who has any sense will want them.

    2. Charles Manning

      More importantly

      1) Who is going to back these up? When I cloud my data backup gets done by someone else who knows how to do it. Joe Sixpack will not be able to make a useful backup strategy.

      2) Security: Without proper administration these will soon become the world's biggest botnet.

      It is always easy to solve problems if you ignore the hard parts.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't understand all of this...

    But I think I want one ASAP.

  6. DrXym Silver badge

    Could work I guess

    Apps like Diaspora are making a big deal of the idea of personal privacy, that your content goes into a "pod" that you control absolutely. So I guess this concept ties into that, especially since Moglen is the inspiration behind Diaspora too.

    I suppose this box could work pretty much how Facebook / Twitter work now with regards to 3rd party sites / apps. i.e. you manage a list of sites that have access to your data. A new web site that wants your personal data must redirect to a web frontend on your box where you grant / deny the permissions asked for. At some later point you could then revoke the permissions completely. I suppose the box, friends & sites could then use P2P to cache data to speed up actions a bit and sync up over time. I'm not sure how this arrangement would account for services that need to index, cache, or otherwise construct metadata, e.g. a photo web site might want to read meta data from all your pictures into a database table and also make a bunch of thumbnails. I guess there would have to be a permission associated with this need, and the contract between site & content would have to have some legal bite to prevent abuse.

    Biggest issue would be in persuading cloud service providers to use it, or producing a rival app that did which was so compelling that the old provider withered away. I think it's too early to say if Diaspora will do that to Facebook, but I wouldn't shed any tears if it did.

    As an aside Freedom Box is a pretty stupid name even if it's technically accurate. Time for an obscure comedy reference; I wonder if it accelerates to dangerous speeds or sticks to certain kinds of skin.

  7. The Commenter formally known as Matt
    Boffin

    sounds great

    sounds great, but is it feasible?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why stop at facebook?

    These things could also do cooperative web crawling and make search engines obsolete.

    He could put a radio in each one and then if they are sufficiently densely deployed they can mesh network.

    In fact, why not attach a touch screen to these boxes and a battery, say and make them seem worthwhile spending the cash on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Happy

      Could the cloud block it?

      For years I've had this nagging idea in the back of my head that the killer app for me would be a crazy personal content aggregator - like an RSS reader meets DownThemAll meets ReadItLater on a home server meets SquidProxy on steroids meets your own personal news channel with scrolling news ticker meets LastPass type of thing.

      If it looks like a duck (i.e. normal web user and browser), acts like a duck, etc - the cloud providers would be in a tough spot to block it. Heck, the only reason Hulu and co can block GoogleTV - AFAIK - is that the browser is actually honest about it being Google TV. Just like the only reason robots.txt works is that the people programming said bots tell them to respect the rules.

      Anyway, enough about that and back on topic... I think the tough part here (assuming I really grasp what they're talking about) is really going to be recreating an interface for your local stuff, and a security model that's usable. For this thing to work it will have to be an order of magnitude simpler than the all-in-one home/SME servers (WHS, ClearOS, etc) which many of us gearheads know and love.

      Dead simple, slicker than cat crap on linoleum, rock solid, and secure - easy right? ;)

  9. LinkOfHyrule
    Paris Hilton

    Interesting concept - but this will never bloody work.

    Interesting concept - but this will never bloody work. Far too many what ifs, I'm not even going to start. Maybe in a different format it could but a doo-dar you have to physically plug in? What is this, the '80s or something?

    There is one simple solution already - become educated in online security and safety - know the risks and benefits and make informed decisions. That aint gunna happen for all people either I guess. Maybe we are all just screwed!

    Paris, 'cus she's the original "plug in and forget it" device!

  10. Goat Jam
    Paris Hilton

    I must be thick

    It sounds to me like hew wants to embed TOR in a wall-wart sized server.

    Or am I missing something?

  11. XMAN
    FAIL

    Will never take off

    Let me be the first to say: What a load of bollocks.

  12. Renato
    Thumb Up

    Project Cauã

    This "Freedom Box" remembers me of maddog's Project Cauã <http://www.projectcaua.org/>.

