Ask the Founders: What is the @platform?

Frequently Asked Questions about our private, open source protocol

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Part of the great thing about working at The @ Company is that we get to chat with the developers trying out the @platform. So naturally, when user “paulvipond” sent a message in our Discord channel about The @ Company, our co-founders were quick to respond. In their follow-up conversation, Paul Armstrong (AKA “paulvipond”), had several insightful questions pertaining to the core infrastructure of the @platform that two of our co-founders, Kevin Nickels and Colin Constable, took much delight in answering. The following Q&A is a portion of that discussion.

K & C: Trust certainly has to be earned, so we have started with an open protocol specification and an open source reference implementation for the full stack platform that everyone can evaluate and contribute to. As a company, the only thing we are uniquely responsible for is the integrity of the namespace, which does not hold any private information.

The only thing that we have centralized is the verified location of where to go to request permission for access to information from someone. Our basis for trust in our company and the systems and services we provide relies on the fact that we do not have access by any means to anyone’s private data.

K & C: With the @platform, the data is stored per person on their mobile devices and in their own personal cloud microservice. This means that the application developer does not have access to the data as it is encrypted with their personal keys. If the application developer wants access to any data, they are free to ask for it. So, our first strategy is to make it easy for a developer to honor the intent and spirit of the protocol.

It is, however, certainly possible for a developer to store someone’s information with some other mechanism that does not honor the specification. Our strategy for this relies on a certification process where we inspect the application for such behavior. While we cannot prevent them from doing such, we can refuse to certify the application as compliant with the protocol and to pay commissions to the developer as well. As mentioned above, the developer would then be at risk of violating the terms of use and may incur regulatory and reputational liability.

K & C: We did not want to burden the protocol itself with this feature. Instead, we have created the notion of an “attestation” which can validate/verify the ownership of some particular data for use cases that require this. This might be just an email address or phone number, but could also be for more important things like age (over 18), whether a person’s face matches that on a valid passport or driver’s license, whether someone is vaccinated for COVID-19, etc.

An flow chart showing what attestation will look like with The @ Company. 1. @alice shares her driver’s license number with a trusted attestor. 2. The attestor checks @alice’s driver license and verifies @alice if it is valid. 3. @alice’s @sign is now verified. She no longer has to share her personal information to prove that she has a valid driver’s license.
Icons made by smalllikeart, Eucalyp, and Freepik from www.flaticon.com.

K & C: Notionally the blockchain cohort making similar claims would be the main ones, but we believe that they are more likely to become adopters over time to provide non-repudiation and to eliminate username/password authentication which has proven to be so risky. Technically, Solid/Inrupt is somewhat similar with their data pods, but they curiously have no built-in encryption at all and are enterprise focused where we are developer/apps/consumer focused.

K & C: Our revenue model is simply to charge for custom @signs (like a domain registrar). We also offer free @signs (unlike a domain registrar). We support developers by paying up to 20% commission of the @sign purchases that come from their application as an incentive to create fully privacy compliant applications.

The @ Company is a tech startup committed to transforming how the modern Internet treats people’s data. To learn more about The @ Company and their mission, check out their website.

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