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News > Science and Tech

Global South Internet Activists Fight US ‘Digital Colonialism’

  • A woman in Bolivia uses free open-source software, which the World Wide Web Consortium is looking to curb.

    A woman in Bolivia uses free open-source software, which the World Wide Web Consortium is looking to curb. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 April 2017

The Just Net Coalition is calling for an end to EMEs, which they say will limit the Global South from accessing important internet resources.

The Just Net Coalition, a network of internet accessibility activists hailing from the Global South, are calling on World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee to stop what they call U.S.-led “digital colonialism.”

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The JNC issued an open letter to Berners-Lee Wednesday, asking him to stop accepting Encrypted Media Extensions, which they say will limit people of the Global South from accessing the same internet features people in North America and Europe enjoy.

EMEs provide a communication channel between web browsers and digital rights management software, protecting large media companies from copyright infringement and pirating. Simply put, they allow large publishers to control what end users do with their content.

They also, however, prevent access to important internet multimedia tools from those using free open-source software, which forms the majority of users in the nations of the Global South.

“By standardizing EME, the W3C would appear to be enabling a new form of digital colonialism that perpetuates structural inequality by locking away content from those who have the most need for it, while having the least means for financial access,” the JNC said in its letter.

“It thus has the effect, amongst others, of preventing innovation and stifling content sharing on the Web by making difficult effective digital contributions by and from lesser resourced individuals, groups and regions of the world.

The W3C is the World Wide Web Consortium, an international standards organization that discusses and implements internet protocol. According to the JNC, the W3C is mulling over proposals on making EMEs an official internet requirement and is expected to issue a decision next month.

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The JNC wants Berners-Lee to veto implementation of EMEs, allowing people from Global South nations to continue using the internet freely. The coalition also wants him to stop W3C encroachment by global corporate interests seeking to privatize the internet.

“Surely, it is not acceptable to impose, de facto, U.S. law on the entire world through the agency of an ostensibly neutral standards-making organization purporting to act in the broad global public interest,” the JNC also said in its letter.

“It is not surprising that such actions have the effect of bringing these standards making bodies into disrepute and suggest to many, particularly in developing countries, that any such organization is willy nilly acting as an arm of developed countries', and overwhelmingly the U.S.'s, economic interest and domination.”

The JNC was formed in 2014 in New Delhi, India by hundreds of representatives from around the world.

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