  13. Graham Bartlett

    Slight problem

    "Decentralised storage" works fine within your house. However "decentralised storage" when applied to P2P equals piracy, pure and simple. (Yes I know some people use P2P for legitimate things. You're so much of an exception that your slice of a pie charge won't fit into a single pixel. Sod off until you're statistically significant.)

    And these boxes are still at the mercy of any government. They need a defined way to communicate, so anyone in control of comms can cut that off. But to make matters worse this time, we're at the mercy of Eben Moglen and whatever the FSF decide is the Right Thing To Do, which is not always the right thing for the rest of the world.

  14. Mage Silver badge

    Exists already

    A router with USB hard drive running OpenWRT.

    Some Commercial Router/WiFi/Media boxes can do this off the shelf too. At the minute the cost is closer to $290 though (including Hard Drive).

    Also it can be done securely today with a hosted Server account from about $20. Solves issues of traffic and "always on". Customise the free mail server, add Drupal, Wordpress, Joomla and whatever plugins. Give your friends accounts. Say goodbye to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Google Docs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Heart

      And the FSF is so good at responding to consumer's needs!

      Shame on you Graham Bartlett for acknowledging reality.

      You really don't get this Free Software thing, do you? Announce a manifesto and start a campaign to get everybody to use dc, so nobody needs to use this expensive proprietary Excel crap from M$FT. Make sure you spell Microsoft as M$ to show your moral superiority.

      When the campaign fails blame an evil conspiracy for messing it up, or the users for failing to see the advantages of proven open source infrastructure.

      Copsewood can help you here.

    2. Steen Hive
      Black Helicopters

      Woosh

      "And these boxes are still at the mercy of any government. They need a defined way to communicate, so anyone in control of comms can cut that off"

      Duh. Are you saying you could keep your connection to facebook open if the government decided to cut comms? Of course what you point out is a huge problem, but it is a comms problem and nothing really to do with the privacy problem this sort of device is intended to address.

      Personally I think an overly technological solution to privacy issues is doomed to fail - maybe not commercially ( i may find a market among geeks/those who actually care), but in terms of addressing the wider privacy issues.

      Any successful solution short of violent revolution will involve education, technology and legislation in the right balance. I have long been of the opinion that personal information should be licenced. A "DRM" that works for the individual rather than against, if you will.

      It's no big deal technologically to conceptualise a framework whereby all designated personal data is automatically tagged with meta-data which could include authorisation, authentication, expiry and other non-arbitrary parameters which mandate how it is used. Whatever the complexities to the average joe of PKI infrastructure itself, it boils down to 2 simple questions: 1) "Do you want to give this data to organization X? 2) For how long? Educating users in these 2 simple questions is sufficient, - and much easier than explaining PKI to them :)

      The legislative angle is equally simple - to keep any of this data at all, organizations (including government departments, etc. ) must be licenced by the state - no licence, no data. Add compliance with an individual's own restrictions to the DPA/PCI, etc. and we're all set.

      Now of course there will always be people who grant access in perpetuity to all data in order to have an "easy" life as a marketing mark, but at least the tools to control the untrammelled dissemination of personal data will be in the hands of those whose hands it should be in.

  15. ulther
    Flame

    meh

    I hate to be a naysayer, but a) this already exists (Shiva Plug, anyone?), and b) it doesn't address the more fundamental problem of who controls the network infrastructure (if you're using this for, say, moving data around during such events as happened in Egypt). If the lines get disconnected by your government/provider/mother you won't get far with a wall-plug server.

    That's not even mentioning the enormous potential for abuse of a server that you just "plug in and forget about", considering the general public's level of computer knowledge.

    I will say, however, that combined with some mesh networking and someone who knows what he/she's doing and this could be quite an interesting idea.

  16. Tron

    I'm a sceptic...

    But that isn't a bad idea, and there's no technical reason why it shouldn't work.

    You can demo it on half a dozen Linux boxes-most if not all of the software already exists. Then just shift it to a plug computer with a drive.

    Downside: P2P is inherently fragile as ISPs can spot it and throttle.

    I can imagine Facepalm bods looking to buy up patents to block it.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Buying stock...

    If all the people who 'wish them well..' as you put it, did by stock then maybe it could succeed - think of it as an investment in your privacy, rather than an investment for financial profit.

    If you want profit - buy Google shares - I want privacy ...Where do I sign....

