The owner of OM invests $100 million for an Internet that serves the citizens

6/20/2021 |
Les Echos |
Nicolas Madelaine
Frank McCourt wants to fund a new protocol that puts Internet users in a position to control their personal data and frees them from the "gatekeepers" that are the GAFA. He is funding an institute that has already signed a $25 million partnership with Sciences Po in France and Georgetown in the United States to rethink the Web.
The health crisis has undoubtedly pushed concerns about the use of personal data on the Web into second place. Nevertheless, the subject has remained prominent among some patrons and defenders of both privacy and the right not to depend on a few "gatekeepers" like Facebook or Google.
Thus, Frank McCourt, who is known in France as the owner of the Olympique de Marseille soccer club, announced on Monday that he was putting 100 million dollars of his personal fortune into nothing less than revolutionizing the Internet. His initiative is called Project Liberty. It includes the development of technological solutions to transform the Internet and the creation of the McCourt Institute. The latter has already signed partnerships with Sciences Po in France and Georgetown University, in order to nourish reflection on new technologies "at the service of the common good" but also so that the evolution of digital technology integrates the human and social sciences "for a better use of data and artificial intelligence".
25 million for Sciences Po

Some 25 million is dedicated to the development of a new open source computer protocol. The remaining $75 million is invested in the Institute, which has already chosen to fund its partnerships with Sciences Po and Georgetown to the tune of $25 million for each, over ten years. Other partnerships are expected to follow.
The new public infrastructure for the web called Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP), undoubtedly a utopia for now, aims to give back to the Internet user the control of his data and his personal contact networks, today property by default of the social networks like Instagram or Twitter on which he registers.
The second layer aims at integrating an intelligent contract into the blockchain so that each Internet user can take back in hand the valuation of his personal data. The idea is not to kill online advertising but to make it clear that it is the personal data of each individual that justifies the price of the spaces and that their owners must be able to choose. The protocol will be launched in the fall
The project wants to develop a whole range of new digital services for Internet users in the framework of a decentralized Internet. The promoters of Project Liberty are well aware that the current giants of the Web will not look kindly on their enterprise. Moreover, a large part of Internet users do not care about their privacy, as long as services like Gmail, YouTube or Facebook are free.
Frank McCourt is convinced, however, that more and more citizens are becoming aware of the societal problems caused by the Web as it functions today: manipulation and division of opinions, fake news, creation of oligopolies killing all competition... And according to him, current regulatory efforts are not enough.
One of the McCourt Institute's major missions will be to bring together thinkers, politicians and technicians who can help usher in a new era, despite the potential losses for the existing players. Open source specialists such as James Vasile and Karl Vogel have already been approached to draft the new protocol, but this is just the beginning.
The institute has already contacted Andrew McLaughlin, a former tech specialist of the Obama administration. As well as with Tim Berners-Lee, one of the inventors of the Web in 1989, who has become one of the most visible critics of the way it has been captured by GAFA. His start-up, Inrupt, is also working on a new decentralized system of data ownership on the Web.
Frank McCourt is a descendant of a family of Boston entrepreneurs. He notably earned nearly $1.8 billion by selling the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. From Shoshana Zuboff ("surveillance capitalism") to Jaron Lanier ("Ten arguments to leave social networks immediately"), and in France, Gaspard Koenig, there is no lack of critics of the Web. The means to reform it are. If people start to put money for it, it's very good news," says Gaspard Koenig.

This article was translated by Unfinished. Read the original French version here.