About PrivacySafe Technology Foundation
“With the rapid advances of today’s connected technologies, data privacy and security are now more critical than ever. PrivacySafe is a great solution to protect yourself and your data from unwanted intrusion.” – Tiffany C. Li, technology attorney and legal scholar, referring to PrivacySafe IoT appliances
PrivacySafe Technology Foundation is a member-driven nonprofit organization. Our mission is to educate and empower people via private and secure technology. To this end, we engage in advocacy for digital freedom as well as fundraising activities for research. Dues from our members fund research and development of trustworthy IoT hardware as well as Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS). Our members are the heart of the organization, building and sharing a desire for a brighter digital future.
The PrivacySafe story has bumps in the road and as well as unexpected successes. Our journey has informed our vision for remote education and the COVID-19 pandemic has cemented our desire to bring private and secure hardware to healthcare.
The Beginning of an Adventure
PrivacySafe Technology Foundation was founded in April 2020, but the history of the PrivacySafe concept goes back to autumn 2019 with the dream to build pocket-sized IoT appliances. These would empower people with private and secure data storage, utilizing the 3NWeb protocols and running over the anonymous Tor network. These appliances were products sold by the for-profit PrivacySafe LLC, a business that was phased out in March 2020 and has been replaced by the separate nonprofit Foundation. The PrivacySafe team’s collective dream to build an “Anti-Cloud” appliance is strong, but we were limited primarily by a lack of investment. This experience strengthened our understanding of the hardware market and informed our choices to tailor the device away from consumers and toward enterprise deployments.
Even without the funding to reach our lofty goals, the PrivacySafe team continued throughout 2019 to work on IoT appliances and developed a variety of solutions around an Open Source Hardware (OSHW) single-board computer, the BeagleBoard.org Beaglebone AI. This included laying the groundwork for what would become the Health Edition, a version of the appliance featuring the GNU Health hospital information suite.
PrivacySafe also targeted education with the Development Kit, which was rebranded the Maker Edition to emphasize a new focus on education and software for makerspaces. The Maker Edition includes learning modules that emphasize creativity via Command Line Literacy activities. In this way, we empowered people to better protect their privacy and learn cybersecurity via hacking on IoT hardware. First shipments of the Maker Edition were sent to crowdfunding backers in February 2020.
In November 2019, PrivacySafe held a cryptoparty at MakeHaven. This event brought together hackers, makers, college students, educators, and politicians, including the newly-elected mayor of New Haven, Connecticut, Justin Elicker. The event showed off various capabilities of PrivacySafe appliances, as well as nascent software and ideas. Mikalai Birukou of 3NSoft joined the event with a demonstration of 3NWeb, walking the audience through private and secure chat and data sharing. Sean O’Brien capped off the evening with a cryptoparty, emphasizing the need for digital self-defense and the role of IoT hardware in tracking as well as efforts to mitigate against it. Community events are a cornerstone of the FOSS tradition, as well as an opportunity to get honest and candid feedback via a live audience.
The for-profit PrivacySafe continued throughout late 2019 and early 2020, with the initial Maker Editions shipped and custom deployments in the civic sphere. Our first public deployment was for the New Haven Town Green District (TGD), working with this business improvement district to count crowd sizes. Our IoT appliances are ideal as a privacy-respecting alternative to digital crowd surveillance, allowing us to count people in a crowd or walking down a street without the usage of invasive techniques such as facial recognition technology (FRT).
Working with TGD, we approximated the size and traffic flow of pedestrians at the public Holiday Tree Lighting on the New Haven Green. We utilized the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ hardware for this, dubbing the implementation a Crowd Appliance. Statistics gathered by this device simply count people and do not store any identifying information, nor do they attempt to discern identity or build demographic profiles. This Privacy By Design approach opened up opportunities for further deployments, during the Flights of Fancy event in January 2020 and for a construction project that was put on hold by COVID-19.
Confronting Crisis and Rebuilding
The 2020 pandemic created huge challenges for any small business. Though PrivacySafe appliances relied mainly on BeagleBoard.org hardware that was assembled and distributed in the United States, it became clear that hardware prices were increasing across the board, shipping would be delayed, civic deployments would be put on hold, and both sales and the seeking of investment would be near-impossible during the pandemic. With the uncertainty of the crisis came the realization that the PrivacySafe team should focus on its strengths in education, as well as healthcare deployments where help was most needed.
PrivacySafe Technology Foundation was founded as a separate nonprofit entity, renewing the PrivacySafe vision and inheriting its work via the sustainability of FOSS and Free Culture licensing. Sean O’Brien, the Executive Director of the Foundation, began to organize Flatten The Curve Summit, a remote event that would confront the crisis head-on via three days of thoughtful dialogue.
The remote Flatten The Curve Summit was held on April 21-23, 2020 and brought together leading experts from five countries to speak about public health, law, cyber conflict, climate change, collaboration, and digital self-defense. Each of the speakers facilitated one-hour remote sessions where they shared their knowledge, strategies, and tools. Attendees learned how to better empower themselves to strengthen their communities, cope with change, and stem the tide of the next crisis. Sessions featured speakers from Yale University, Oxford University, McGill University, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Free Software Foundation, and other leading research, non-profit, entrepreneurial, and civic organizations.
A New Foundation
Following the founding of PrivacySafe Technology Foundation, our energies were directed where we are strongest. We educate and empower people via private and secure technology, hosting classes online that teach and reinforce skills like Digital Self-Defense. Our Learning Commons has grown from the success of Flatten The Curve Summit, and we are building an educational platform using the lessons we’ve learned from hosting a global, diverse, and distributed teach-in. The Learning Commons is built upon a FOSS stack, protecting privacy and offering an alternative to insecure apps like Zoom and learning management systems like Blackboard that promote proprietary lock-in and surveillance.
We invite you to join us on our new journey, where we will provide Privacy By Design platforms as well as remote education and solutions for healthcare. Dues from our members fund research and development of FOSS as well as trustworthy IoT hardware. Our members are the heart of the organization, building and sharing a desire for a brighter digital future.