A Human-Centered Paradigm for the Web

Richard Whitt
12 min readJul 20, 2020

D>=A: Expanding our rights in the digital realm (Article 2 of 6)

Every historical crisis terminates in institutions. If we have no control over the crisis itself, which is pure hazard, we do have control over the institutions, since we can define them, choose the ones for which we will fight, and thus bend our efforts toward their establishment. Albert Camus, The Rebel (1956).

In the opening article of this series, we explored the necessity of creating enduring change in our failing social systems, in particular the exploitative ethos of the Web. Against the relentless online paradigm of “SEAMs” (Surveil, Extract, Analyze, and Manipulate) was posited a counter-paradigm of enhancing human autonomy and agency via computational systems, or “HAACS.” The article suggested that effective leverage points include creating human-centric infrastructures of trust and empowerment. Below, we will see how fiduciary law principles provide one promising pathway to expanding our rights in the digital realm.

The scenario: IRL

It’s early March 2020, someplace in the United States, and Carla wakes up early with a high fever and tenacious cough. She doesn’t typically come down with the flu bug this time of year, but this one already feels pretty bad. After a quick browse online with her symptoms, she decides to make an appointment with her primary care physician.

Next morning, Carla takes her two young children to daycare, and then drives to the health clinic. The medical assistant takes her vital signs, and jots down her symptoms. Doctor Jones comes by, reviews the file, asks some questions. The verdict? Likely the seasonal flu. Medication is prescribed.

On her way home, Carla stops at the pharmacy to pick up an antiviral prescription and some cough syrup. She then retrieves clothing from the dry cleaner, cashes a check at the credit union, and drops off to the library three borrowed books on the history of institutional racism. Once home, Carla looks over her mail, including a monthly statement from her employer’s pension plan, and a legal document extending a guardianship to care for her ailing father. Later she returns to daycare to gather up her kids.

The fiduciary world around us

While Carla may not be fully aware of it, typical moments in her everyday “analog world” include interactions with various types of fiduciaries. These are individuals or entities with…

Richard Whitt

Richard is a former Googler with a passion for making the open Web a more trustworthy and accountable place for human beings.