A Watershed Moment to Protect the Free and Open Web

I’ve often thought that the movement to protect and advance the open Web requires the same type of focus and investment as other movements like the environment, civil rights and so many other social issues. After all, the Internet today impacts every area of life, from learning and economic opportunity to free expression and the ability to organize around political issues.

Today, at an event called NetGain, some of the biggest foundations in the world are coming together to signal something important: keeping the Internet open is a social issue in its own right, and a free and open Web is foundational to advancing all issues.  

Net Gain couldn’t have come at a more important time.

We are at a watershed moment in the movement to protect the free and open Web. On the one hand, momentum is on our side. We’re winning on many fronts that endanger the Web. Net neutrality in the U.S.; Marco Civil in Brazil; the rollback of Internet usage tax in Europe — these are all examples of public policy being shaped by millions of people coming together to take massive action to protect the Web.

But while momentum is on our side, many dangers remain, and it’s going to take more than law to overcome them.

Corporations that seek to control the Web, massive government and corporate surveillance, chilling effects on free expression — all of these issues will be harder to address if the next billions coming online think that the Internet exists solely within the walled gardens of platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. The greatest danger is people relinquishing their control to gatekeepers that get to decide the rules about what we see and what we create.

Mozilla was born to take on these challenges, and that’s why the signal from NetGain is so important. The fight for choice in browsers; the fight to protect people’s privacy from government and corporate surveillance — these are the fights that have tipped the scales towards a Web where people have freedom and control.

So what do we need? How do we take the best of the Web and channel it to fight against the threats of control?

When people recognize they are not just citizens of the world, they are also citizens of the Web, we’re closer to reaching our full potential. To get there, we need to establish basic access and Web literacy as a right of digital inclusion. We also need to trust that we have control of our tools — that means that products need to inspire our trust as part of their code, not as an afterthought or a tagline. This is especially true as it relates to individual privacy and data security, where so many of us are vulnerable.

And we need leaders. We need to find and invest in people across all sectors — business, government, civil society — to fulfill the promise of the Internet. These emerging leaders will help shape future laws to protect the Web as a shared global resource.

That’s why I’m so happy to see the philanthropy sector stepping up with Net Gain. Foundations have already been effective catalysts for ensuring that the Internet is a force for good. In areas like net neutrality, our investment in creating cross-sector alliances, in investing in leaders, and in stepping in where the market fails has led to dramatic impact.

But the Internet impacts every area of a foundation’s work — from education to political participation, health to economic inequality, and more. So it’s time to redouble our efforts and have all foundations commit to the vision of a free and open Internet.

Here we are at another tipping point for the Web, and the biggest foundations in the world are saying today, as part of NetGain, that protecting the Web is a big, big deal. This is our chance to mobilize the movement to protect the free and open Web. As philanthropists with global reach, let’s stand together to do this.

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