Mozilla’s Public Policy Impact on Internet Health

At Mozilla, we work to advance a healthy internet, because the internet sits at the heart of our global society and economy. In January of 2017, we published our first Internet Health Report to document and track the health of the internet. But our work didn’t stop there.

Our agenda to advance a healthy internet consists of three principal angles across Mozilla. We invest in thought leadership, to build deeper and broader understanding of what constitutes a healthy internet and how we get there. We engage in direct strategic action and advocacy to advance outcomes that contribute to a healthy internet. And we help grow the movement that surrounds us in our work, to level up the scale of people understanding and taking actions to support a healthy internet.

In March of 2017, we published five issue briefs to identify cornerstones of a healthy internet, and share a little about our work across the organization to advance them. Public policy is one of the principal levers Mozilla uses to have impact on these issues. So, with 2017 now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take stock of what we accomplished last year in public policy – and look ahead to 2018 and the change targets we have in our sights.

Here’s the snapshot of Mozilla public policy in 2017, by the numbers:

  • Filings, blog posts, op-eds, and other written outputs: 68
  • Meetings with government stakeholders: 330
  • Speaking appearances at conferences and other events: 46

Numbers, of course, don’t tell the full story. If those writings, meetings, and conferences aren’t strategically chosen and executed, then we’re not really having impact. So, here’s a bit more detail on our highlights of 2017, broken down by each of our five categories:

1. Privacy and Security

  • One of our foremost policy actions in 2017 was our work on the ePrivacy Regulation in the European Union. Europe leads the tech policy world in many ways in privacy law, yet its current framework could benefit from an upgrade to better protect the confidentiality of communications and give users more choice, control and transparency over their online experience. Through a position paper and proposed amendments, a convened event, extensive public speaking, and a series of blog posts, we called for future-proof privacy rules that put users first.
  • A steady stream of news stories tell tales of software vulnerabilities leading to breaches of our security. The private sector strives to build secure systems, but cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, and we don’t know how governments around the world are handling vulnerabilities they find. After years of intensive work on this issue within the United States, in 2017 we helped drive two major steps forward: introduction of legislation and a new official charter for the relevant government interagency process.
  • In India, the national biometric identification system Aadhaar turned heads in the global policy world as its rollout expanded dramatically in violation of directives from the Supreme Court, against a backdrop of woefully inadequate privacy and data protection law. We engaged with TRAI and other government agencies to articulate our vision of what data protection should look like in India, through filings, coalition engagement, and direct advocacy.
  • We engaged on several other aspects of privacy and security as well, both directly and in partnership with other teams at Mozilla, such as: surveillance reform (including a legal amicus brief); electronic evidence (through a submission to the European Commission); government hacking (through multiple events in the U.S. and Germany) and the security of open source software (where we provided $450,000 across a dozen security audits and remediation efforts through our SOS Fund program).

2. Openness

  • One of our principal engagements to advance openness online is through our Mozilla Open Source Support program (MOSS). The aforementioned SOS Fund program is one of three tracks of MOSS; the other two, Foundational Technology and Mission Partners, support open source projects that contribute to our work and those that align with our mission, respectively. In addition to awarding substantial grants through these tracks, we expanded MOSS in 2017 through our Global Mission Partners:India pilot, with information and application forms available in both English and Hindi.
  • At the core of tech policy in the context of openness is copyright. We have been working in the European Union on the EU’s Digital Single Market strategy, and its associated copyright reform legislative file, for more than two years. In 2017, we published a one-pager analysis of the Commission’s flawed proposal, advocated for our views with the Parliament and Council, strengthened coalitions of support including both technology and civil society organizations, and spoke at events and commented often in media.
  • Many emerging tech policy issues rose to prominence in 2017, among them increasing challenges to well-established safe harbors for intermediary liability. In the U.S., the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” (SESTA) best demonstrates this trend, but similar bills have been proposed in Europe and around the world. Through broad engagement with all stakeholders, we established and advanced a policy position that is sympathetic to the underlying harms and crimes, yet strongly defends the longstanding principles of openness on which online commerce and speech fundamentally depend.
  • We also tackled other areas of tech policy related to openness, including U.S. copyright law and policy discussions and emerging work related to artificial intelligence/machine learning systems, often referred to as “algorithms”, including in a United Kingdom consultation in which we offered a blueprint of our thinking on the subject.

3. Decentralization

4. Digital inclusion

  • The centerpiece of Mozilla public policy’s contributions to digital inclusion is our Equal Rating initiative. Last year saw two major milestones for that work: we announced the winners of the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge, a global competition designed to catalyze new thinking in connecting the unconnected to the full diversity of the open internet, not walled gardens; and we released the results of extensive field research to unpack the real reasons behind how and why people connect to and use the internet.
  • We supported these efforts through direct engagement with key stakeholders around the world, including governments, banks, foundations, and companies; and through extensive public speaking and participation at events shaping the internet and financial policies that will determine the future of global connectivity.
  • Although not a public policy team effort, the Coral project is a terrific example of Mozilla’s broader contributions to digital inclusion in 2017 (in partnership with the New York Times, Washington Post, and Knight Foundation), building open source tools to bring journalists and the communities they serve closer together.

5. Literacy

  • Public policy team engagement on literacy focused on a broad range of collaborations with the World Economic Forum and other international bodies. Cathleen Berger’s post following the United Nations General Assembly articulated a broad range of relevant initiatives in this space.
  • Our Equal Rating research, noted above, also studied the significance of literacy challenges in the context of connecting the unconnected, with valuable results.
  • Much of the work to help a broad public understand the health of their internet experience in greater depth was led by our colleagues in marketing, with support from policy and others. In particular, the Glass Room (with Tactical Tech) and IRL podcast with Veronica Belmont have reached huge audiences and had formidable impact.

What’s next?

Rest assured, in 2018, we will invest heavily in shaping public policy issues that contribute to and advance a healthy internet. We’ll continue our leadership on multi-year issues like privacy and security. We’ll keep fighting the critical ongoing battles like copyright reform and net neutrality. And we’re looking at emerging topics related to openness and decentralization, understanding and fighting back against the future of gatekeeper control of our internet. We also have incredible depth left to be explored on how we perceive and experience trust online, and who around the world really gets included and can take full advantages of the opportunities of the internet. Some of the policy issues we tackle will be major headlines, even more so in 2018 than they were in 2017 – issues like competition, artificial intelligence, and intermediary liability. And we will be there. Across the board, in 2018, we will engage in public policy wherever we can to promote a healthy, open, trusted internet.