W3C made the World Wide Web, now they are selling it. Fight Back!

Activists in Boston are fighting to stop a company locking the open web. March for digital human rights on May 13th in Cambridge, MA.

Five protesters demonstrate on the day W3C voted on adopting EME as a new web standard. City Hall, Cambridge April 13th, 2017

W3C or “the World Wide Web Consortium” is a small tech company that is in charge of regulating the rules of your browser. For the past 20 years, the mission of W3C has been to standardize all web products and services from competing companies so that everyone has equal access to the content AND the code on the web. They do this by creating Open Standards that are adopted by all web companies and free to use for any developer.

The work of W3C has been paramount to evolution of free-speech and openness on the internet. Open Standards have allowed the web to flourish. Developers can research, innovate, and find security problems without fear of being sued for breaking Intellectual Property (IP) law.

As a community of digital citizens, we are forever indebted to work of W3C and it’s role in protecting us from the business interests of Microsoft, Apple, and every telecommunication company competing for control of the open web. This counter-market force helped save us from things like Internet Explorer (crummy, proprietary, non-standard code) or AOL (stale, private subscription-service web). For the first 20 years, all big tech giants hated the W3C, just as they hated anything they couldn’t own, sell, and sue those who tinker with.

But, That All Changed in 2012

Tech giants decided to stop resisting open standards by creating plugins like Flash Player. They would instead use money and influence in embed their industries’ interests directly into the new Open Standards. W3C, a company that makes decisions by building consensus with their 500+ members was now starting to shift power towards industry titans.

The shift was made clear with the introduction of a possible new standard that put “Digital Rights Management” or “DRM” directly into the code of the open web. DRM is any technology that seeks to restrict your access to copyrighted content, you are familiar with DRM if you have ever purchased a movie online and then not been allowed to share or download it. Traditionally, DRM modules took the form of a third-party plugin like Flash Player, as content restriction is diametrically opposed to the architecture of the open web. Remember the frustration of visiting a flash site and not being able to download images/movies, copy text or even link to specific page? That is the difference between a DRM controlled corporate space, and the openness of webpage built using only W3C standards.

This is “Digital Rights Management” or DRM in action. iTunes blocks a screenshot of a movie I purchased.

The new standard that W3C might adopt is referred to as “Encrypted Media Extensions” or EME. This extension will web browsers to descramble the encrypted media at the browser level. This is much easier on web traffic than descrambling media at server level as is traditionally done. EME is actually already up and running. If you visit Netflix.com on any new Chrome, or Firefox browser you are experience EME. Why then, are the industry titans pushing so hard for EME to become a web standard? And why has U.N.E.S.C.O. published an open letter to W3C calling for the immediate halt of the plan?

The Answer is EME is a stronger DRM. One that limits Free Speech

This is not a technical innovation that provides stronger DRM with EME. Instead it is a corruption of W3C’s seal of approval by using EME’s status as a new standard as legal standing to sue anyone who tries to access the EME code, thus criminalizing the act of breaking the DRM rules regardless of the intent. This is clear infringement of the free speech and human rights in interest of ever encroaching IP law on the internet. The EME module is restricted IP that is then embedded into the permanent architecture of the web. This means using a circumvention tool like taking a screenshot of a video, to recording a media stream is essentially breaking IP law. I could be breaking IP law by telling how one might circumvent the new DRM module, “go to this site, paste in the link, hit download.” W3C makes the decision for global open web users. The Just Net Coalition from the global south, characterized the move as “digital colonialism”

U.N.E.S.C.O. describes a dangerous new precedent in their open letter to W3C:

the new EME would give an additional technical layer to control of expression and fair-use — subjects which are probably best treated as realms of ethical choice in an environment of technical neutrality, rather than being intrinsically constrained by a technical standard.
Protesters holding up signs in front of the Microsoft building on March, 20, 2016 — Photo: Kori Feener

Last year, activist marched on W3C to protest the adoption of EME. Now W3C has voted on whether or not to adopt. Since it is most likely that no general consensus came out of the vote, the decision to adopt comes down to W3C’s leader Tim Berners-Lee. On May 13th 2017, activist will march on W3C to put pressure on Tim to halt EME and protect the Open Web.

On May 13th 2017, activist will march on W3C to protest EME.

Our sign went viral as a photobomb in this picture from the Boston Science March — 4.22.2016




Join us on Ethics in Technology FB page for updates

March 2, 2017 Podcast with the one tech reporter that is covering this issue: https://gimletmedia.com/episode/90-matt-lieber-goes-to-dinner/

Article from 2013: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jun

W3C’s response to U.N.E.S.C.O. https://www.w3.org/blog/news/archives/6225

Look at how an industry website is selling the move as better for consumers. Notice how all of the capabilities have already shipped. No need for adoption of standard: http://www.cioreview.com/news/tech-giants-join-forces-to-create-nextgen-video-format