Omlet say “trust us”

This is a very belated follow-up to MobiSocial do not understand decentralization and trust” which I posted on June 10th.

On June 12th T.J.Purcell, their CTO, wrote “Why giving consumers data ownership is hard”, at least partially in response to my article.

Then I got busy, and sat on a draft reply for nearly 3 months. I made a bunch of notes, but it’s all a bit stale and useless now.

I can crystallize my criticism into three main points:

1. The word “open” as used by Omlet is so broad as to be meaningless. To quote T.J. “open is about enabling competition at levels of the system”. Like Windows is open, because you can write applications for Windows? Omlet appear to be saying “we have a published API therefore we are open”. On that basis, every single platform in the world is “open”. Building on top of proprietary APIs which communicate with servers which are controlled by somebody else running code which you have no access to and cannot replicate is not a good position for a developer to be in. It is another share-cropper scenario, something which Monica Lam herself has spoken out against. Omlet may not be seeking to directly monetize the user data, but they have built another proprietary platform.

2. Trust is something which end-users need to extend, not something which platform-builders can “reward” to their partner businesses. There is an Omlet OEM API, offering a higher level of integration to “trusted parties”. Omlet making decisions on who they trust and pushing those decisions on end-users is not cool. The crux of the trust issues with Omlet, though, in that Omlet is a proprietary protocol and that nobody other than Omlet has any control over the direction it takes. “Trust us”, is what it boils down to. That is the core failing of nearly all of our existing technology – centralization and the implicit trust which that centralization forces onto end-users.

3. The business model for Omlet is obviously based on the Mozilla-style “defaults” model, but Omlet are not being transparent about their default options. Indeed, I haven’t seen them declare their default providers anywhere. When you start the application, you are not told where your data is being stored (but it is being stored somewhere). Later you will be given the optional choice of moving it somewhere of your choice. This is a minor and easily fixable point. Just be up-front about your defaults during the setup. That choice is the core of the proposition for Omlet, so let the user choose.

Given the company’s background in truly decentralized applications, it appears that Omlet do understand the issues related to decentralization and trust, but they have gone ahead with releasing a system which violates user trust and works on a “trust us” model anyway, on the basis that such a compromise is what is required to convince the masses to convert.

They are not aiming to monetize user data directly, but they are knowingly violating user trust.

Too bad.

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