How does the future of Internet Governance look like?

This year was quite important for the field of Internet Governance. Next to the establieshed Internet Governance Forum (IGF) by the UN and the European Dialog on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) there was another place called NETmundial in Brazil.

The NETmundial was initatied by Dilma Rousseff, the brazilian president, after the reveilling by Edwards Snowden of her surveillance by the NSA. Being outraged at the beginning the hopes were high to have finally a forum to discuss THE topic: global surveillance by secret services. After half a year on the NSA leaks, it was time to adress it. The past month also showed that this is only possible in an surounding not dominated by the US. They seem to have severe problems in learning from it. Having this in mind, it was surprising, or perhaps not, that the focus shifted during the development of the event and surounding policy process. Additional topics were set, as the future development of ICANN and others. Sadly not even Civil Society was united on this issue. And again, the original topic of surveillance was diluted by a too strong focus on processes. The question is: how much worth are talking about processes when there is not a glance of proceeding on a topic. Especially in an approach which is independ from the UN. So, the topic which started NETmundial occured at the end as an subchapter in the final document. And this being not enough, the pararaphes on surveillance were even weaker than in existing UN resolutions.

Unfortunatly the same happend to EuroDIG in Berlin. In the preparation meetings before the topic shifted again more to Internet Governance as a process with too much focus on itself then the original talking points. Again there was a strong push from several actors to have surveillance  as a main topic. At this point the leaks from Edward Snowden had almost their first anniversary. Addional, there is a visible decrease in participation. Not surprising, when there is not really progress and everlasting discussions with the same people on the panels.

To conclude, the approach of Internet Governance as something which tries to be as inclusive as possible and as open as possible, is obviously stuck. The involvement of other stakeholders made some shifts, but the established actors still leading and setting the agenda.
This is quite sad, since there are many issues which would need attension. Filtering, censoring and hard interventions in the core technologies are currently done. Not just by known countries as Iran or China, but also by coutries which call themselves democratic honoring civil and human rights. There is data retention in many countries like Germany. There is deep packet inspections  done by private companies. There are severe attacks on privacy supporting technologies like Tor. If there ever was a “freedom of the Internet” it’s gone or in the most optimistic case, almost gone. The stituation is clear. So where to start now?

A look in other policy fields can give new ideas and best practices for new approaches. There are other global issues where the traditional policy processes are stuck due to a small group of countries dominating it. The best example is the topic of Nuclear disammament. Due to the NPT only five countries are allowed to have them and so they are only talking with themselves about it. Even so the use or even an excident would affect many others. But there are already positive examples in the field of disammament of weapons of massdistruction. The most recent one is the ban treaty on cluster ammunition. Another very successful is the one on landmines. What have they in common? First of all they focused not on a technical or even security level. They looked at the humanitarian level, meaning which impact has it on humans itselve. After concluding that the danger for the human race alone justifies a global ban on it. Leaving out any other disucusion on security, military or politcal benefits of such weapons. The second important step was to establish a small “core group” of countries who have a similar progressive position towards this topic. They can push it, hosting state conference on the topic itself and after some time start negotions for an international treaty. Even if such a treaty is done by a small group of five to six countries, it can have a large impact since other countries can – one by one – join this treaty.

So, why is there no core group of countries which set an example with an international treaty others can join. Where are Switzerland, Iceland or Brazil to start negations for such a “freedom of the Internet treaty”? Brazil already adopted the Marco Civil, a Fundamental Rights Charter for the Internet. It it time to bring this into an international treaty, having a group of countries negotiating and signing it as initiators. Then they can collect others co-signing it. Naming, shaming and putting pressure on others who don’t do it. It is time now to start such a process and not running after the fairy tale of Internet Governance as the universal remedy.

Youth participation in internet governance – a european perspective

This post was first published at Comunicação e Política.

In a couple of weeks the NETMundial meeting is taking place in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This high­level meeting, intended to change the direction of the global governance of the Internet, might also change the roles of some supranational actors in this process. Even though some might say its a good counterbalancing alternative to US dominance in the field of Internet Governance, there are still stakeholders that are under­represented, young people being principal among them.

