Benjamin André will talk to us about his very nice personal sovereign cloud application :Cozy Cloud. He will also talk about his positioning on the theme of digital sovereignty and his impressions on current initiatives…
[Emmanuel M]: Hello Benjamin, first of all it’s a great pleasure to be able to interview you, especially since I am a convinced user of Cozy Cloud… Could you give us a brief summary of this adventure?
[Benjamin André]: Impossible to summarize this adventure. Intense, unpredictable and exciting. Each year brings its share of surprises (new regulations, health crisis, data scandals…) but one thing remains untouched: the growth of stakes and opportunities in a digital model that puts the user at the center so that he is no longer “the product”…
[EM]: Could you give us an overview of Cozy Cloud’s functionality and its key features?
[BA]: Today, your personal data has all migrated into the cloud, into the “other people’s cloud.” Our dilemma is that we have no choice but to let others access our data if we want to enjoy the conveniences of digital services.
What if you gathered all your data in “your cloud”?
In a cloud under your control that brings all your data together, you get augmented services and integration beyond what closed GAFA silos can offer. And this, without having to reveal your data to anyone because the algorithms process it locally in the user’s Personal Cloud, without it leaving it.
Cozy Cloud therefore offers everyone their own personal cloud, their digital home, Cozy that combines comfort and security. The user can gather all his data (banking operations, health, logins and passwords, geolocation, photos, bills etc.) that are scattered and out of control today. This simplifies daily life, while digital technology has generated a fragmented hell of passwords, downloads, sharing, synchronization, backups… The cross-referencing of data that has become possible allows, for example, to reconcile the data of one’s bank, one’s Ameli account and one’s complementary health insurance and to be alerted in case of a reimbursement failure!
By creating his Cozy digital home, the user benefits from the following applications:
– Drive to save, synchronize, share and organize documents and other files with different devices (Mac, PC, Linux, Android and iOS)
– Banks for better control of their personal finances when they can’t get to their bank.
– Pass to store, synchronize all his identities, logins and passwords to free himself from the hell of filling out forms or online services
– Notes, its online text editor to easily write and share reports, course sheets or annotate your ideas,
– And also, more than 250 brands to connect to automatically retrieve any type of data (invoices, bank transactions, contacts…)
[EM]: Can you give us an overview of the future developments you see for Cozy Cloud?
[BA]: We have mainly developed projects with public and private entities over the past four years (MyToutatice, a personal digital space for students and agents with the Académie de Rennes; Ecolyo, an application for monitoring energy consumption with the Métropole Grand Lyon; the Coach CO2 application for visualizing one’s carbon footprint from one’s personal cloud with the Agglomération La Rochelle; and supporting local authorities in the fight against digital exclusion by proposing a personal digital space for citizens.
Our vision has been remarkably stable for four years. By putting the user at the center of everything, the opportunities are numerous. Cozy Cloud is still open source, still allows self-hosting, we will never change that.
But we are going to turn more towards B2C, the general public. Thanks to several ongoing developments, notably those financed by the French National Education system, we will be offering new services.
Which ones? Integration with OnlyOffice, for example, password sharing, selective synchronization (already available) and a new solution for retrieving data via connectors.
We will take advantage of this to renew our communication by promoting our new services to the general public and to companies whose size does not require an adapted offer..
[EM]: In a few figures, Cozy Cloud is how many users, how many countries, how many partnerships?
[BA]: Today, we have more than 250,000 users, mainly French-speaking (due to the connectors, only for French services).
On the European level, we are a member of MyData Global, an NGO whose objective is to promote “human centric” organizations that empower individuals by improving their right to self-determination regarding their personal data. We have just been named for the 3rd time in a row – MyDataOperator – for the aspect of data interoperability and portability.
We also offer our platform to other trusted operators such as banks, insurance companies, local authorities and the French National Education system.
This plurality of distribution is on the one hand an opportunity for these actors to leverage their “trust capital” for a new role of trusted third party in the digital age. But it is also the way for Cozy to be able to assert “you will stay because you can leave”, because indeed a user can choose to move his Cozy from one operator to another, creating the conditions of a virtuous ecosystem.
[EM]: What is your position on digital sovereignty, is it an issue of concern? On a personal level and as an entrepreneur?
