In 1981 I quit my job at Tektronix and created the Kussmaul Encyclopedia, the world’s first commercially available computerized encyclopedia. For about the price of Britannica you got a personal computer, some software, plus access to our online encyclopedia, whose articles were constantly updated via a United Press news feed.
The encyclopedia lost money quickly, but fortunately we had added social features to the package. By 1982 we discovered that social media could be financially sustainable by itself if we stopped supplying the computer to access it, so we changed the name from Kussmaul Encyclopedia to Delphi. The author Michael Wolff credits Delphi with being a major factor in the popularization of the Internet.
Now, back then Social media had integrity. There was no Silicon Valley megalomaniac spying on you, creating a database about who you communicated with, your purchase habits, members (with images!) of your extended family, your political affiliations, your beliefs – your whole digital self. Most importantly, with Delphi you had Accountable Anonymity. You could have up to six usernames, giving them to family members or using them for different personas. Nobody got to know your name or gender or age or anything about you unless you told them – OR if someone got a court order because you defrauded them or otherwise injured them or broke the law. Our system let you assert your identity without disclosing your identity.
Think about your car’s license plate. Anyone can see it, making you accountable for what happens on public roadways. But no one gets to know the identity of the driver or owner, unless there’s been an accident. With Delphi your username made you accountable, but you remained anonymous.
Then when the Web came along in the nineties, anyone could invent an identity, be anyone and do anything. I remember a conversation with Kip Bryan, our VP of Engineering - we were asking each other “How can this work? Where is the accountability?” The answer was given a few years later by the headline of the cover story of MIT Technology Review: “The Internet Is Broken.”
And of course it’s still broken. Malware, Ransomware, phishing attacks, breaches, fraud, facilitation of human trafficking, and on and on. Not to mention the dozens of passwords we’re all expected to remember.
We sold Delphi to Rupert Murdoch’s News America Corporation in 1993. I retained a license to some of the technology and built a second business, providing a private label social media platform to magazine publishers and others. Five years later we merged it with another company and sold the combined business to NTT Verio.
Suddenly I found myself with time on my hands. I started pestering friends and family with my question about accountability. My daughter Sara asked, “Isn’t that the problem that PKI is supposed to fix?” I said yes, PKI was supposed to fix accountability – and then rattled off the reasons why it didn’t.
Well, for months afterward I thought about my answer. I came to realize the problem wasn’t with PKI but with the way it’s been deployed.
What is PKI you ask? Well I’m not going to tell you what the letters stand for because like so many other computer acronyms this one will just mislead you. Just know that a stripped-down version of PKI is what you use when you go to a site that starts with “https://”. PKI is a fantastic technology which, if done right, fixes all sorts of problems. But doing PKI right means doing a lot of things differently. It means stepping way back and putting together a plan for building PKI Done Right into the way we do things.
So now I had my answer to what to do with all that time on my hands. I started writing a book about how to fix the Internet using PKI done right. Quiet Enjoyment was published in 2004, with the second edition coming ten years later. As I was writing the first edition I was introduced to some people at the International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency, who were actually building a world PKI that resembled what I was advocating. It was called the World e-Trust Initiative.
I was appointed to the High Level Experts Group of the ITU’s Global Cybersecurity Agenda to pursue a joint effort, but a short time later the ITU decided that for political reasons it couldn’t proceed with the World e-Trust Initiative. At the ITU’s Geneva headquarters on March 7, 2005 the project was handed off to me, as the founder of a new certification authority that takes the form of an online municipality. It’s called the City of Osmio.
Now our team is putting the plan described in Quiet Enjoyment into practice, with PKIDR™, PKI Done Right, also called Authenticity™.
Deploying PKIDR™/Authenticity™ is not going to be simple. But it’s also not as difficult as first appearances might suggest. Not only is the technology is very well established and proven; hooks for the use of PKI are built into much of the software we use all the time. It’s just that no one is showing developers how to use those hooks – and why they should!
I think that’s because Silibandia (my term for Silicon Valley + the broadband and media industries) feel as though putting you in control of the use of your own information, that is, your personal intellectual property, threatens their business model. That business model consists simply of burglary and theft: Silibandia breaks into your information home, takes your personal intellectual property, and puts it on their balance sheet as a money-making asset.