  18. GrumpyJoe
    Thumb Up

    I had the same idea

    a few months ago, why share my data into a proprietary silo (Facebook) when I can keep it all local and then allow access to services that want to aggregate it?

    Let's move distribution from the centre to the edge - become a producer not just a consumer.

  19. petur
    Pint

    Not been paying attention during FOSDEM?

    Eben gave a similar (if not the same) speech during a FOSDEM keynote. Looks like that was a bit too early for the El Reg reporter. Probably related to the beer event the night before?

    Priorities man!

  20. jubtastic1

    Already baked

    As Pogoplug.

    Doesn't make it less of a good idea, just late to the party.

  21. Nick Kew Silver badge
    Alert

    Moglen vs History

    Our country has a longer history than his, and hence perhaps more lessons to be drawn. The Enclosure of our Commons shows no sign of being reversed anytime soon.

    Moglen gave that same speech at FOSDEM, after which I blogged about it at http://bahumbug.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/moglen-vs-history/

    I expect Facebook is a flash in the pan, like Second Life a couple of years ago. But the trend is not.

  22. Chizo Ejindu
    Thumb Down

    Laudable goals...

    But in reality it's never gonna work. "Here Fackbookers, pay $29 or however much to continue chatting and sharing photos etc with your friends... obviously only if they've paid their $29 too." And he says that Google, Fackbook et al are at the behest of governements etc, whats to stop the US governement or any soverign state demanding the master keys to whatever encryption software is on these things in the interest of national security or they'll be banned from sale?

  23. K T
    Headmaster

    Debian GNU/Linux

    There's even a damn gnu on the Freedom Box website. Surely it can't be THAT hard?

  24. Paul Johnston
    WTF?

    WTF

    “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,'”

    Spying on me?

    It knows exactly what I want to tell it, nothing more, nothing less.

    So I like Travel, Books and Beer. It gives adverts that I choose either to read or ignore (mainly ignore). If he wants to know about spying suggest he speaks to someone from the former East Germany

  25. Badwolf

    Yes Please

    If it works, Put me down for a dozen

  26. There's a bee in my bot net

    I will watch this project with interest...

    see title...

  27. HMB

    Lovely idea, but...

    What a really lovely idea, but most people don't see a problem with Facebook or gmail. Without them seeing a problem, why would they either spend money or time and energy setting this up?

    I'm a huge fan of Google mail and you know, if Google use my mail to anonymously target adverts at me, that's a price I'm very happy to pay. I consider it a great deal.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Like" buttons

      You'd think so, however Facebook already sneakily spies on your way around the web.

      See those innocent looking "Like" buttons popping up everywhere? Facebook are the ones serving them so they known what you're looking at (and knows it's you if you haven't disabled cookies)

  28. ScissorHands
    FAIL

    I've heard about that. It's called Opera Unite

    Too bad it requires you to leave a computer on 24/7 at home.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    He's on to something

    Whilst I'm not sure a dedicated hardware solution is the answer, it's good to see people questioning the dominance of the large cloud-based providers.

    Back in the days when building your own website was highly technical, there was a place for locked-down easy-to-use templated systems - like Facebook - but now there are codeless web development systems available where you can build your own site, host it on your own hardware, under your control, for free - there is no excuse. You don't need to be a programmer any more.

    Aha, I hear you say, but the benefit of services like Facebook is the 'network effect' of all its users. But there's no need for that to be centralised. After all, the whole underlying structure of the web assumes resources will be all over the place.

  30. Haku

    ZZZzzzzzz

    Wake me when he's got a real product to promote instead of a bunch of ideas and pipedreams.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Sooo..

    ..I kind of Opera Unite on a low power pc?

    How much storage would you have on this little magic box.

    My Latop has 42gb and my home pc has 300gb of data to back up.

    My friends have a couple of TB each.

    Even my mom has about 10gb of stuff.

  32. Magnus_Pym

    Limiting factors

    Pym's law states that there is no limit to the amount of resource an individual can use given that the resource is free. It shows us that functions like secure back up will quickly outstrip the storage space available, no matter how big that storage space currently appears.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    God bless you, Eben

    So you plug the box into a wall, and then what happens?

    A secure, democratically run and operated Facebook auto-magically appears? And 500 million users auto-magically sign up to it?

