Friday, October 20, 2017

Open Policy + Advocacy at MozFest 2017

It's been a difficult year. Hacks, breaches, foreign interference in national elections, nationalism and racism rearing their ugly heads on the global stage, just to name a few challenges. And while MozFest doesn't try to solve all of these problems, we are focusing this year's Policy and Advocacy related sessions on building a better digital future for all.

In previous years the MozFest "spaces" have been organized around programmatic areas of work that Mozilla and our partners focused on. This year, we've organized around our Internet Health Issues. This means the Policy and Advocacy sessions will be interspersed throughout the building. The team has a great new scheduling app to help guide you through the week; to find the Open Policy & Advocacy sessions, click on the three lines on the lower right which pops up all the spaces and tracks:

Don't forget to click "apply" in the upper right, or it won't filter properly!



  • Decentralization and Dignity against Digital Colonialism: a debate with the World Wide Web Foundation and others about control and freedom not of the individual, but of entire populations and regions by tech companies.
  • Just Numbers: a workshop with the ACLU and others to introduce how police and law enforcement collects data from citizens through surveillance equipment, followed by a discussion on how to analyze open records and government datasets. 
  • Mozilla -- A role model for modern diplomacy: a discussion with Open Labs Hackerspace about how technology affects diplomacy and policy-making around the world.
  • Where did the internet go? Fighting shutdowns around School Exams: A discussion with Access Now about governments who use school exams as a pretext for clamping down on free expression to block, filter, jam or other wise obstruct access to the internet.
  • Will the Open Internet Survive?: a conversation with tech policy experts about different approaches to net neutrality legislation in the US, EU, India, and Brazil.
  • The Big Open -- Joining Forces on the Quest for the Free and Open: A mapping session with Wikimedia, Creative Commons, and Mozilla to show where our communities are joining forces, and where the opportunities still exist.


  • Defiance in the Digital Age: a hands-on session to explore creative approaches to social justice advocacy under oppressive societies in unique cultural contexts, and the role of digital platforms in forging these efforts.
  • Enforcing Net Neutrality Around the World: a discussion with experts representing Europe, the US, West Africa, South Asia, and Latin America about how net neutrality laws are  protected and enforced in practice.
  • Internet Shutdown in The Gambia: a conversation with the Give1Project about the economic and social impacts of internet and telecommunications shutdown, and the human rights violations associated with cutting access to information and communications.
  • Open Ears for Open Access: a discussion with SPARC to celebrate global Open Access Week, the Open Access movement, and issues around inclusion, access, and equity in scholarship and academia.


  •  Copyright on data?!?! Whiskey Foxtrot Tango?!: a talk with Wikimedia and friends about how the current EU copyright reform proposes to limit access to data, and a brainstorm about possible future actions to counter this proposal.
  • Copyright Battle: a role-play session with real tug-of-war! to show the current state of the EU copyright reform proposal, and the various stakeholders.
  • Solving the Social Challenges of Artificial Intelligence: Where do we go from here?: A roundtable discussion with Tech Policy Fellows about how AI systems are impacting our day-to-day, where the AI field is headed, and how we can support this conversation worldwide.
  • // Visualising Human Rights: a hands-on session using a dataset from The Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies to where participants will learn to analyze and create data visualization products that can be used in future advocacy work.
  • Bath bombs and digital rights: a conversation about the collaboration with Access Now and Lush, and how they created the Error 404 bath bomb to amplify the #KeepItOn campaign and raised money to support grassroots digital rights organizations around the world.


  • Blocked! How (and why) to check which websites your ISP is blocking: a hands-on workshop looking at Open Rights Group's website with a discussion about why websites might be blocked, and how to report incorrect blocks to ISPs.
  • Information and Consent: how do we create real data control?: a discussion with data science experts about the challenges citizens have to control the sharing of their personal data within existing data protection laws. 
  • The Right to Privacy in India: A Look at Digital Identification and Aadhaar: a panel with leaders that shines light on the implications of the Right to Privacy judgement on the Aadhaar project, and where the welfare of 1.2 billion citizens goes from here.
  • Our Data Bodies: a conversation with Our Data Bodies exploring how data-driven systems impact the ability of marginalized communities to access basic human needs, and how those communities have been responding.
  •  Towards a Pan-African Culture of Freedom of Expression Online: a discussion with Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Digital Freedom Fund, and Web Foundation about freedom of expression online in Africa.
  • Data in politics: why privacy matters for free and fair elections: an exploration of hard and soft regulations for online political advertising, privacy protections for voters, and how monitors the effect of information during elections.