[BA]: As long as the information highways are a one-way street to actors outside France and the EU, the full potential of services, decisions, learning, and common goods will escape us. We will therefore not be able to have the economic actors capable of providing our digital commodities, which are increasingly important for everyday life – payments, social relations, purchases, logistics, money, personalized education, fluidity of the job market, information…
But how better to bring back this data than by allowing the user to exercise his legitimacy to retrieve his data and thus level the playing field between service operators, since holding user data is no longer an advantage that annihilates competition?
The good news is that the regulator understands this.
With its Data Governance Act, the European Commission is planning a regulated trusted third party status that will allow individuals to ask them to retrieve their data for them from their online services, which will have a legal obligation to do so…
The Data Act, which is also in preparation, is also moving in this direction. The regulation of access to banking data (DSP2), particularly badly conceived since it killed those it was intended to help (the 4 French banking aggregators were bought by banks or closed…), seems to want to be minimally adapted by the ACPR (the European Banking Authority launched a consultation and Great Britain took advantage of its autonomy to question the aberrations of the text…).
These regulatory projects are going in the right direction, even if they are not perfect (no doubt that the lobbyists of the big platforms, today the most powerful lobbyists in Brussels, are doing their best to introduce in these texts full of good intentions the grains of sand that can in practice make them almost inoperative… Enough to feed an entire article…)
But regulation or not, we won’t be able to prevent users to access their data, we are precisely preparing a major technical innovation on this subject. And it is from our individual digital autonomies that the economy that can produce the knowledge and services necessary to our collective sovereignty will emerge…
[EM]: Have you heard about the #PlayFrance initiative? Did you join it?
[BA]: Of course I did. I signed the petition two years ago following Pascal Gayat’s call (Les Cas d’OR du Digital, Les Pionniers du Digital) because I thought it was essential to join a collective that advocates digital sovereignty in France. This awareness of the French Tech actors must now be heard more in Europe and perhaps beyond.
[EM]: What do you think about the reluctance of large private or public accounts to choose sovereign solutions?
[BA]: For some private players, relying on sovereign solutions would mean playing together by strengthening their own “local” ecosystem and avoiding dependencies that could one day prove painful. This is even more true for public authorities.
How can we not understand that it is profitable for our taxes to finance solutions that will allow us to develop skills, technologies, and make viable product lines that are today the preserve of the largest digital operators?
Was our nuclear independence achieved by buying turnkey power plants from the United States, which was ahead of us in the 1960s?
[EM]: Do you think that the “lambda” citizen is aware of the stakes on the protection of our data in the broad sense?
[BA]: They are becoming more and more aware of these issues and I’m happy about that. Every day, we hear from our users who are thrilled to leave the GAFAs for a service that cares about their privacy. But it’s important to note that for Cozy, data protection is not an end in itself.
It’s a prerequisite for gathering data and providing services that would otherwise be impossible…
[EM]: Cozy Cloud targets rather a “personal” target, are there more professional uses and is there in preparation a specific offer for SMEs and why not large accounts?
[BA]: The personal cloud is universal and can be used by everyone, just like a smartphone or a personal computer! Whether you are a major account like a bank or an insurance company with its customers, a public institution like the French National Education System that wants to provide its students with a personal digital space or a company that wants to share documents with its employees. The personal data platform is scalable and is built as a white label platform for B2B2C.
[EM]: We have just left the COVID period, what consequences for Cozy Cloud?
[BA]: Digital has never been as present in our lives as it was during the confinements.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadela estimates that society has accelerated its digital maturity by 7 years. Companies and governments have shaken up and shortened their roadmap considerably, opening opportunities for disruptive innovations like Cozy…
[EM]: Can you present us your road map for the next 2 years?
[BA]: Android has democratized the smartphone. In 2 years, we aim to have the same maturity as Android in 2007, 3 years after its acquisition by Google.
[EM]: We are coming to the end of this interview; would you have a particular message to pass on?
[BA]: I will end with a quote: “It is an eternal experience that every man who has power is inclined to abuse it (…) In order that power cannot be abused, it is necessary that, by the disposition of things, power stops power.”
Montesquieu, On the Spirit of the Laws, 1748
This quote invites us to think of an organization of the digital society that structures the separation of powers. Since digital services draw their power from the accumulation of personal data, at home and for them, it is therefore necessary to make possible an architecture that decentralizes data. In a democratic society, the individual is the only one who has the legitimacy to access and manage all his data.
This creates the opportunity for a new data economy for service providers and more powerful uses for users.