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Theme fund: NGI0 Discovery
Start: 2019-06
End: 2022-10


Decentralised social search and discovery

This project is working towards creating a more decentralized, privacy-preserving, collaborative internet based on the end-to-end principle where users engage in peer-to-peer collaboration and have full control over their own data, enabling them to collaborate on, publish & subscribe to content in a decentralized way, as well as to discover & disseminate content based on collaborative filtering, while allowing local, offline search of all subscribed & discovered content. The project is researching & developing P2P gossip-based protocols and implementing them as composable libraries and lightweight unikernels with a focus on privacy, security, robustness, and scalability.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

Search and discovery are some of the most important and essential use cases of the internet. When you are in school and need to give a presentation or write a paper, when you are looking for a job, trying to promote your business or finding relevant commercial or public services you need, most of the time you will turn to the internet and more importantly the search bar in your browser to find answers. Searching information and making sure your name, company or idea can be discovered is crucial for users, but they actually have little control over this. Search engines decide what results you see, how your website can be discovered and what information is logged about your searches. What filters and algorithms are are used remains opaque for users. They can only follow the rules laid out for them, instead of deciding on their own what, where and how to find the information they are looking for.

Centralizing online search around just a few search engines creates a host of problems, ranging from user privacy and nontransparent filtering to misinformation and fake news. The algorithms of search engines can be misused to show millions of users incorrect and discrediting information and stories about the topic or person they were looking up. This is done to influence elections or to shape the public opinion around specific topics, like refugees and climate change. The reach of these search engines (and the social media networks that are exploited for the same goal) is enormous and once a story goes viral, it is hard if not impossible to take it offline, let alone combat the misinformation with correct reports. At their core, search engines focus on a website's popularity when they filter search results, not information accuracy. All of this creates a perfect storm for fake news to spread incredibly quickly online.

Because search and discovery for many users is the starting point of their online day, information accuracy is an issue that search solutions should address. One of the ways to establish what information can be trusted and what is false, is to let users assess the data they share first. Peer-to-peer collaboration is a way for internet users to connect and work together directly, without the need for a central authority or in-between layer. Search and discovery in this way can be crowd-sourced, instead of organized by one central party (a search engine) that is more vulnerable to attack and misuse.

Together, peers can publish data, subscribe to other people's messages and documents, recommend and disseminate information and news and tag correct and informed articles and stories, that can then be searched by others. The group filters what data and information should be spread wide and far and what should be forgotten, not a third party (i.e. the search engine provider) that will not give access to its search algorithm to protect their commercial interests. An actually open internet requires transparent, user-centric search and discovery, which is what this project will help to build.

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 Discovery Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825322.