  •  Tech for Good: How do we get more technologists working in the public interest?: a discussion led by experts on how to build the community of technologists working in the public interest, and how to create career paths for their work.
  • Tech Policy Fluxx: a hands-on workshop to create a game in the style of the card game Fluxx, where the rules and win conditions change as you play the cards, around internet health issues and about tech policy.


  • Threatened Voices: Activating a Database of Threats Against Digital Activists: a demo of the Threatened Voices database to teach participants how to use the data and visualization tools for research and activism.
  • Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index: a review of RDR's Corporate Accountability Index which viewed 22 of the world's most powerful telcos, internet and mobile companies.
  • Speaker Series: experts from around the world share their stories and insight into today's pressing issues. See the full list here.
  • Fringe events: this year, Mozilla Festival has a full list of sessions and activities happening during the week in the lead up to the celebratory weekend. These include:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Lean Data Practices for Civil Society Organizations

In the last few months, we've heard reports of crippling hacks of organizations that put their communities at risk. The fact is, civil society organizations (NGOs) that collect data to inform, educate, and activate communities are under attack. And this means our communities are under attack.

After listening to quite a few leaders in the civil society space, I learned that safe data collection and storage practices are rarely baked into the sense of responsibility we feel towards our communities. We know data is important, but we don't always think about how dangerous it can be to hold onto data we don't need. And we're not always thinking about our responsibility to the communities we serve from a digital security perspective.

So with Mozilla's Legal Team, I created Lean Data Practices for Civil Society Organizations, a framework for advocacy organizations to think about their data practices. In this day and age of hacks, breaches, and phishing attacks, how can we make it safe for people to join and participate in the resistance? How can we build trust and reduce risk to create a culture of safety for all?

Lean Data Practices encourage 3 main practices:
  1. Stay Lean
  2. Build in Security
  3. Engage Your Membership
More details on the website

1. Stay Lean

Staying lean starts with asking yourself, do I need this data to provide the value I’m trying to deliver to members?
  • If you don’t need a piece of data, don’t collect it.
  • If you need a piece of data, keep it for only as long as necessary and anonymize the data before you store it.
If you already have a lot of data, it's important to know what you have. There are explicit pieces of information we collect -- like names, email addresses, and zipcodes -- but did you know you might be collecting IP addresses too? How does collecting this piece of data contribute to your theory of change? And when do you delete data?

For example, at Mozilla we often delete data when we know we'll no longer need it. Email addresses that haven't interacted with content we've sent might get one reminder, but usually we delete them from our list 12 months after the last interaction. In other cases, around specific time-bound campaigns, if we've collected any information we'll often delete it within 120 days of the end of the campaign.

2. Build in Security

What protections have you put around the data you’ve collected?
  • Limit access to the data to those who truly need access.
  • Encrypt it while you’re moving it.
  • Know where you store your data and think about how best to protect that data.
At Netroots Nation, where I gave a workshop on the Lean Data Practices, I asked the participants how many people at their organizations had access to the data -- we're talking about the lists of names, email addresses, zipcodes, and other personally identifiable information (PII). In some organizations with about 30 people, ALL of the staff had access to those lists! At other organizations, even the volunteers had access to the full list of data.

But does everyone who has access to the data NEED access?
    Sometimes breaches happen. Still, it's worth having your teams -- especially those who access data -- to go through a security training to understand how to encrypt data, and how/where to escalate an issue if they notice a breach. And it's good practice to notify your membership if there is a breach -- do you have a process for sharing this information that will help your membership understand what happened, and how to protect themselves?

    What happens if a third-party vendor is breached? What responsibility do they have to share their data if subpoenaed by the government? These types of questions can also help guide what 3rd-party vendors you decide to work with in the beginning as well.

    3. Engage Your Membership

    Is the way you're collecting, using, and disclosing data clear to your members? Things like in-context notices, a privacy policy, and transparency reports can be helpful in informing your members on how you collect and use data. Members who can choose what data to disclose, and how to control their privacy settings can be very useful towards building trust.

    This sort of trust can help build and foster long-lasting relationships between members and organizations. Members join lists and donate to causes because they want to make a positive change in the world. Showing them that you're respecting their privacy while letting them contribute to a better world creates a wonderful, symbiotic relationship.


