During the Disrupt NY Hackathon, we heard from a guy who didn’t exactly hack anything, but who wanted to give you back the control over your private data. A TC (design firm Triple Canopy, not TechCrunch) Labs project exhibiting today in Startup Alley at Disrupt NY 2013 is actually doing that. It’s called Occupy.here, and it’s an open-source project to essentially give users access to a private Internet where your content remains available to exactly the people on your local network and no further.
Occupy.here is a peer-to-peer network of virtualized digital sharing spaces where you can use a shared message board to post and have discussions, but only for those within range of the local network. It’s easy to set up once you program your own Occupy.here Wi-Fi router, just by joining the network and navigating to http://occupy.here.
As you might have guessed from the name, the Occupy.here project grew in tandem with the larger Occupy Wall Street movement. TC Labs Director Sam Frank explained that he started the project around 2011 during the height of the Occupy movement, and developed the idea by talking to Occupy protesters who all expressed a need to connect and communicate in a way that would be both social and also truly private. Hence the idea for an Intranet-like project that’s easy, portable, open source and takes no time to set up. Still, as of right now the hardware component it uses is a router with firmware that’s only available in Chinese, so it’s not exactly a walk in the park getting it going.
“I think the grand design is to figure out ways of making the hardware easy to use and turning it into something that a non-technical person can comfortably set up and operate,” Frank said. The code for the project is available on GitHub, Another larger goal is to set it up as a distributed network of Wi-Fi locations that can be used as a second sort of shadow Internet where the information is kept private to those who have access. There would be a syncing mechanism that allows the content stored in the forum to follow a user to each hotspot, but also to go no further.
Occupy.here was built with activism and organizing a social movement in mind, but Frank says there’s really no limit to who could find it useful, including businesses and other users. Asked whether or not TC Labs will ever consider consumerizing the product, he wasn’t sure yet about what the future would hold. It is still a Labs experiment at Triple Canopy, but it also has much broader implications beyond its current, fairly simple incarnation.
“I kind of envision a future where we don’t entrust our data to corporations that are handling the data ourselves,” Frank said. It’s a big shift from where things stand now, but this is an interesting experimental project working in that direction.