Support lead at Nextcloud by day and scientist by night
Hi! My name is Daphne Muller, I work towards a world where privacy is respected. By collecting less personal data, we can get more innovation, financially healthier business models, more competition in the market, and most importantly, more humanity.
I wrote an academic paper, published in 2021, for the major a-level conference CHI. The paper outlines a new vision for computer science. How can the computer science industry develop into a privacy-respecting industry with open-source technology and more competition in the market? In 8 pages, I answered that question.
The paper is written as a parody on a paper published exactly 30 years earlier, in 1991, titled "The Computer for the 21st Century". I had to read this paper multiple times during my study. Bob and Ron could work together on a digital whiteboard, Sal would never be in a traffic jam anymore, and computers would make people feel more connected to their neighbours. And privacy? That would not become an issue because encryption would become good enough. In the decades that followed, privacy became a major digital human rights concern, but the vision still serves as an example for the new generation of computer science students and even gets paraphrased by leaders of Big Tech.
I wanted to provide the industry with a new, modern vision that could replace the old one. A vision that does not glorify the violation of the human right of privacy, but instead puts privacy central to innovation. A vision that is not biased towards Big Tech but towards open-source. Let me present to you: "The Computer of the 21st Century - Second Edition for Europe"!
It's not impossible.
Nextcloud turned out to be one of the most promising for-profit privacy organisations that are able to compete with Microsoft. So, I've applied for a job, and I'm very proud to be working for them :).
Nextcloud offers a competative alternative for online collaboration software, like Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Slack. The difference? Nextcloud respects privacy, is made by the people, and has absolutely no hidden agendas.
Who owns your personal data? At Nextcloud, you are the owner. You even choose who hosts your Nextcloud and if you are into tech, you can self-host Nextcloud on a small computer like a Raspberry Pi in your own house.
Made by the people
Nextcloud is created by a large community of over a 1000 people of whom the far majority are volunteers. They help on all levels: from answering questions on the forum to contributing actual code and apps. The company around Nextcloud tries to hire the volunteers who want to work on Nextcloud full-time.
No hidden agendas
Nextcloud is free and the code is open-source. Everyone can check the code, install it themselves, or contribute. To make money, Nextcloud offers licences for large enterprises. These licences include, for example, a version of the code that is guaranteed stable for business-critical infrastructures, special treatment for security updates, and technical support (> I am Nextcloud's support lead!)
I think Nextcloud will become the Microsoft Office of the future. Nextcloud is growing exponentially, our company is growing rapidly while being profitable, and the software is solid and competative with Big Tech. Nextcloud is the most popular online collaboration software among German IT professionals, and is even used by the German and French government, a bank, and Amnesty International.
What is my role? I'm support lead. Support is one of the most essential elements of Nextcloud's business model. At Nextcloud, all developers (currently 40 people from 7 different teams) provide support. I lead this group and structure the work to make support scalable, given Nextcloud's rapid growth.
I studied design at the TU Eindhoven with a specialisation in "smart products" and my master thesis was about privacy. I took the standpoint that designers should try to do their job without collecting so much personal data. Under the supervision of a mentor who controversially works for Google, I completed innovation projects in the retail, healthcare and smart-home industry. For example, this is a picture of my privacy-friendly shop compass: you can use it to find products in a store that you saw online on a webshop. And it does not collect any data.
This design got awarded the ThingsCon IoT Award.
For all those four design cases, it was relatively easy to come up with a concept and a working prototype that does not collect any user data. Harder was to work with the controversy among my colleagues who were somewhat biased towards big-tech. I analysed the design process of those four projects and outlined the strategies that were successful.
My thesis was awarded a 9,5 out of 10 and published at the a-level venue DIS.
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