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Mozilla: Web's future rests with millions outside IT

'Seat-belt moment' is here

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The future of the web rests with millions of people outside the IT industry being persuaded to take an interest security, privacy, and freedom.

That's according to Mozilla Foundation executive director Mark Surman, who believes the web has reached a "seat-belt moment," where we know there are problems that need to be solved, but doing so requires a mass-movement of support from ordinary users.

Like the seat belt, security, privacy, and freedom are important. But they're dull to non-technicians.

"We need millions more people to love, strengthen and protect the web - to do what we've seen in the past on car safety, cigarettes and the environment for people beyond this room to understand what's a stake and to get involved in practical ways," Surman told a recent open-source conference in Silicon Valley.

"Technology is not the biggest barrier. We need people to care and we need people to act," Surman said.

Surman hopes this month's OneWebDay will raise the awareness of challenges in security, privacy, and freedom, starting conversations that lead to action and solutions.

The Foundation is a supporter of OneWebDay, an annual event that was created in 2006 by Susan Crawford and is modeled on one Earth Day. Other backers include the Ford Foundation.

Three years in, the group's site says its mission in 2009 is to: "Scale up the support we can provide to our network. This support will include a clearer vision and mission, leadership development and resources for volunteer organizers, a robust and inviting set of collaboration tools, and a more effective public presence."

Picking up, Surman said it's important to identify concrete solutions to the biggest threats on the internet. He listed some of these threats as carriers attempting to crush net neutrality through pricing, the risk to privacy and openness as users identity is locked in silos the user doesn't control, and the risk to security caused by the ubiquity of old versions of Flash and Internet Explorer.

Some specifics Surman suggested include campaigns for OneWebDay to upgrade to latest versions of Flash or dump IE 6. With eight million downloads of Firefox in two days, Surman believes people can be mobilized.

Of course, the challenge with a mass movement is that so many people have different notions of problem and priorities.

"On security and privacy maybe we need to get people to install IE 6 but you may have a totally different idea, but as long as you are contributing to the solution, that's fine," Surman said.

Also, there's little consensus on the specifics in other areas such as what is meant by "freedom" in the cloud other than that things could go very badly. "One of the things I'm committed do doing besides mobilizing people about the immediate problem, is to convene a conversation around what the next problem might be," Surman said. ®

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