Cult of the Dead Cow Hacktivists Give Life to 'Privacy-First' App Framework

The well-known collective is taking on targeted advertising with the Veilid framework and says it wants to make the Internet accessible to everyone who fears being monetized.

A creepy figure with its hands outstretched wearing an animal skull
Source: Jakub Krechowicz via Alarmy Stock Photo

One of the longest-running US hacktivist groups, the "Cult of the Dead Cow" (which goes by cDc), plans to launch a privacy framework dubbed Veilid, for creating applications that evade the omnipresent gaze of targeted advertising and other trackers.

The group — which claims several high-profile members and former members, like Twitter whistleblower Peiter "Mudge" Zatko and politician Beto O'Rourke — says the initiative is intended to be an "open-source, peer-to-peer, mobile-first networked application framework." It has formed a website for its creation, where interested potential users are able to find answers to frequently asked questions as well as contact information for app support as well as for media and press.

According to the group's site, Veilid allows anyone to build a distributed, private app and allows users the opt out of data collection and online tracking in an effort to prioritize user experience, privacy, and safety. cDc claims that it built Veilid because although the Internet began as an "open realm of possibility," it has instead has become commercialized, with no viable options in terms of how to opt out of cookies and the like. 

Veilid is similar to IPFS and Tor, but its creators claim that it's faster and is designed "from the ground-up" for privacy. It's also originally written in Rust, uses strong encryption, and "nodes can run on Linux, Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and in-browser [WebAssembly]."

"We believe that people should be able to build relationships, learn, create, and build online without being monetized," the group stated on its website. "With Veilid, the user is in control, in a way that is approachable and friendly to everyone, regardless of technical ability. We want to give the world the Internet we should have had all along."

It added, "Veilid has no profit motive, which puts it in a unique position to promote ideals without the compromise of capitalism."

The official launch of the framework will occur at DEF CON on Aug. 11 at 9:00 a.m. Pacific, where the group plans to "break the Internet," and, perhaps, put it back together in what it seems to believe will be an improved version. 

Members will provide viewers with demonstrations of the Veilid server, VeilidChat, and the application framework itself, in a talk that will last 45 minutes. Until then, those who are interested can subscribe to the group's newsletter, which might seem counterintuitive; no worries, though — cDc says it respects user privacy and doesn't even want to collect people's email to begin with: "We're gonna send you maybe 2 emails, then delete the mailing list. We don't want it. We want privacy for everyone."

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