Respect Network promises web privacy as priority

New initiative aims to ‘take back the Internet’ from clutches of companies that freely use private users’ data

Illustrative image of a Google search (screenshot: YouTube)
Illustrative image of a Google search (screenshot: YouTube)

A new global initiative that aims to restore privacy for Internet users is making its Israeli debut. The new Respect Network, organizers promise, will enable users to prevent the distribution of their personal information to all manner of Internet marketers — and to be compensated for use of that data if they choose to share it.

Tel Aviv becomes the fourth city in the world where the Respect Network is offering its service.

Most users of Internet servers know that the “free” services they are offered — email, social networks, etc. – are anything but free. Users pay a price — not in cash, but in data that companies can sell or rent out, in order to market more effectively to them. Up to now this “free” model has been basically the only game in town. If you want to connect to businesses and people online, you basically have no choice but to agree to give up some of your digital privacy rights.

There’s something wrong with that picture, according to Respect Network CEO Drummond Reed — the plethora of “free” services using our personal information for their profit is a slippery slope that could have grave consequences for the future of civil liberties and rights. “Protection of our digital life is the civil rights issue of our time,” said Reed. “Being able to choose what happens with our private information on the Internet is something we should all have the right to do — for our sakes, and for the sake of future generations. Now is the time to act.”

Act Reed has, with the help of over 70 founding partners. from London to Tel Aviv, from Seattle to Sydney. Instead of hooking them with for “free” services and hijacking their personal data, users who sign up with the Respect Network — in exchange for a one-time $25 fee — will get a personal “cloud name,” a lifetime private digital address for life.

That address is to be used with services that join the Respect Network, including social media sites, banks, businesses, and other sites that require logins and passwords. The information and data resides not on the business’s or service’s site, but on a server belonging to an ISP that is part of the network, under the “ownership” of the user. Users “license” their data to a site for a specific purpose, such as providing log-in credentials. According to their contract with the Respect Network, the sites are prevented from making use of that data for any other purpose – unless the user specifically agrees to it, in which case they are to be compensated for their information.

The system, said Reed, is perfect for sites that register users for services, like on-line news sites. Many of these sites use Facebook or Twitter credentials to log in users, to the distress of many users who feel that the social media services know enough about them as it is. Respect Network members, said Reed, are committed to giving users what they sign up for – and only that. Violators, of course, are shown the door and are legally liable for giving away user information without informing them, as stated in their contracts with the Network.

It’s not a replacement for the popular social media sites. Instead, it offers its users a way to sign up for other services without using their Facebook ID or similar processes.

The Respect Network premiered in London last month, and introductory events have also been held in San Francisco and Sydney. The Israeli event is set to take place Monday night at Jaffa Port. Berlin is next on the list after Tel Aviv.

The Respect Network is, said Reed, the “on-line antidote” to companies like Facebook and Google that require users to sign lengthy “terms of service” in order to access their services. Buried deep in those multi-page terms (which few ever bother to read) is an agreement by users to allow the company to do whatever it wants with not only their personal data, but with anything they post on or send through the site. Facebook, according many sources, uses members’ photos for ads and other purposes, though the company says it does not use those photos without user permission, while Google scans Gmail accounts for keywords to decide what ads to show users.

For those comfortable with that model, that’s fine, said Reed — but for the many others who have had enough of being peered at, analyzed, and marketed to without permission, the Respect Network could be the answer. “The Respect Network takes a fundamentally different approach to ownership and use of information than existing social networks and cloud providers,” said Reed. “It puts control back into the hands of individuals and not only gives them the choice of how their information is used, but compensates them for their value. No longer are people unwittingly the product.”

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