Brussels / 2 & 3 February 2019


Hardware Neutrality, User Rights, and User Experience: Decentralizing the Web with FreedomBox

The rise of cloud computing in the 2010’s accelerated a process that had been going on since the dot-com boom: the centralization of the internet. In February 2010, Eben Moglen predicted the wide-scale data-mining brought about by the centralization of our network infrastructure and launched the FreedomBox project. In the eight years since, FreedomBox has become a device that can decentralize the web one box at a time. Join this session to learn about FreedomBox’s approach to decentralization and the importance of three elements of its design: hardware neutrality, software freedom, and user experience.

In this 15-minute session, I will lecture for the full 15 minutes.

FreedomBox is an immensely flexible and secure private server system that builds freedom into the internet by empowering regular people to host their own internet services, like encrypted messengers, a VoIP server, websites, VPN, a metasearch engine, and much more. To that end, it couples a free software system with always-on, inexpensive, and power-efficient hardware about the size of a pocket dictionary. The hardware is a single-board computer that costs about 60 USD and offers the computing power of a smart phone in a case about the size of a deck of cards. The software is a 100% free and open source system available for download at no cost preloaded with many useful apps and tools designed to protect your freedom, privacy, and user rights. These private servers are designed to create and protect freedom on the internet using a bundle of software packed inside one small, inexpensive box: a FreedomBox.

My presentation will discuss five main topics: (1) the history of the FreedomBox project, (2) the role of hardware neutrality in the FreedomBox project, (3) the role of user rights in the FreedomBox project, and the role of user experience in the FreedomBox project, and (5) the current status of the FreedomBox project.

First, I will discuss the FreedomBox project’s origins and growth since 2010. In this section, I will discuss the technical and social problems we are trying to solve.

Second, I will discuss the importance of hardware neutrality to the FreedomBox project. I will explain why decentralization projects should prioritize hardware neutrality in perpetuity.

Third, I will explain the role of user rights in our UI design. This will include a discussion of our privacy-by-default approach to design.

Fourth, I will discuss the importance of user experience to our software system. FreedomBox is designed to be simple and usable by anyone, regardless of technical expertise. Moreover, it aims to be a self-administering private server. The UI-design challenges associated with this vision are difficult, and I will explore some of those challenges here.

Last, I will discus the current status of the project and our next steps for the future.


Danny Haidar