It might seem that young people are taking an active part in Internet Governance, yet conferences and meetings like ICANN, IGF, EuroDIG, and as far as can be seen NETMundial, paint a different picture. In 2011 at IGF in Nairobi it was clearly stated that young people don’t see the Internet as an anarchic playground, but expect their voice to be heard. Current governance models, however, tend to exclude young people completely from actively engaging with the topic.

One of the reasons for that is because the field of IG is complex and interconnected, and usually discussed at the international level. The topic is so profound and multilevel, that to be able to interact and participate one already needs to have a high level of knowledge, and preferably be already well known in the field. Debates are often highly technical or jurisdictional and difficult to follow, hence it is hard to participate. In addition it is difficult to be accepted by civil society groups when you are a young professional trying to find your own standpoint in this complex debate. This often leaves young people wandering around frustrated in the crowd of old white men at these conferences, not knowing how to get involved. All of the above create a high entry barrier for young newcomers.

This partly leads to the second reason: often IG means a small closed community with no official framework to allow participation. There is no institutionalized frame, which makes it difficult to get involved. Being open and transparent does not mean being inclusive or participatory.

In Europe the most common pattern to get politically active is through joining political youth organisations and forums. Sadly, there are hardly any youth organisations on the local or national level that deal with IG issues.So in case of social or political issues like sex education or youth unemployment, to access and deal with it would be common through local or national youth organisations, but that is not the case when it comes to digital rights or questions of governing the Internet. European youth organisations that are seriously working on the problems of digital rights and Internet Governance are mostly international.

Another problem, at least in Europe, is the Internet Governance bubble itself. In theory, there is a way for young people to participate in the dialogue through a multi stakeholder model. The situation is starting to change; there are now a few opportunities for the young generation to learn and participate, such as random internships or the annual EuroSSIG Summer School in Meissen, Germany for example. This might be a good way to start exploring the topic. However, in reality there is a lack of resources, notably skills and expertise.

The cornerstone of the problem is civil society itself. Civil society organisations have an important role to play in regard to giving access to a specific policy field by providing resources and expertise for beginners. Organisations active in this field are gathering a lot of expertise but they are also very closed in comparison with other fields. Well established youth organisations are not dealing with IG topics at all and there are very few attempts by new organizations to do so. Political bodies like the European Youth Forum, are explicitly trying to stop attempts to work in this field, as they view it as something unimportant.

Altogether ­ the high entry barriers, no institutionalized access and a civil society that is not incentivizing youth organisations ­ make it very hard for young people to participate in the IG processes even though they are able to contribute with their experience and provide a valid point of view.

Anna Orlova and Silvio Heinze

Current debates: privacy, big data, net neutrality and copyright issues

From October 22nd to 25th, 2013, the 8th annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum took place in Bali. These are the three big topics – from my perspective – for the next year.

This article was written for NO LABEL PROJECT.

Privacy and big data 

The adoption of the new EU data protection regulation by the LIBE committee showed that the discussions about privacy are not dead yet. It seems only that the discussion is different than many civil rights organisation expected. The past weeks have revealed that even a world wide scandal about enormous data misuse by governmental organizations do not concern enough people to become relevant. They are outraged, but this result not in any action – known as the privacy paradox. In the contrary, studies show that privacy is nothing people would pay for nor care much. If they have the choice between cheaper prices and handing in less private data in online shops, there is a preference towards the cheaper prices.

We can all agree on, that a new narrative is necessary to explain why data collections of personal data is a treat. The term of private sphere seems not strong nor important enough to mobilize proper amount of people. Fights against the transparent citizen are long over. As Edward Snowden revealed, most of us are already fully transparent. I am favoring the term of the mindless citizen, since that is what these databases of our personal information do with us together with advanced computing. Big Data are the technologies to predict our actions before we know it ourselves. We are getting personalized offers which we can’t resist since they fit so perfectly to our needs.

