Civic Entrepreneur Frank McCourt Launches Project Liberty, Transformational New Initiative To Enable Healthier, More Equitable Online Economy

21 June 2021

$100 million investment will focus on building a more equitable internet.

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, civic entrepreneur Frank McCourt launched Project Liberty, a new $100 million initiative to enable a more equitable technology infrastructure for the internet. The project includes the creation of the McCourt Institute, which will advance the research and development of technology solutions that serve the common good, and the gifting of a visionary open-source protocol called Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP), owned by the public, to serve as new infrastructure to re-center the internet around people instead of platforms.

"Like so many others, I've watched with deepening distress as the technology meant to provide universal access to opportunity and bring us together has become a primary reason for extreme polarization, division, and inequity," said McCourt. "Today's social media platforms increasingly control our data, fuel division, erode our privacy, and threaten our democracies. These problems can't be regulated away. It's time to reinvent a new way forward. I'm committed to leveraging my expertise, networks, and resources to create a better public infrastructure for the internet—one that results in healthier societies and economies."

The McCourt Institute, with Georgetown University of Washington, D.C., and Sciences Po of Paris, France, as the founding academic partners, represents a critical step forward in harnessing the power of technology to improve our society and revolutionize social media. The Institute will bring together the best and brightest interdisciplinary teams from around the world to conduct applied research on utilizing and developing technology for the common good.

"Georgetown is honored to partner with our distinguished alumnus, Frank McCourt, and the McCourt Institute in the important work of discovering more ethical and inclusive ways to build technology," said John J. DeGioia, President of Georgetown University. "Frank has long understood the power of bringing together civic institutions, interdisciplinary perspectives, and diverse community voices to tackle big societal problems. With his commitment and vision guiding us, the McCourt Institute is poised to make a tremendous global impact."

"Technology, the use of data, and artificial intelligence raise issues that are central to research in human and social sciences and cut through all disciplines at Sciences Po: from economics to history, from sociology to law and political science," said Laurence Bertrand-Dorléac, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Sciences Po. "The McCourt Institute serves society and the common good: it will considerably enhance the scientific production of our research."

The Institute will announce its leadership team and an initial slate of grants and projects in the fall. Of McCourt's total $100 million investment in Project Liberty announced today, $75 million will go toward the Institute, and $25 million toward the development and adoption of DSNP, the new open-source protocol.

Project Liberty's development of DSNP has enabled a new public infrastructure for the web. DSNP decentralizes online social networks and, because it's governed by the community that uses it, lays the groundwork to shift the power balance of the web economy from social media companies to individuals. By leveraging public blockchain technology, DSNP puts people in control of their own data. The protocol's open architecture also creates new opportunities for all kinds of entrepreneurs, application developers, and social innovators to create and benefit.

"If you look at social media today, you don't need to be a technologist to recognize that we need an entirely new infrastructure, rooted in ethics and privacy, that any entrepreneur or innovator can build upon," said McCourt. "DSNP is a new path forward and the start of a new era for the web economy, and our hope is that others will join us in this effort and we will fundamentally change how the internet works."

Individual data rights are built into DSNP, paving the way for billions of people to reclaim their personal information from the private ownership of existing social platforms. As the ecosystem grows, it will transform the way value flows on the web from today's closed-data economy—where a small number of companies own and extract value from users' data—to an open, inclusive data economy where individuals own, control, and derive greater social and economic value from their personal information. To reward innovation on the new protocol, and to incentivize early adopters who use apps built on the protocol, a token is currently under development.

"The massive economic value generated from our data should not be channeled to a small oligarchy," said Braxton Woodham, technology leader of Project Liberty and President of Unfinished Labs. "With Frank's leadership, we have built a strong, multi-disciplinary team that has forged an entirely new model. By freeing our social networks, we create a new landscape for innovation that redirects this value to everyone who uses and contributes to the network."

"The centralization of economic activity, political dialogue, and social life onto a handful of global tech platforms has created a large and interlocking set of vulnerabilities and threats," said Andrew McLaughlin, DSNP advisor, former Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the U.S., and former head of global public policy at Google. "We need to build better stuff—new technology infrastructures that support open, decentralized innovation. DSNP is a bold, promising, and concrete shared social infrastructure that applies known technologies, uses proven models of open source development, and embodies clear and vital values. It has all the right ingredients to be a profound game-changer."

The creation of Project Liberty is part of McCourt's long-term commitment to strengthening economies and societies worldwide through greater civic participation, inclusion, and equity.

About Frank McCourt

Frank H. McCourt, Jr., is a civic entrepreneur who has been internationally recognized for his successful business ventures, social impact, and formation of value-building networks that benefit all stakeholders. Through his firm, McCourt, he has redefined value through a purpose-driven strategy that spans real estate, finance, sports, technology, and media—all with a critical focus on social impact. Frank founded his newest enterprise, Unfinished, out of rising concern over our deteriorating social fabric. Unfinished works to strengthen civic life in the digital age, focusing on three challenges: redirecting technology, especially social media, to fuel collaboration over division; renewing and strengthening civic institutions to accelerate inclusive problem-solving; and growing a fairer economy.

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