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Weaving the Contract for the Web — The journey so far

Web Foundation · May 24, 2019

When we launched the Contract for the Web at the end of 2018, we were clear that any effort to effectively shape our collective digital future needed to bring a number of parties to the table — specifically governments, companies and civil society.

Each of these has a unique set of perspectives and area of expertise that we need to consider in order to create a robust, actionable contract that will be adopted by those who have the responsibility and means to change things for the better.

For the past few months, representatives from organisations backing the Contract for the Web have been participating in working groups, engaging in healthy — and sometimes heated — debate as they work to turn the contract’s high-level principles into a fully fledged contract.

Here’s an update of the priorities, issues and challenges each group is working on:

Working Group on Access

The access working group is looking at how governments and companies can promote affordable internet access, connectivity and accessibility standards — making sure that the web truly is worldwide.

On the supply side, it is discussing how government policy can shape internet infrastructure in a way that supports access, covering issues including spectrum auctions, infrastructure sharing, fiscal policies and zero-rating practices. The group is also looking at how standardised global pricing for equipment creates an affordability barrier for low-income countries.

Factors on the demand side also affect access to — and use of — internet services. To build demand, the group is looking at strategies to develop digital skills and promote local and relevant content. Supporting accessibility standards is also critical for removing barriers that prevent those with disabilities from using the web fully.

Working Group on Openness

The openness group is working on commitments that governments and companies must make to ensure all of the internet is available all of the time. This ambition covers a wide range of issues, from governments ordering full or partial internet shutdowns, to more subtle ways of restricting what people can do and say online.

The group is building best practices for protecting the free flow of information, tackling areas including internet shutdowns and the restriction of social media and other services; censorship and the closing of civic space; net neutrality issues; transparency around surveillance; intermediary liability; and tax policies designed to restrict internet use.

Working Group on Privacy & Data Rights

This group is discussing how to make sure that individuals’ online privacy is protected and respected by governments and companies, and that people are in control of how their personal data is used.

Recognising that privacy means various things to different people in different contexts, the group is working on a definition of privacy that includes any data collected or inferred about users. In its recommendations, individual control, transparency, corporate accountability and strong enforcement will be put into focus. While current privacy debates tend to centre on companies, the group’s recommendations will also consider the role of government tracking and surveillance.

The prevailing standard of informed consent needs to be challenged and developed to give people more meaningful choices about how their data is used. This means encouraging design practices that support privacy and challenge designs which make it difficult for users to opt-out of tracking.

In its deliberations, the group is also considering the impact of privacy on a broader set of policy issues including democratic politics, competition legislation, anti-discrimination and more.

Working Group on Positive Tech

The positive tech group is working on recommendations for how to ensure technologies are designed and built to ensure they are aligned with the public interest, supporting better experiences and limiting the harms coming from unintended consequences and misuse of products.

To support this, the group is focusing on techniques developers can use to better consider problems that their products and services could inadvertently create, mitigating these risks as well as proactively working to maximise the social benefit of their tech.

The group has also been debating the relationship between human rights and ethics, and whether all the group’s concerns can be anchored to human rights, or if some issues require reference to ethical principles.  

Working Group on Public Action

The public action working group is discussing how to make sure everyone can exercise their power to shape the future of digital technology. This includes making sure people have the skills to participate in the digital debate as well as the mechanisms to have their voices heard.

The group’s ultimate aim is to support a broad public movement of people and organisations dedicated to creating a better web. To support this, the group is exploring strategies for building digital skills among first-time users — both as a good in itself but also to create more empowered digital citizens. It is also designing ways to help individuals better influence the policy agenda — learning from past experiences where civil society groups have succeeded or failed to influence government and corporate decision making.

The group is also considering how to address the negative behaviour of people online, with a specific focus on gender issues, online safety, and the role of content moderation.

Next steps

These working groups will soon deliver their recommendations to the Core Group responsible for negotiating the final contract. Their reports will define the key principles each group has focused on and lay out the technical, social and human rights issues involved. They will also recommend clauses for the final Contract for the Web and indicators to assess progress on these commitments.

You and your organisation can join thousands across the world fighting for a better digital future by signing up to support the Contract for Web.

To stay up-to-date with progress on the Contract for the Web, follow Web Foundation on Twitter at @webfoundation.

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  1. Jason Phillips

    May 28, 2019

    I can help. I'm currently a principle software engineer for Dell, started a technology incubator in my rural community and am starting my own technology business.


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