Tim Berners-Lee startup launches privacy-focused service to secure your data

Inrupt wants you to control who can see your data.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
World wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee speaks at a 2019 conference.

World wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee speaks at a 2019 conference.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

If you want to wrestle control of your personal data from companies, governments, hospitals and other organizations, a startup called Inrupt could be an ally. The company's idea: store your personal information separately and share only what's necessary with services only when you're accessing them.

Inrupt calls these data collections "pods," and they can be accessed using the company's open-source data storage technology called Solid. You could store fitness data, for example, then share it when your doctor's Solid app requested access. Or you could store your photos in a pod, pay one Solid app provider to pick your best shots, then pay another to print them. 

A big name behind Inrupt is Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the world wide web. Berners-Lee, who serves as chief technology officer, co-founded the company with Chief Executive John Bruce. Inrupt has been testing its service with the BBC, NatWest Bank and the National Health Service in the UK, and with the Flanders government in recent months. On Monday, the company made its Enterprise Solid Server, the infrastructure that supports the service, available to any interested customer.

"The technologies we're releasing today are a component of a much-needed course correction for the web," Berners-Lee said in a statement. "Ultimately, this new foundation of trust and cooperation will lead to entirely new business models that actually benefit users as well."

Widespread adoption of Inrupt -- if it succeeds -- could mark a turning point for the internet, prompting a move away from apps and services that harvest your data in order to serve personalized ads. The flip side is that many services that are now free to use, like web based email, could end up charging customers fees.

Inrupt's launch comes as privacy becomes a bigger concern in the tech industry, whose reputation has suffered with high-profile scandals like Facebook's Cambridge Analytica affair. Legislation including Europe's General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act could tilt the balance toward privacy -- and Inrupt business success.

Berners-Lee also is chairman of the World Wide Web Consortium standards group, but Inrupt CTO is his primary, full-time job, Bruce told CNET.

Challenges for Solid and Inrupt include attracting a critical mass of people, businesses and other organizations to embrace it; making it easy enough to use that its benefits outweigh the hassles; and ensuring it doesn't become a new channel for abuse and hacks. To help address this last concern, Inrupt hired Bruce Schneier, a well-regarded computer security expert, as chief of security architecture.

The Solid technology is based on web standards, so people can use it through a web browser.

Inrupt investors include Glasswing Ventures, Hearst Ventures, Akamai and Octopus Ventures.