    Putting Lean Data into Practice

    If you have a lot of data, it's easy to get overwhelmed about where to start. It might help to choose one person on your team to focus on this for a little while -- a Data Steward. You can dive into the details a little more at the Lean Data Practices website. But maybe most importantly, have a discussion with your team about your responsibility to your members and communities, and make that a priority too.

    Tuesday, October 4, 2016

    We’re connecting the unconnected; but what are we connecting them to?

    We know Africa has a connectivity challenge. Internet penetration stands at 28%, while the world average is closer to 50 percent. When we factor in gender the difference in accessibility is stark, with women being nearly 50% less likely than men to be online. Once online, women rarely use the internet to its full potential: although 97% of female internet users connect via social media, only 21% access critical information about health, legal rights, and transportation.

    Many smart people are working to discover why, and building programs to close the digital divide between genders. But as we connect the unconnected, I wonder, what are we connecting them to?

    So I spent 2 weeks on a “listen & learn” journey through Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana, culminating in the Africa Summit for Women and Girls in Technology. I wanted to learn more about the internet issues people face on the ground once they’re connected. What’s being done about them? How do these communities engage with one another to take action?

    Internet Cafe in Addis Ababa Airport

    What sort of Internet are they connecting to?

    Internet Shutdowns  
    Recently African governments have started shutting down the internet and telecommunications during elections, citing “National Security.”  Earlier this year Ugandan officials shut off the internet, and in the process denied hundreds of thousand of people from accessing their hard-earned money. People couldn’t top-up their pre-paid utilities accounts, leaving many in the dark for days. Many lost trust in a tool that a government regulator could turn on and off at a whim. For women, who are already less likely to be vocal about political processes or connected to the internet, egregious acts like this further mute their voices and erase them from society.

    Hildah and Simeon work at Jamlab in Nairobi, a hubspace for aspiring techies. They’re pretty sure that Kenyan officials will shut down the internet during their general elections next year. “Politics is a business here,” said Simeon with a resigned smile. “If people organize and communicate at critical times like these, it affects their business.”

    Local Content
    Loads of local online content is written by men who may not be writing about topics women care about or relate to. Job-searching tactics, sexual reproductive information, and tips for growing your small business are different for the genders, and having this information provided by women for women could be powerful. The internet can be a wonderful platform for resource sharing and community building, but women aren’t participating for various reasons, including lack of digital skills. Women also leveraging the power of the internet to grow their businesses.

    To address this, various governments, civil society organizations, and public-private partnerships are building programs to up-level digital skills for women. Mozilla Clubs for Women and Girls, a partnership with Mozilla Foundation and UN Women, is one of these programs with real results to share: 9 months after the initial training, women who had participated in the training had a 20% increase in income. Continuing to promote women’s voices and knowledge online is vital to supporting and sharing information with half of our world’s population.

     Investment, training, and programs to support women get online has shown positive results, but many of these programs are short lived and small in scope. The constant turnover of programs -- teaching styles, content, instructors -- has left a few with discombobulated skills that are hard to build upon. Moreover, the lack of long-term planning and program design that connects these women and girls with real employment choices means lost opportunities.

    Dorothy Gordon from the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT challenged participants at the Africa Summit to think bigger, and longer term. There’s a lot of investment to run gender-focused training programs for women and girls. Studies show that these are impactful, but the longitudinal benefits in this region based on current interventions are yet to be seen. Even within the start-up scene -- a nascent yet vibrant sector -- scale is scarce, and the infrastructure that builds for long-term success is not visible. Surprisingly, TelCos are big players in the start-up scene, but instead of supporting a burgeoning informal industry, they buy up successful initiatives for themselves.

    So what can we do?
    I asked around about effective advocacy tactics, assuming that online petitions aren’t the best way to get people engaged in these regions. It turns out that Twitter is huge. Like REALLY huge. Earlier this year in Kenya, people took to Twitter using #KoffiKick to deport a popular Congolese musician after he was seen kicking one of his female dancers. Citizens tweeted directly at members of parliament, and within hours of the incident going viral, the musician was deported to Kinshasa.

    To protest a bill regulating ICT professionals in Kenya, people again took to tweeting at members of parliament, this time using #KillTheICTBill. Many in the ICT sector took to various social media platforms to voice their concerns and point out the absurdity of regulating an industry built on “disruption.” Within a month, the bill was rejected on the voting floor.

