Mozilla: Web's future rests with millions outside IT
'Seat-belt moment' is here
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. ®
Did anyone notice that the onewebday.org site has been cracked/hacked and apparently defaced by an illiterate pro-Iranian who calls themselves "NobodyCoder" ?
What was that message about security/safety on teh interwebs?
And bloody HTML emails as well
Hit them where it hurts?
I've come to the conclusion that internet users who aren't IT enthusiasts or professionals are driven primarily by two incentives:
1. Getting things done as quickly and with as little excess mental effort as possible, and
2. Getting things done cheaply or, better still, free.
Of course these are the incentive combinations that result in people plugging their new broadband modem straight into a USB port before heading to www.dodgypr0nsite.com with an unpatched OS and an unsecure browser, or installing a badly configured Limewire to quickly get their fix of MP3s "because that's what everyone else I know uses."
Yes, they'll get their "free" music and copious GB of whacking material and think they're being so clever, but it's the likes of you and I -- the sort of people who read these pages -- who end up picking up the pieces when our friends computers start groaning under the weight of months' worth of malware.
Tackling the problem of user insecurity boils down to manipulating these two incentives.
The first one -- convenience -- is a really difficult nut to crack. I'm sure we've all had similar experiences trying to explain to our friends and colleagues why it's important to keep the OS up to date, to secure our browsers, to backup our data, to modify our online behaviour to limit the risks. The problem with this strategy is that the upside carries with it a cost, the cost in time and effort to learn, introduce and maintain these policies. You or I would see this as worthwhile, but most non-IT folk don't. And the flip-side -- the inevitable box-o'-malware that results from not doing it -- isn't nearly so much of a disincentive to these same users because we are the ones who sort their systems out when they go tits up. All they lose is a day or two's access while their geek friend disinfects their system, then off they go again.
The second incentive -- monetary cost -- is arguably easier to manipulate but because it effectively involves telling our friends and family to go fuck themselves it's unlikely to have much take-up. Because we, as friendly neighbourhood 'computer whizzes', are part of the problem here. When it all goes wrong we fix it, and more often than not for free. OK, so your friend might cough up for a couple of pints the next time you're down at the local. Or a member of your family might get you a gift as a thank you for sorting things out. But these aren't perceived as a cost per se; it may even be that they're seen as a sort of sweetener, a means of assuaging guilt while keeping you ready for the next time their computer throws a wobbler. In most cases any payment certainly won't be as great as that charged by The Tech Guys, and arguably the standard of work will be better since you're more likely to take care over not erasing your friends' data or settings.
So here's the solution. The next time someone comes to you with a PC problem take a quick look and, if the problem is obviously self-inflicted, tell your friend to take a hike and point them in the direction of the nearest PC World or local repair shop. When they return £100 out of pocket, with a fully working PC but without a shred of the data that was once on it, explain that this is how the real world works and that you'll help train them in all the methods that will prevent it happening again. It's cruel, but perhaps with five years of work erased and a gaping hole in their wallet, they'll be more likely to listen the advice they ignored for so long.