This June, Mozilla is graduating a big cohort of fellows — activists, coders and researchers who have spent the last 10 months working on issues like net neutrality and online privacy.
These are issues that always carry a sense of urgency. But this month’s graduation feels like it’s happening at a real crescendo. In 2018 and especially the past few months, the internet’s bearing on opportunity, expression and discourse has never been more obvious.
The recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal has everyone talking about mass data collection and unchecked algorithms — ideas that not long ago were relegated to academic papers or the back page of the business section.
And the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality — from that first motion in early 2017 to the current battles in congress and the courts — seems to get more and more attention at each milestone.
Privacy breaches and the repeal of net neutrality are bad news. But it’s not all troubling. In the EU, the GDPR went into effect just last month. Now hundreds of millions of Europeans are back in control of their personal data — and the law’s positive effects are already crossing the Atlantic and beyond.
In India, the supreme court has declared that privacy is a right. Now the country’s first comprehensive data protection law is in the works.
Issues like privacy and personal data and ethical AI are spilling into communities and courtrooms and billions of people’s everyday lives. Because of this, our graduating fellows — and the very concept of Mozilla’s Leadership program — feel more vital than ever.
If we’re going to make positive progress on these issues, and win the big fights that matter, we need fellows. We need activists who can code, we need community organizers who can teach cybersecurity, and we need researchers who can look five or 10 years into the future.
This was the belief when Mozilla and Ford Foundation first launched the Open Web Fellowship more than three years ago — the idea that together, advocacy and technology are greater than the sum of their parts.
Now, years later, our 11 latest fellows from the Open Web cohort are proving just that.
— Bram Abramson is researching telecom privacy and transparency at Citizen Lab
— Nasma Ahmed is talking about privacy with young and marginalized communities
— Sarah Aoun is building up digital security capacity for immigrant rights groups in New York City
— Orlando Del Aguila is relaunching Ahwaa, a platform for LGBTQ individuals in the Middle East and North Africa
— Carlos Guerra is monitoring elections and human rights violations alongside Derechos Digitales
— Sarah Kiden is measuring broadband performance across the African continent
— Freddy Martinez is supporting whistleblowing and public records technology alongside Freedom of the Press
— Rishab Nithyanand is researching the opaque realm of third-party mobile trackers
— Rebecca Ricks is documenting corporate surveillance by platforms like Facebook
— Aleksandar Todorović is building a consumer rights tool for the GDPR era
— Maya Wagoner is designing and deploying public wireless access in New York City
Our Mozilla Fellows in Open Web have also shaped Mozilla’s evolution over the past three years. In the summer of 2015, we had six Fellows in Open Web. Three years later, those fellows are in leadership roles at Freedom of the Press and Creative Commons, and featured in VICE documentaries about mass surveillance. And today, Mozilla is working alongside a total of 32 fellows in disciplines like public policy and scientific research. Fellowships now account for about one-third of Mozilla’s operating budget. They’re one of our three strategic pillars, right alongside advocacy and the Internet Health Report.
The Fellows in Open Web laid the groundwork for our fellows in Tech Policy, who are advocating for privacy in India, competition in the U.S., and consumers’ digital rights in Brazil. And the Fellows in Open Web also laid the groundwork for our Fellows in Residence, who are scouting big issues on the horizon, like inclusive voice technology.
Of course, this isn’t work that Mozilla and Ford can do alone — we need a movement. The Open Web Fellowship host organizations are part of this movement — like Derechos Digitales in Chile, Research ICT Africa in South Africa, and Human Rights Watch in New York City.
If we want to ensure that Cambridge Analytica doesn’t become the norm, and net neutrality is revitalized, and that wins in Europe and India spread, we need this movement to grow. We’re on our way: this fall, our next cohort of Open Web Fellows will embed at Consumer Reports and the Tor Project, among others. One of these host organizations — Code for Science & Society — is led by a Mozilla Fellow alumnae.
I’ll end this blog with an invitation — for those who believe in the power of advocacy plus technology to join this movement. And also with a request — for those graduating fellows to continue their vital work, to remain a force for good in this movement, and to always invite in others.