Having this in mind, a political solution seems urgent and needed at once. The data protection legislation – not only in Europe – is lagging very much behind the technical progress.

 

Infrastructure: net neutrality and nationalization

Last month the European Commission proposed a new draft for a Digital Single Market regulationincluding regulation for telecommunication infrastructure. In mid October was a decision that the ITRE committee (Industry and Trade) will responsible and who are the rapporteurs. It is more or less official that this initiative won’t be finished during this term. The rapporteur Castillio Vera and the shadow rapporteur Trautman estimate an opinion-forming in the next 7 months. So this might be one of the topics of the elections to the European Parliament. What ever will be the result will be on e of the starting points of the European Commission after the elections.

It is not a new topic. The struggle around net neutrality was ongoing during the whole term of Neele Kroes. EDRi made a good overview on the debate by creating a timeline.

Another infrastructure topic is the growing nationalization of the Internet. This is not just a phenomena of closed autocracies like Iran or North Korea. The trend of national nets also gather speed in Europe. National restrictions on services are well known already like in Youtube or other media, where the copyright legislation is lacking behind the habits of consumers and users. In Germany now discussions started to route special services only in “Ferman” nets for example e-mail.

 

Copyright vs freedom of expression

In the beginning of this year the ECHR took a decision in the on going debate on copyright vs freedom of expression and denying The Piratebay the status of communication infrastructure worth to protect. It is in particular for interest, since the well known website is nothing else than a simple search engine for links. Only some days ago the next torrent search engine isohunt got shutdown. On the other hand, the largest torrent search engine Google got untouched.

The media industry realised that going against individual copyright infringement is not working out. Public cases like charging teenagers or grandma’s with ridiculous claims of often wrong accusations will be hopefully over soon.

At the Internet Governance Forum 2012 in Baku the swedish member of European Parliament (MEP) Amelia Andersdotter explained with the direct words “Fuck you, this is my culture” that the gap between the reality of young people and restrictive copyright regulation is as big as never before.

This shows the importance of the current copyright debate for the Internet infrastructure. The general direction of more and more centralisation – which is ongoing for years – gets support by such developments. Creating monopols and power concentrations which are bad for general public and only benefiting a small minority. The next year will show in which direction it will go. Hopefully again towards more Internet freedom.

Shadow profiling: Data collections about you where it’s hard to opt-out

This article was written for NO LABEL PROJECT.

Do you have a Facebook profile? Some of you might say yes, but some try to avoid Facebook and never registered or deleted there account at some point. The truth is, you all have profiles at Facebook. They collect information about you all over the web and try to combine it. And that is not all. Many companies do such profiling like advertising networks or other social networks. Creating detailed profiles about you are their business models.

 

How they collect data

Many websites have share buttons below their articles and posts. The reasons why these buttons look the same everywhere is that they are not part of the website you are visiting. They come often directly from the services itself, means Facebook, Google, Twitter. So you visit websites of them without actually being aware of visiting them. And every visit creates the opportunity for them to collect data about you as described in the next part.

This methods work not only with share buttons, but also with ads, pictures and other parts of the website. In particular advertising companies and networks use this to be able to show everybody the perfectly fitting offer.

Did you ever wonder why Facebook asks you so annoyingly to use their Friend Finder? Not just to get new members for Facebook itself, also because it gives a lot of information about your and your friends. This is especially troubling since people send data about their friends to Facebook without their consent. Or did you ever hear from somebody who called his whole address book to ask whether it is fine with them to upload their data to Facebook? By the privacy policy of Facebook it is exactly what everybody needs do to before.

And we should of course not forget all the data we are leaving behind us by actively using online services. Not just social networks, but also all kinds of other like webshops as Amazon or ebay. This is all data which can be and sometimes is already sold to 3rd parties.

 

How they identify you

Just knowing that somebody visited a website doesn’t a create a profile yet. To do so, they need to link all these collected data. This can be done by various methods. We will explain four well known ones here.