    I'll always respect the man who drafted the GPL, but F/OSS types have never been very good at writing software that non-geeks want to use. That seems to be the bit Eben has forgotten.

    Maybe it's time to think of that nice retirement shack in Hawaii, the bloke deserves it. But less "brainstorming" like this please.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Sheesh!

    I don't think it would have any real effect on facebook - FB'ers love to use it wherever they are and whenever they want. This isn't going to supply the same experience.

    However, the idea of being able to side-step the monitoring/controlling culture that has grown so rapidly is very appealing. I hope it seriously takes off from that point of view.

    Of course, that would trample over so many gov & business interests that I think the birth is going to be somewhat difficult.

  35. TeeCee Gold badge
    Alert

    That's handy.

    Hack one appliance, pwn the world. He sees a single cheap and simple answer to all our privacy / security issues, I see the most effective tempting of Fate in history.

    There's an old saying about eggs and baskets that applies here. At least I have the choice of *not* entrusting my data to Facewank....

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a geek

    I love the idea of running a Linux micro-server. Heck I already run my own email server.

    Of course the services provided by these boxes would have to offer a high level of security, and if I was going to host other people's data without knowing what it is, I would want a decent level of immunity if that data turned out to be illegal. Getting in trouble for what someone else has done behind your back is the opposite of freedom.

    Nonetheless it sounds like a worthy idea. A decentralised peer to peer "cloud" run by the people for the people. Everything open-sourced so that security can be confirmed and improved rather than simply assumed. At any rate it's gotta be more secure than trusting Facebook with all your data.

    I don't know if it will take off though. No doubt governments and lobby groups would shit a brick; "if we can't control it then all sorts of illegal things will happen". It's a bit like arguing against space exploration because colonising space will surely lead to a spate extraterrestrial rapes. It's just a bullshit argument people use to scare each other out of making any meaningful progress in their lives.

    They want to believe that the world is too dangerous for us to be allowed any real freedom and in the process they make that danger a visceral reality by cultivating the idea that a constant state of autopanic is not just healthy, but a duty you owe to society as penance for being born. Sort of religion 2.0 if you will.

    Go back to sleep, the Facebook has you.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Round of applause

    If for nothing else, anyone who so publicly speaks truth unto Zuckerberg gets my vote.

  38. Havin_it
    Pint

    Forget the box

    Not sure why the "box" has to be part of the offering TBH. I suppose it's nice (and probably necessary for most of the technofear crowd) to get the whole thing as a turnkey appliance, but I'd hope that the software will be readily available for install on other hardware. Some of us already have always-on devices that would do the job just as well. As others have mentioned, this is pretty much what Diaspora, and that Peerbook thing that sadly sank without trace were getting at.

    I guess there'd be a homogeneity angle: one user, one box, with the same spec in capacity and grunt, contributing the same and getting the same in return. But then again, parity in connectivity is impossible (for the foreseeable future in the current consumer comms world) so all boxes cannot be equal anyway. What if the peer (or, I assume, peers) housing your data nuggets all happen to be housed on boxes that are on dialup, or in the home of a massive bandwidth-hog?

    Dr Moglen, if you can pull it off, this pint's for you.

  39. MrEdC
    Thumb Up

    Not so implausible

    You could do this with a device which would work like a smart WiFi router, running Debian and I2P (http://www.i2p2.de) for security. Doing it for $29 might be a stretch....

  40. CompuGuide
    Thumb Up

    I really like this idea

    While I do it, I am not comfortable storing my backups in the cloud.

    I’m entirely dependent upon the goodwill of the service provider and I have to trust them with my data.

    To mitigate this problem I currently compress and and encrypt my critical backups to a single file which I then upload to the service provider. This means that the data should be useless to them – but it does make for a rather inefficient upload.

    However the concept of a cloud of peer-to-peer devices capable of storing portions of my encrypted data – something like bittorrent – is facinating.

    The only thing is; do we really need a dedicated device – surely this could be done (or is perhaps is already being done?) via our existing machines.

  41. nederlander
    Paris Hilton

    swing and a miss

    I would suggest that the average user doesn't care enough about privacy to bother with this.

    Can you imagine Paris taking the time to configure exactly which of her banal status updates and indiscrete photos are available to exactly whom?

