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Open Letter: from Digital Pioneers to Digital Natives

Open Letter: From the Digital Pioneers to the Digital Natives

It is twenty years since we opened public access to the rich, new medium of the Internet at a price that everyone could afford. Now, we are increasingly concerned by what is happening to the Digital Village.

The first generation of digital pioneers created the Internet: they built technology, including strong cryptography to protect privacy, security, and anonymity. We, the second generation of digital pioneers, inherited their values and their technology, which we extended, strengthened, and built out. Separately and together, we opened cybercafes to allow access to all, created the first Internet Service Providers, wrote the first search tools, created the first digital wallets, experimented with the first digital currencies, built peer-to-peer music platforms, created the UK's domain name system, designed the BBC's digital infrastructure, built the first safe and appealing e-commerce stores, and helped the NHS take its first online steps, among thousands of other digital and mobile services.

Profit was not our primary motive: we did these things first and foremost because we believed that the Internet to be a powerful tool for global and communal co-creation. It is the best example of the saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We were the lucky beneficiaries of those early days. We had online anonymity and free and open access to culture. We had community standards and norms. We even had data privacy, because companies had yet to develop tracking technology.

Now, we are alarmed that these characteristics of the Internet are threatened by the new powers that now dominate the digital village.

Today, our personal data is exhaustively exploited and put at risk of security breaches.

Today, we are being barred from full participation by abusive copyright law and monopolies in search, email, social media, storage, e-commerce, hosting, and other vital components.

Today, as centralisation proceeds apace, the Internet is becoming opaque yet insecure. Without our consent, often without our knowledge, big-data spies track us all online and wirelessly on the streets.

The richness of the Internet, the opportunity to create jobs and companies, can only persist if companies and users contribute more than they take out. Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, WikiData, MySociety, and open source software, among many other examples, were built collaboratively by communities desiring a better future. The richness of the Internet is not magic: it is the result of millions of person-hours of work, often by volunteers.

As you, the Digital Natives, arrive at your most creative career years, you are being stripped of your basic digital rights, and the medium you rely on is being taken over and slowly strangled by large technology companies, telecommunications giants, and misguided governments.

You need transparency and access to free and open source software in order to innovate using the assets that others have already developed.

You need transparency about the use of personal data use so you can use digital services without fear.

We all need to fight to ensure that the UK honours the EU's legal and judicial acceptance of personal data protection as a fundamental human right; to teach American companies to respect our privacy; and to create new, collaborative models to support online services that users will embrace.

Self-regulation – multi-stakeholder governance – is the way forward but we need processes to restrict excessive commercial greed. We need effective means of discouraging exploitation and abuse so that the efforts of the Internet's volunteers are correctly recognised as an immense resource: recognised, acknowledged, and valued.

We call upon all Internet stakeholders to cease the relentless digital asset-stripping and aggressive privatisation of the digital commons; to stop appropriating users' personal data; and to end the erosion of Internet freedoms and transparency.

We call for all Digital Pioneers to develop a new framework to offer Digital Natives a well-nourished, transparent, self-regulated, safe digital village where they can innovate and collaborate as we ourselves had before them.

We call for a regulatory framework to guarantee Digital Natives affordable high-speed Internet with equal access to avoid favouring big corporations over new start-ups or cities over rural areas.

We ask you to pledge:

  1. To work on Digital Citizenship for all;
  2. To support self-organisation of the Digital Village;
  3. To build tools that allow accountability and the ability to boycott and sanction sites, services, and individuals who break community rules;
  4. To stop blanket surveillance and introduce a solid and transparent oversight system;
  5. To reform outdated copyright law and support open access to culture for all to support the new generation's creativity;
  6. To build an open, decentralised business environment with equal access to the Internet for everyone, everywhere;
  7. To ensure that access to the Internet does not favour large monopolies and tech heavyweights over smaller start-ups and community interest organisations;
  8. To improve cybersecurity and strong authentication;
  9. To support the development of free and open software as the strong foundation of the Internet's community tools.

Digital Pioneers

Supported by:
Cybersalon, Hydro66 (Green Hosting), Thingmakers (3D printing centre), Institute of Networked Cultures (Amsterdam) , MegaMine (Collaborative Bitcoin Mining), Digital Citizen unParty, ThePiStreet, Audiences Europe, PCMCreative.

Signed by:

One comment

  1. Great list! Are there any suggested measures for each of them? e.g. how do we measure if an organisation (corporate/political/non-profit) is supporting “self organisation of the digital village”?

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