The most easiest way is to look for your IP address. This is your main identification when connected to the Internet. Even so it is possible to get a different address each time you connect, many Internet Service Provides don’t change it too often.

Another well know method are so called cookies. Websites can save some information on your computer to make it easier to use by identifying you as the user. So you don’t need to login every time when you visit again, which is of course convenient. Because of the advantages it is an established web technology which should not condemned generally.

There is a special type of cookies: 3rd party cookies. These are from websites which do did not went to directly. On a website there can be links to other websites, opening a picture or other content from a different website. This is especially used to track you through different websites and has no real advantage for the user.

All the named technologies are quite old and the profiling industry is looking for more possibilities since many browers try to improve the privacy of their users by allowing to block different ways of blocking. A new way to identify users is called Browser Fingerprinting. There they use available information of your browser like installed plugins, supported MIME-types or fonts. Only these three named information can identify uniquely a user by 86,73%, as experts conclude. Only by deactivating technologies as Javascript or Flash the identification rate can drop significantly.

Nevertheless by using services again we make it pretty easy to connect all this data to us. One login at Facebook or Google and they know to whom they can link the web history they collected before. And we should not forget that there are already full grown industries dealing and trading our data. At the end all this create quite detailed profiles of ourselves.

 

How you can protect yourself

Reading all this you might think the only way to escape this is not to use the Internet at all. That is partially true and the only sustainably solution would be political regulation and data protection. Still there are a lot of small things you can do to make it much harder to collect and link your data.

In your Browser you can limit a lot already by using several add-ons and plugins. Step by step these features are also included in new browser versions, so it might only a change in the preferences when you read this article. A first hands-on list:

  • use an open source browser like Firefox
  • not allow 3rd party cookies in your browser (in Firefox, in Safari blocked by default, in Chrome)
  • remove all the cookies by ending your browser (in Firefox, in Safari, in Chrome)
  • block Social Network content on other websites (for example Facebook Blocker extension for Firefox, Safari, Chrome)
  • use an ad blocker (for example AdBlock for Safari and Chrome, do NOT use AdBlockPlus!)
  • use a general tracking blocker (for example Ghostery for Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome)

You know about other cool add-ons, extensions or plugins? Write it in the comments!

 

Privacy is something different generation define differently. So wrote the Guardian about current 13 to 17 year olds: “This generation has learned to function in a world of social surveillance.” Althought there are differnt views on privacy, they all require to have a choice which data we share and which we don’t. Shadow profiling takes this choice away and leaves us as dependent humans.

More information on you and your shadows can be also found at the Tactical Tech Collective.

8 principles of successful youth e-participation

This week was a workshop about youth participation and social media at the 1st Mediterranean University on Youth and Global Citizenship in Hammamet, Tunisia. One result are 8 principles of successful youth e-particiation.

1) Results needs to be implemented at the end.
2) Use advantages of the Internet like links, visualizations or animations.
3) Transparent process.
4) Possibility to participate anonymously.
5) Aim for the highest level of participation possible.
6) Clear and simple process for easy comprehension.
7) Neutral moderation to ensure netiquette.
8) Use and react on feedback.

What would you add or change? Do you have experience with youth e-participation?

Online collaboration tool for groups – Podio

The web based service lets you create workspaces where you share data, assign tasks and invite colleagues to meetings.

Podio is currently one of the best collaboration tools for groups. It combines a Groupware, Project Management Software and an Intranet.  It’s also accessible with mobile clients for iOS and Android. The most important feature is that it’s customizable with Apps. So you can easily add an expenditure app in your project workspace to collect all receipts.

Nonprofits have the possibility to get Podio sponsored (which means they can use it free of charge).

You can learn all the important basics about Podio in this video or more practical details in the one bellow:

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First published at the NO LABEL PROJECT website.

Digital project management: a kick-off overview

Many nonprofits are based on their events and projects. What could be more obvious than supporting these projects with digital project management tools?

This article will give a short introduction into the topic and presents a small selection of tools the author used in the past years.

Taking about project management many people just think about aims, task, milestones and getting things done. It can be easily forgot that project management (PM) can be quite different.