    It’s not only in Kenya that Twitter is powerful; in Nigeria the Alliance for Affordable Internet launched a campaign against the Communication Service Tax, a tax on cellphone users. Infographics were shared, a petition went up on, and users across the country tweeted #NoToCommServiceTax to their MPs. The outcome wasn’t exactly what they’d hoped for -- the tax fell from 9% to 5% -- and the struggle continues.

    Radio is also a very active and effective means of communication across parts of Africa, and can reach people who might not be online. But it’s still “pay to play,” cutting out those voices that are often the least heard. Around election time, radio is often used by politicians who, according to some people I met, create an “us versus them” rhetoric, pulling on tribal allegiances that otherwise aren’t present. This is where, I think, engaging the diaspora across Europe, North America, and beyond could be powerful. I was humbled to remember that many Africans are multilingual -- they might speak English and/or French in addition to their local languages. And to reach them in a way that honors their linguistic heritage and makes sense, we can and should engage the diaspora.

    Current State of Play
    Open internet issues are often considered partisan, political issues and not rights; the conversation around rights, understandably, is often about access to food, water, and shelter. What often makes this more complicated is that there are various intergovernmental coalitions that make policy decisions: Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU), International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to name a few. A journalist I met mentioned that some governments are more susceptible to decisions made by larger, more international bodies -- like the ITU -- rather than regional coalitions, like the AU, even though the decisions of the regional coalitions are better reflective of the local realities.

    To deal with these local issues, the women at The Africa Summit for Women and Girls in Technology put out a call for activists to build this movement -- to connect the unconnected women and girls, the lower barriers, and to create a more equitable internet. They called for more and better research around usage, disaggregated by gender. They explained that money isn’t the issue here, but rather the lack of a gender-focused lens on policy issues. Finally, they called for more female role models to stand up and help the next generation of women be more confident in themselves, in the value they have for society, and to build a better internet.

    Friday, October 23, 2015

    Digital Citizenship at MozFest

    When we talk about reading, writing, and participating on the Web we often forget that not everyone can participate in the same way, and that not everyone is safe. Even today, many people's access and level of participation is limited not only by their technical abilities, but also restricted by external forces like government surveillance, censorship, harassment or bullying, and exclusionary cultural traditions that bleed into online life.

    At Mozilla we believe in a world where everyone is connected, and at MozFest we'll explore real-life experiences of online censorship, what people are doing about it, and how you can teach others to protect themselves. And there's an urgency that surrounds this: every day, governments are enacting laws that make it harder for people to access the cornucopia of information online, and to do so anonymously.

    For example, Iran.

    Internet censorship in Iran has increased in recent years, leading to the creation of The Supreme Council of Virtual Space. This body is tasked with controlling accessible content by blocking certain sites -- including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook -- and meting out harsh consequences like harassment and imprisonment for online activity. One of our MozFest facilitators will bring his work on network measurement in Iran, and build strategies with participants for sharing this information with the world.

    Also, Mexico.

    A working session will look at the Mexican government's censorship of Twitter campaigns by unleashing bots to override certain hashtags and users. Specifically, we'll look at the Ayotzinapa tragedy from September 2014 when 43 student teachers were abducted and killed by local authorities, and how the government throttled subsequent protests. We'll learn how to detect bot attacks using Gephi, how to combat attacks and maintain Twitter trends, and start scoping a new "antibot" tool together. [UPDATE]: We are sorry to say this session will not be taking place, as the facilitator is receiving death-threats tied to this work.

    Internet Policy Discussions

    We'll also look at critical Internet policy issues -- net neutrality, cybersecurity, copyright reform, and more -- and ask participants to help Mozilla better understand the realities in your countries. Dino's Den, a session designed like Dragon's Den (global) or Shark Tank (U.S.), will encourage participants to share what policy issues Mozilla should care about and how. More advocacy focused sessions can take ideas from Dino's Den and design strategies for building communities for digital campaigning. We'll analyze our earlier net neutrality campaign with the Indian community, and see how we can replicate this collaboration by bringing together Advocacy Task Forces in other regions. Come learn how you can participate.