    1. MrEdC

      The people of Egypt might care...

      The governments of the world are becoming more brazen in their attempt to reduce the ability of people to communicate with each other freely, and to control what people are able to see in Internet. People will care when it is too late, like what happened to the people of Iran with their revolution. The point of this device is to prevent the government from controlling everything, and to build awareness of the problem.

  42. John Sturdy
    Black Helicopters

    The problems will be non-technical, I suspect

    The UK already imprisons people for refusing to disclose encryption keys. Next time the government is feeling a bit blairish, they'll find a way of defining ownership of these devices as "going equipped to commit acts of terrorism/domestic extremism/whatever".

    I'd rather build the functionality into some other kind of always-on device which has another overt purpose, e.g. a GSM femtocell or an intruder alarm or a fridge or (Oh the irony) a home protection CCTV system --- come to think of it a wireless IP camera is quite a good cover job as it already has the radio hardware for partaking of meshiness.

  43. The Other Steve
    FAIL

    So like a cloud ...

    ... "Secure backups that automatically store data in encrypted form would be performed on the Freedom Boxes of our friends"

    Only without the SLA. So basically, like the cloud, but even worse.

    I think I'll continue to store my securely encrypted data in my fire safe then, ta very much.

  44. B Candler

    It's been tried before

    Back in 1996, John Gilmore proposed putting Linux-based "crypto walls" on the boundaries of every network, which would opportunistically IPSEC-encrypt all traffic in and out of your network when the other side supported it too. His goal was to have 5% of Internet traffic encrypted within one year. He failed.

    I suspect the main cause of failure was lack of any global trusted key infrastructure. However the idea *might* work if it was restricted to just your circle of friends, and you explicitly set up links between them.

    You would need some sort of "pairing" mechanism to make this as simple as possible whilst remaining secure. For example, your box generates a one-time password, which you print out and give to your friend (or E-mail it, if you are not too paranoid) and they use it to establish the first connection. Under the hood it might issue a certificate from your own CA, for instance.

    With a large circle of friends you'd want to avoid the N^2 problem, so you could provide a simpler way to join friends-of-friends, maybe with a simple click via an existing pairing. The other party would have to accept or reject this too, of course.

  45. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    The evil overlord

    “has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age.”

    I do love temperate academic statements. Mr. Zuckerman is 27. By the age of 22, Alexander the Great had (to mention nothing else) laid waste Thebes, Tyre, and Gaza. I really don't regard getting adolescents to post naughty pictures of themselves as being on the same scale as mass murder.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Most of that aready done?

      It's been a while since I looked at it but IIRC some of that sounds a lot like the One Swarm project - or at least I think that's what it's called :)

    2. cor

      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...

  46. Richard Joseph
    Big Brother

    I like the general guard/store-your-own content idea...

    ...but I don't see a one-use standalone purchase making much headway compared to the free, managed, on-line services like Facebook etc.

    However, if the general concept can be rolled into other devices seamlessly, say into a media server box (a-la-Apple-TV), integrated into a TV, or, for instance, installed within a connected personal media device, say like your smart phone, then there is probably a rosy future for this concept, once someone has battled with the security aspect (can you say "war-walking").

  47. Lloyd
    FAIL

    Secure Email

    Now, that's an idea, perhaps someone could tell Champneys, who email you your username and password when you sign up for their site and then offer no way to change your details (I bought the missus some stuff for Valentines), I've had to ask them to delete the account.

  48. Grubby

    Hmm

    I'm just going to put all my money, credit cards, photographs of my family, oh and my dog in this box for safe keeping. You won't be able to steal it because it's prot.... oh.... it's gone.

  49. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Cable Co says No

    The general public is so walled off behind NAT, firewalls, and throttles that peer-to-peer communications would be fragile at best. The Skype supernode collapse was a good example.

    This will all be fixed when competition between ISPs forces them to upgrade to IPv6 and allow the free flow of traffic. Any day now. Holding breath...

  50. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Together with IPv6 it would save a lot of problems

    Instead of having to upload your pictures to Facebook or Flickr in order to share them with your peers, you can now just upload them onto your server and send the URL. Essentially you can have your own cloud.

