Polish programmer helps Internet users regain web privacy

Maciej Machulak has developed a protocol that puts the control of privacy on the Internet back in our hands. This achievement won him a place among the ten most innovative Poles in the MIT Technology Review’s competition.

Our private data and documents are scattered nearly all over the Internet. One service holds our photos, another stores personal data, while yet another contains our films, calendar or documents. Many of us use Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Dropbox and at least several other apps on a daily basis. On the one hand, all content stored there is at the mercy of such companies as Google, Facebook or Twitter. On the other hand, the information about us and our documents is so scattered that we find it difficult to figure out where they could be, let alone how to control them.

But if there is one person who knows how to claw back this control – then it is Dr Maciej Machulak, a 32-year-old Pole. He has been named one of the ten laureates of the Innovators Under 35 competition, which awards innovators whose out-of-the-ordinary ideas have a global reach. The contest is organized by the MIT Technology Review, a journal published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the world’s most prestigious technology universities. Dr Machulak was recognized for creating a revolutionary Internet protocol that puts the management of private data on the web back in our hands.  

“During my PhD studies at Newcastle University in the UK, I was supposed to work on network security at big companies. But it soon dawned on me that it wasn’t really my cup of tea, because I was more keen on ensuring the user’s privacy,” Dr Machulak told Poland.pl at the Innovators Under 35 award ceremony. “As I myself was finding it difficult to maintain control of my own data I decided to find a way around this problem. That is, to give everybody access to their data, and a tool with which to control them.”

Dr Machulak’s quest for solutions took him as far away as the United States, where Kantara Solution, an association of major American ICT companies and universities (including the MIT), was trying to come to grips with privacy protection on the web. The Pole was involved in developing security and data co-sharing procedures, including at Google, until he came up with his own idea of tackling this problem. He set up his own company, Cloud Identity, which successfully worked on a protocol that allows users to keep their data in selected applications, but this time on their own terms. At the same time, the solution offers a centralized platform where users can browse and manage their data. All systems that possess information about us will soon have to do its bidding. Using this platform, it will be up to us to decide whether or not we want to make our data available.

“In March 2015, we managed to create the first version of this protocol that was fully operational,” says Dr Machulak. “Now we’re trying to bring different Internet applications and institutions round to this solution. The law is on our side, with the European Commission drafting legislation that will make companies put data back in the users’ hands.”

This means that Internet giants will soon have to let the Polish programmer’s protocol have access to the users’ data they store on their servers. According to Machulak, they’re going to gain from this as well, as the protocol means applications no longer have to manage data protection, but can focus instead on what they do best – storing and processing our photos, films, documents and emails.  

Dr Machulak’s company was recently acquired by Belgium’s Synergetics, a company which has accelerated the protocol’s implementation. Now it intends to turn this solution into a global standard.

Aleksandra Stanisławska