    Fighting the Trolls

    It's also imperative to discuss personal online security and respect. We've seen how many individuals -- especially women and LGBTQ members -- have been targets of horrendous online assaults in recent years. At MozFest, the Tools for Travelers on the Dark Side of the Internet session -- facilitated by experts who've experienced online harassment -- will look at trolling and cyberbullying, and talk about tools to protect ourselves, tips on how to recognize trolls, and strategies to teach others about being respectful online. To raise awareness about the damaging effects of cyberbullying -- depression, suicide, and other mental health issues -- we'll have Depressed Cakes pop-up stands with gray cupcakes and other gray baked goods. We ask partakers to make a donation for the baked goods, 100% of which will go to MIND, a UK mental health charity.

    Join us!

    These are just a few highlights from 25 Digital Citizenship sessions at MozFest. Others include Privacy Lab where you can get answers to your privacy questions, Be Torrific! where you'll learn how Tor promotes the freedom expression, to use Tor -- and to run your own relay if you'd like --,  Your Digital Footprint where you'll learn more about online tracking, and more. Come meet like-minded activists, legal experts, and practitioners to protect the open Web as a global public resource.

    R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Sessions focused on the experiences of people marginalized online. We'll look at gender equality, human rights abuses, government surveillance, and other issues affecting online participation.

    Building a Crowd: Sessions focused on mobilizing people to protect the open Internet. We'll look at strategies for growing our advocacy community, and tools that help people lend their voice to protest.

    Don't Feed the Trolls: Sessions focused on cyberbullying and online harassment. We'll look at ways to protect yourself and your family, and design tools for better protection.

    Backdoors + Cryptowars: Sessions focused on using tech tools to protect our freedom of expression. We'll play with features in Firefox 42, discover ways to teach others about Tor, and design privacy tools we want.

    What's Your Policy?: Sessions focused on Internet policies worldwide. We'll learn about Mozilla's stance on certain issues, and talk about how to engage the community in a meaningful way.

    See you in London!

    Friday, September 18, 2015

    Mozilla Movement Building: Strategies for Global Awareness

    As Mozilla Foundation dives into strategic planning for movement building, Mark Surman asks how Mozilla can help the soon-to-be 5 billion online users to understand how the web works and how to wield it. Part of this is involves structuring our services to be more internationally and globally sensitive. 

    As a global organization, Mozilla has a number of international collaborators. Some are people we’ve engaged over the years -- like Webmaker mentors, Mozilla Reps, localization contributors -- and others are allies in the digital teaching and advocacy fields -- like our Hive partners and the net neutrality coalition organizations.  To effectively structure our services to be welcoming and accessible to all of our friends, I think we first should think about the world view we want others to share, and how we can do that.  

    We’re awesome at: designing teaching materials, organizing events, convening people, and training them. Building off of our face-to-face meetings with community members and allied organizations, we can continue meaningful communication via Vidyo meetings, Discourse, and other channels. 

    Given an understanding of what already have (community and software) and do (teach, mobilize), as an organization we could be more effective at helping others if we consider:

    Awareness and precision about our language
    While we may never understand all the cultural nuances and idiosyncrasies of the communities with which we engage, we need to be more deliberate with our words.

    Example 1: In the UK and Europe, “advocacy” means lobbying rather than grassroots engagement or increasing public support. In effect, our Advocacy Team is perceived as a team that works to influence the votes and actions of public officials and legislators -- at best, confusing, at worst, alienating potential partners.

    Example 2: Love Bombs -- our way of showing appreciation and recognition to Maker Party contributors. This terminology was problematic in Colombia, with its history of civil war and inner-city bombings. We were asked to supply certificates of participation recognition instead, which was an easy fix.

    Sensitivity around activism
    In many countries, being an activist and standing up to the government or a powerful corporation is not only uncomfortable, it can be downright dangerous. This extends to social media presence. When we ask our community members to sign a petition or to teach people about the dangers of online surveillance, we should keep in mind that sometimes we are asking them to engage in high-risk activities.

    Example 1: We have a potential MozFest participant who is hesitant to join us because he works to measure network security in Iran, and use the data to call out the government on their nefarious surveillance measures. He is worried that a representative of his government could see a photo of him social media or learn about his work, and effectively blacklist him from visiting his home country.

    Example 2: An ally of ours in Mexico works to surface online censorship strategies used by the government to target protesters. Last year, 43 student teachers were presumed kidnapped and killed due to their stance against the Mayor’s wife’s corrupt activities. The government had followed Twitter conversations to find the students, and blocked information regarding safe routes out of inner-city protests. Our ally has already been Doxxed and received death-threats for his work, and while he has no desire to stop calling out the government, he is hesitant to host campaign materials on his servers in case those get attacked.

