IGF 2019 WS #183 Leaving Hotel California: open source vs the Internet giants

Organizer 1: Vittorio Bertola, Open-Xchange
Organizer 2: Astor Nummelin Carlberg, OpenForum Europe
Organizer 3: Monika Ermert, Freelance (Journalist)

Speaker 1: Amelia Andersdotter, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Francesca Bria, Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Rafael Laguna de la Vera, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Stefano Quintarelli, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Policy Question(s): 

1. Is really the current dominance by a few Internet giants, and the concentration of power, wealth and data in their hands, a major factor in preventing proper data governance and fair access to data, and a more geographically balanced development of the Internet industry?
2. Would alternatives to the current Internet platforms designed and provided by the European and global open source community actually provide the opportunity for such data governance, data access and economic development?
3. Why have such alternatives not emerged, or even failed, until now? Is this connected to lack of demand by users, or which other factors come into play? Is this also connected to the public policies that have been adopted?
4. Should public policies support attempts to build such alternatives, and how? (regulation, coordination, funding...)
5. Should the multi-stakeholder community support these attempts, and how? Would a Dynamic Coalition be useful?

Relevance to Theme: A great part of the Internet today, especially in terms of services for the average user, is a digital Hotel California; no matter how hard you try, it is almost impossible to live without using any product by any of the dominant Silicon Valley/West Coast giants, and this creates an immense concentration of wealth and power in a very small geographic area and in very few hands, eroding the original concept of an open, federated, decentralized Internet.

This also generates an immense concentration of personal information and of artificial intelligence datasets, promoting surveillance capitalism as the economic model for the future development of the information society, and hampering privacy, rights and opportunities for the rest of us, including economic development through innovation and data-based products and services. Thus, any attempt to build proper data governance frameworks and to bring fairness and globalize opportunities in the data-driven economy cannot avoid the issue of the increasing centralization of the Internet.

Free/libre/open source software and open standards are the cornerstones over which most consumer Internet products, and even the Internet itself, are built; but they are often being used by the big platforms to create products that lack interoperability, preventing easy, real-time access to data by other similar products, and making competition impossible by exploiting critical mass effects and closing users into silos. Thus, until now, attempts to provide open alternatives and to "free" the users and their data have had very limited success.

The session will validate or deny this analysis, and discuss which policies could be adopted to address the problem of the centralization of the Internet by fostering the growth of globally distributed alternatives to the current dominant platforms.

Relevance to Internet Governance: The session discusses issues connected to the current status of the Internet and will focus on examining possible actions and policies by all stakeholders to address the problem described.


Panel - Auditorium - 60 Min

Description: See point 6 for a description of the premises and topics of the session, and point 5 for the questions that will be addressed by the panelists. We would like to start the session with a report from the day 0 event that we are also proposing, and submit that report to the comments of the panelists as well; the report should also include a set of policy/action proposals. After a round of interventions by the panelists, we would like to encourage comments and questions from the audience (offline and online) and only resort to the panelists again if there is not enough participation. We will have a specialized journalist moderating the panel and other people moderating the audience. We hope to get rough consensus among participants on at least some of the proposed actions/policies, so that they can then be incorporated by the rapporteur in the result of the session.

Expected Outcomes: A summary of the discussion and a set of actions/policies on whose usefulness there is rough consensus, for further distribution to all relevant stakeholders. We hope that the session, and the companion side event, will help in building relationships and alliances, and could possibly give way to a new Dynamic Coalition.

Onsite Moderator: 

Monika Ermert, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator: 

Vittorio Bertola, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Vittorio Bertola, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Discussion Facilitation: 

We plan to advertise the session heavily through our contacts in the European civil society and digital rights groups and in the open source industry and community; among the organizers, OpenForum Europe is a very well known and connected open source think tank in Brussels, working in strict partnership with the Free Software Foundation Europe and networks such as EDRi, while Open-Xchange is one of the main open source companies in Europe and can involve the private sector and the media; we are also going to exploit our panelists to include, for example, parliamentarians from several countries (the side event will be instrumental in this, as it will allow us to invite more people to speak). We also plan to receive coverage in the main technical news media in Europe, such as the Heise (where our moderator writes regularly).

Online Participation: 

We know it exists, but we would like to have access to it to understand better its features and make good use of them to involve participants. If the platform has all the necessary features, we would rather concentrate our online interactions there and not use other platforms.


GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions