Reflections on #Mozfest 2014

November 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

From 24th to 26th October, I participated in my first ever Mozilla festival. With 11 tracks ranging from  Build and Teach the Web, to Community Building, and numerous parallel sessions and activities, it was quite difficult deciding where to be at any one time. Like most of the other tech events I had attended this year, the message that the web offers tremendous potential resonated deeply in all the presentations and keynotes.

However, I was also very much interested in other discussions which interrogate the ‘other sides’ of this hype. Hence, I decided to participate in the sessions on how Mozilla is championing the privacy policy and advocacy movement, as well as those run by Web We Want and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). As I thought, the Souce Code for Journalism sessions were also quite enlightening and I’m glad I stopped by those as well. Some of the topics that stood out for me are:


The Web We Want wall at the event. Photo credit: Mozilla in Europe

Digital rights

The work being done in advancing this area is outstanding. Mention can be made of the Web We Want and EFF’s latest campaigns as well as the iRights platform being championed by Baroness Beeban Kidron which advocates for young people to have access to security and privacy on the web.

Though I have participated in a number of discussions where the issue of surveillance and privacy on the web  was on the agenda, this was my first time where I had the opportunity to listen to first-hand accounts from  people who have had a personal experience of one form or the other, either by being affected themselves , or working with or supporting those who do. Though it was obvious that quite a few of us were out of our depths with regard to the practicalities of how to support ‘victim’s’ of internet surveillance, it is good to consider that there is a whole spectrum of needs and corresponding support to give (for example financial, technical and moral support), so it was concluded that each of us can and should play a part.


Baroness Kidron

Baroness Kidron delivering her keynote. Photo credit: Mozilla in Europe

Also, my sense is that there are quite a number of us who agree with Baroness Kidron that the web has not delivered on its promise of  fairness and equality for all. And while we recognise that the (promising) future of the web which advances these ideals needs to be actively campaigned for, we might not identify strictly as activists and this can affect the stake we perceive as having in this space.

Closely related to this is the idea that  promoting web literacy for all is crucial to securing privacy and security on the web. This requires a more than basic understanding of how surveillance works, the philosophy behind it and the tools (mostly technological but also very much policy-related) that are available to help circumvent them. The session jointly organised by Privacy International (PI), EFF and Access, as well as the one on  Do Not Track by Justin Brookman were therefore particularly useful in expanding our knowledge of what surveillance is, in my opinion.

Data: open and inclusive

The idea that data is not end in itself but is a tool that must be harnessed towards effective change was yet again advanced at Mozfest 2014. In particular, in one of the sessions in the Source Code for Journalism track led by Laurenellen McCann, we explored first and foremost what open data means and looks like in different contexts. But more importantly, we discussed what it means to have a community involvement in open data, and if it’s at all possible or practical to have community-driven strategies. And finally, we discussed ideas around digital inclusion and what it would take to make open data more inclusive than it currently is.

Other discussions in the space identified that sometimes and in certain contexts, open data is just a box to be ticked. However,  open data systems must be truly open (according to the open definition), and must also be consistently updated with the necessary data sets. That said, consideration must be given to users who come from different contexts with different needs and capacities- so inclusiveness must be balanced with openness.


Both opening and closing fairs featured many innovative ideas and products. Photo credit: Mozilla in Europe

Things to watch out for

We all have our individual takeaways from Mozfest 2014, but for me some of the things that sound exciting and which I would be looking out for include the Privacy 101 platform which is to be launched by PI by close of the year. Privacy 101 will make available all the wealth of information and resources generated so far by PI (and its partners) from various activities across the world.

I will also be watching out for Mozilla’s work exploring specific potential tech solutions that promote privacy protection. For example, these (solutions) will be built into the browser, and which more importantly does not optimize usability over privacy and vice versa. I will also be looking to support the Mozilla Advocacy platform to engineer potential community-driven policy solutions to internet tracking.

And finally, one of the items we worked on was a transparency code for data journalism. The intended output is a manifesto (of sorts) with a set of principles to guide news organisations on how to be transparent about their data projects. I made the case that at the minimum, the principles should have considerations for data privacy and inclusiveness, and I look forward to seeing how this is done.

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