Alexis Roussel: "Metadata is one of the great battles of the 21st century".
Deeply involved in the Bitcoin ecosystem, Alexis Roussel now heads up operations at Swiss start-up Nym Technologies. For The Big Whale, he talks about the risk of widespread surveillance and the tools developed by Nym to counter it.
The Big Whale: Why is it important to protect the metadata of our communications?
Alexis Roussel: The reason is quite simple. Even when we don't know the content of a communication, we can get a lot of information about it by analysing its metadata (the time it took place, the geographical position, the interacting IP addresses, editor's note).
To achieve optimum protection of privacy, it is important to hide the content but above all to hide the data surrounding the communication. This is a fundamental issue.
As you say, we are simply talking about the data surrounding a communication and not its content itself... Is this really an attack on freedoms?
The whole economy of what is known as surveillance capitalism is based on this metadata, not on the content of the discussions themselves. This is the sinews of war, one of the great battles of the 21st century.
What techniques are used to identify someone based on metadata?
By using the Internet, everyone creates a "digital footprint". The hardware we use to connect provides the server with a certain amount of information, such as screen size, operating system, time zone, phone model, etc. This is called the "fingerprint". If there is enough of this information, it can be used to distinguish between individuals and track them, as is done with cookies on websites. This explains the extremely well-targeted adverts we are offered after talking about a subject with friends or carrying out an online search. And it works even if you're opposed to tracking.
With Nym, we offer a tool that makes it possible to mask the IP address but also all the metadata surrounding the communication.