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Perennial Semantic Data Terms of Use for Decentralized Web

Rui Zhao and Jun Zhao


In today's digital landscape, the Web has become increasingly centralized, raising concerns about user privacy violations. Decentralized Web architectures, such as Solid, offer a promising solution by empowering users with better control over their data in their personal `Pods'. However, a significant challenge remains: users must navigate numerous applications to decide which application can be trusted with access to their data Pods. This often involves reading lengthy and complex Terms of Use agreements, a process that users often find daunting or simply ignore. This compromises user autonomy and impedes detection of data misuse. We propose a novel formal description of Data Terms of Use (DToU), along with a DToU reasoner. Users and applications specify their own parts of the DToU policy with local knowledge, covering permissions, requirements, prohibitions and obligations. Automated reasoning verifies compliance, and also derives policies for output data. This constitutes a ``perennial'' DToU language, where the policy authoring only occurs once, and we can conduct ongoing automated checks across users, applications and activity cycles. Our solution is built on Turtle, Notation 3 and RDF Surfaces, for the language and the reasoning engine. It ensures seamless integration with other semantic tools for enhanced interoperability. We have successfully integrated this language into the Solid framework, and conducted performance benchmark. We believe this work demonstrates a practicality of a perennial DToU language and the potential of a paradigm shift to how users interact with data and applications in a decentralized Web, offering both improved privacy and usability.

Book Title
Proceedings of The 2024 World Wide Web Conference
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