Over the last couple of years, it felt like we lost something, online. Lost privacy. Lost elections. Lost faith. And, in some ways, a loss of the open internet itself. I certainly felt those things. And, read about them every week in the headlines.
Yet, as I said in my last post, I don’t think all is lost for the open internet, as the headlines might suggest. The internet remains a place of joy, opportunity and empowerment for many. I want to make sure it stays that way — that we don’t end up with a divide between slow, ad-laden, compromised internet for most people, and fast, private, secure internet for those who can pay for it.
We need to shift the conversation in 2018 to focus on the kind of digital world we want and how to go about creating it, together. Doing this will take more than wishful thinking. It will take each of us rolling up our sleeves and tackling the problem in our own way. Some of the sleeve-rolling we’re committed to at the Mozilla Foundation this year includes:
1. Talking about the bad — and the good.
In March, we’ll release our next Internet Health Report, drawing on research and projects from our allies around the world.
As you might expect, the Report will include sections on big challenges of the day: how intelligent machines aren’t always right, and how algorithms make mistakes that affect real people in the real world; the challenge of misinformation and the opportunity to equip people with the tools to decipher fact from fiction; the need to take online harassment seriously. These are the things we’ve been reading about in the headlines, and they’re mostly in the ‘things going badly’ column.
The Report will also look at where the internet is doing well — and highlight the work of people who are making it better. Like the Restart Project, which simultaneously helps us recycle old smartphones and ensures the movement is more welcoming to women and gender nonconforming participants. Or, FabOcean, an initiative making low cost, open source underwater robots to monitor coral reefs. We need more projects like these — projects where people are actually *building* a better digital world.
Looking at both sides — good and bad — and investing our energy in places where there is hope, is critical to creating a better narrative for the digital world we want.
2. Amplifying the voices of people doing great work.
More and more people ask me: what kind of digital world do we want? My answer is: I don’t know. Or, more specifically, I don’t *fully* know. No one does. We urgently need to grow the number and diversity of minds thinking about this question.
The Mozilla Fellows who keynoted our team meeting last month represent the kind of people we need more of. Hang Do Thi Duc from Germany created a browser plugin that lets you see the kind of information Facebook knows about you (watch video). Amba Kak from India is challenging the Aadhaar biometric identity program (watch video). Joanna Varon from Brazil is educating women about ‘the datasuckers’ they share information with every day (watch video). Each of these women are looking at the digital world from their own angle.
It’s critical that we find more voices like these from our fellows and in our community — and that we amplify them so that more people are connected into this conversation. With this in mind, we’ll put a huge amount of communications muscle in 2018 into promoting the work of our fellows, alumni and community leaders around the world. We’ll also continue to grow our investments in fellowships and awards ($6.7M in 2018 vs. $5M in 2017).
3. Running campaigns designed to win.
For most people, the idea of making the digital world better feels both distant and daunting. This needs to change. We need to make it possible for everyday internet citizens to take action in ways that have a concrete impact — and that feel like winning.
We’re taking aim at this with a series of campaigns to protect our personal data online. Building on our Privacy Not Included holiday buyer’s guide, the first of these campaigns will focus on getting at least one egregious connected toy either fixed by the manufacturer or pulled off the shelves by retailers. Changing a fuzzy plush doll with insecure Bluetooth to one with secure Bluetooth, automatic software updates and a good password system is the type of win we want. If we can start making these changes, creating a better digital world will feel less distant and daunting.
Thinking longer term: campaigns like this have the potential to help fuel a large scale citizen movement. A movement that can take action on policy issues like net neutrality but also build awareness and demand for better products in the market. We need companies to listen to citizens just as much — or more — than governments.
As 2018 settles in, I’m feeling more optimistic than I did last year. Optimistic about the year ahead. And, optimistic about the internet.
Why? In part because we have great people gathered around Mozilla right now — the staff, fellows, community and allies I work with inspire me and make me hopeful. Also, I think we’re working on the right thing. A few years back, the Mozilla Foundation chose to focus on fueling a broader movement for internet health. The changes we’ve made in this direction are what make the things I list above — and other plans we’re cooking up for 2018 — possible.
Also, I’m energized every time I see a sign that this movement is taking hold: new people and orgs popping their heads up on digital issues; conversations with other parents about the digital lives of their kids; and, yes, even the way the headlines about Silicon Valley are being written. A movement is definitely afoot. How can you not be optimistic?