  51. Franklin
    Alien

    A title is required

    So in theory, this device sounds like it can be the basis of the world's first completely independent, distributed spam and malware distribution network. Or am I just being cynical?

  52. Marc 1

    Another thought..

    Why couldnt this software be an add-on to existing home routers? Or a replacement OS? Use NAS storage vs USB drives.

    How long will it be before an exploit is found and there are bad things happening on this network of magic boxes?

    How will they be addressed? IPV6?

    Bah, humbug..

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: Another thought

      Well essentially you could do that. However in many markets the router is controlled by the ISP, so an extra little box would have it's advantages.

      IPv6 would be a sane way to address them.

      Obviously another important step is that you have many independent implementations, so a single flaw won't to much of a problem. Besides once you avoid a few problems, it's comparatively easy to write secure software.

  53. Marc 1

    I dont see it flying.

    it reminds me a lot of Segway, before they were available to public. They sounded cool and all (to some), but the glitter quickly faded when regulations and the reality hit that they weren't all THAT handy.

    There are 'free' ways around the privacy issue for those really concerned that Facebook and Google are up to all kinds of evil with the menial data they gather from us..

  54. Tom Maddox Silver badge
    Joke

    Ha

    Like I'd trust the French with my data . . .

  55. John Savard Silver badge

    Obstacle

    ISPs generally do not expect their high-speed internet customers to be running servers out of their homes. In the case of cable internet, as well as some other services, there's a lot less bandwidth in the reverse direction. So, at least initially, people using these boxes would face problems similar to people using peer-to-peer file sharing systems (well, not including getting sued by the music industry).

    Freedom doesn't come in a box ("What a country!")... it will need improvements in the Internet connections that come to our homes as well.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    "Nonetheless it sounds like a worthy idea"

    Yes, that's the trouble.

  57. cor

    Privacy or piracy?

    Back in the Good Ol' Days, it was possible to buy land and other property from more innocent (so called 'primitive') demographics by offering shiny beads and mirrors.

    Today we use free e-mail, storage and shiny mirrors (Facebook).

    Those for whom their privacy is worthless or 'fair exchange' are destined to become the colonised slaves of these gift-bearers...

  58. Joe Burmeister

    What the nerds are doing today, everyone else is doing tomorrow.

    Many many nerds already run their own home server they can ssh into from outside, often hosting a personal website and maybe more. Some even use a SheevaPlug to do this. Bundle this up so it's easy and it's quite possible it could sell well. Reason being, it doesn't just replace facebook and other cloudy services, it gives you more power then you had before. For instance remote access to home devices. You just have to make this all easy and it really could sell like hot cakes. One related cool tech no one has mentioned that I see related is n2n, the p2p vpn.

  59. 88mm a.k.a. Minister for Misbehaviour
    Paris Hilton

    Bulletproof photo/financial record/birth certificate repository

    Free online storage services such as dropbox, Virgin Media's 'stuff' etc provide no guarantee as to the actual integrity/availability of the data. Hell, even massive commercial cloud based services aren't using RAID class drives, ECC RAM or ZFS. But an eSATA (USB is FAR too slow) disk/nas formatted with ZFS and using rSync for offline backup with my family & friends... well, that's what I'm building. Now, if I can persuade my neighbours to join in wirelessly, I can have distributed off-line/off-grid storage and be part of Cameron's Big Society :-P.

    2TB Wireless, MobileMe connected Time Capsules maybe pricey but when John Lewis are selling them to middle-aged, middle-class to people like my parents...

    People are actively looking for alternatives to Facebook and some people just refuse to use it, it's only a matter of time before something better replaces it.

    Paris, because she'll rSync with anyone.

  60. Graham Bartlett

    @Steen Hive

    Eben Moglen explicitly mentions "the willingness of Google to resist the state" as one reason to use this. If the state is on your case, I'm afraid you're SOL on an awful lot of levels, and this box ain't gonna help you. In fact you're probably better sticking to FB and hoping you don't get spotted in the background noise.

  61. Wortel

    Sounds nice.

    But it isn't in stores yet.

    There used to be a tiny device called 'Yoggie' that had similar functionality built into it, but the company went bust, taking everything with it as it was subscription based, and expensive.

    If Moglen wants the Freedom Box to be real, and stay real, it has to survive birth.

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