The first step for searching tools should be looking on your PM processes. There are quite a bunch of different models describing these processes. Currently there are a lot of agile PM methods  which work with short circles rather than classical approached like Waterfall methods. General PM tools offer complete solutions to manage projects. They give an overview about what should happen and what happens. As described before it’s important that the workflow they are based on fit’s to the workflow of the project team. Otherwise they won’t use it probably.

A great package are the tools from 37signals with the names Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack and Campfire:

  • Basecamp is for managing tasks, milestones and keeps track on what happens there.
  • Highrise manages all your contacts like partners, participants or members of the organisation.
  • Backpack is a documentation tool and Campfire a group chat. The advantage is the connection between them. On the other hand the complete package is quite expensive (more than 50$ / month). There are free versions for small teams and single projects.
  • The Berlin Startup 6Wunderkinderstartet recently the web tool Wunderkit which is useful for smaller projects and the work in different project teams.
  • If the team works more with classical methods non-web-based tools like MS Project or Merlinare a good choice. They offer Gant-Charts, Netplans and the allocation of project resources. Great for detailed planers and stable project which don’t change so much. Merlin can be also used in small teams in a network.
  • Agile PM tools like JIRA or for methods like SCRUM are based on software development and in many cased not so useful for NGOs. Even so it’s good to take a look on them.

Besides PM tools and communication and collaboration tools like Skype there is one area often forgotten by NGOs – knowledge management. Thinking in projects and more short term than long term, knowledge is often connected to persons rather than the organisation. Many tools like Basecamp give a first help since they track and document everything.

For many NGOs such an Intranet should be easy to use so volunteers and employers can share their knowledge. A good solution is to set up a Wiki like Mediawiki It’s the same technology which is used for Wikipedia and so familiar to many users and it’s free for use. There are a lot of professional software plattforms, mainly made for corporate use. One example which fit to some middle sized NGOs is Confluence The professional software is easier to use, but maybe too expensive for smaller NGOs.

You think your favorite tool is missing in this list? Just add it in a comment.

Online team coordination in different time zones – not a problem!

When you work with different people from all over the globe on one project, finding a date for a Skype meeting can be quite challenging.

Even small time differences matter if you work in Europe. Sitting in Brussels working together with two colleagues from Oslo and Sofia? You are already dealing with three time zones! Worldtimebuddy has helped us many times finding the right time to meet online. Give it a try.

Check out more online tools for you and your team under Online Tools section. And let us know in the comment bellow if you have some tips!

First published at the NO LABEL PROJECT website.

Secret voting in organizations online

Vote. Online. Secretly.

Many of us know and using online decision tools like Doodle in teams, working groups or the whole organization. We are collaborating and communication online. Our NGO structures get more and more digitalized. But there are still things we need to do “offline”. On the things is secret voting. Still there are even countries like Estonia which are using Internet voting for their national elections. So why shouldn’t we be able to use it for our organizations?
The main question is how do you define a secret vote over the Internet. The principles from a secret paper vote are  that you need to:
  • separate the identification and the actual casting of votes,
  • make it difficult to influence the system by changing casted votes / connecting votes to people and
  • design the system in a way that it’s possible to monitor it easily.
The third point is not possible in digital voting in general, so we have to live with a system we need to trust without really being able to check what is going on there. Using Open Source software helps at least a bit because it shows some of the processes. But the first and second aspects are possible to implement. And that’s what a system should have.
At the moment there are only crappy, expensive tools where you can’t be sure about secrecy or security. Crappy in the way of user interface and guidance as well as not transparent. Nothing I would recommend to use because it’s not clear how they are working and it’s not sure if there approach is secure. And here is my point: If you really want to use such a software, you need to use one where you have at least some trust in the secrecy of the voting process. Otherwise you should make a transparent voting process. Because there is no half-secret voting.
As you can see this is an opening for innovation and new tools. Please write me if you know about a tool which can be used for secret online voting in NGO or  if you are interested to develop one.
First published on nolabelproject.org.