    Understand that local Mozilla communities are not divorced from local society
    A few of our Mozilla communities have very different societal structures from the ones many of us live in and understand. We expect all Mozilla Communities share our mission to promoting openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web, but we are not asking individuals to treat each other in any certain way -- nor should we.

    Example: In recent years, our communities in India and Bangladesh have struggled to collaborate internally partially because of their histories with caste systems. We have a Rep who came from a lower-caste and became a successful Red Hat engineer. He’s struggled to work with his community because he is not their idea of a leader.

    A nuanced view of Internet Policy + Advocacy issues
    If Internet Policy + Advocacy is going to be a focus of our work, we should keep in mind that not all campaigns or bills are binary, and that sometimes a preceding big educational campaign could be critical to both changing the details of a bill and a successful petition.

    Example: In Mexico there is a bill for net neutrality with parameters around protecting net neutrality that are quite good. However, within the bill there are 2 abhorrent sub-laws discussing data retention and collecting geolocation information. To say “we support this bill” means saying we support these two sub-laws as well; to say we don’t means we don’t support the net neutrality clauses.

    What we could do/are doing for our communities:
    Our communities need teaching kits, media resources, access to repos of open source tools, and localization of these resources. This means the language we use when creating them has to be simple and clear. We also need a much more defined localization strategy: currently, it’s hard to find resources on (unless they’re part of the Hive network), and there’s no language support.

    Our communities respond well to face-to-face training and events; case in point, our Webmaker mentors trained under the train-the-trainer model. While these are very resource heavy for us, we should look at them as a long-term investment. If we bring people together in real time, listen to them, and help them better organize and discover roles, we can later depend on these structures from a remote location. Visiting our communities where they are could provide us with a better understanding of their realities.

    In line with training, we could look for an effective way to recognize the effort our community members are contributing. In many cultures (e.g. Latin America, India), recognition of participation can go a long way -- certificates, stamps of approval, and titles can legitimize our community members’ involvement in the eyes of their families, friends, and employers.

    Targets and measurement
    Clear benchmarks that our contributors are working towards help drive participation. If we are up-front with what we are asking of them, and if the opportunities for success and failure are transparent, community members may engage more readily, and help us measure the success of their efforts.

    Example: During the Maker Party campaign in the UK in 2013 our partners were unclear of what we were asking of them, and as such the participation was lower than we’d hoped. We were also unclear on what we were measuring -- number of Maker Party events and number of Webmaker (desktop) users -- and some of the feedback we got was about seemingly pushing our product through their networks.

    Communication / Feedback loop (software)
    Clear channels of communication with our staff, including ways to request resources and training, transparent systems of how we evaluate where to invest and why, and ways for community members to share their thoughts. We already have Discourse, and some very motivated staff members who are in constant contact with community members. For scale and global engagement, however, we need an intake system that eases communication with existing and new community members, and we need it to be systematic rather than personal. If I understand correctly, Regional Coordinators are helping to fill this gap.

    Mozilla is unique in its structure and mission. By gaining a more sensitive approach to leveraging our community, we become more effective at helping others stand up. And with a better understanding of different realities, we can help many more millions shape the Internet they want and need.

    Friday, June 5, 2015

    Identifying Leaders: The 2015 Cohort of Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows and How We Found Them

    In October of 2014, Mozilla set out to find six Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows -- emerging tech leaders who would lend an expert perspective to civil society organizations working in the Internet policy world. Since this was the first year of the program, the team did not anticipate a significant amount of interest at the outset -- but by the time I joined in January 2015, we’d received more than 550 applications from 87 countries. People around the world were eager to work on policy issues that threaten an open Web -- net neutrality, privacy, security, mass surveillance, and more -- and to protect the open Internet.

    This talented group found our program through websites dedicated to promoting scholarship and leadership opportunities, from partner organizations who spread the word through social media and tech events, and through Mozilla communities around the world. From the 553 applications, the most highly represented countries were:
    1. USA (109)
    2. Nigeria (62)
    3. India (56)

    Regionally, we received applications in the following breakdown:
    • Sub-Saharan Africa: 28%
    • North America: 22%
    • Asia: 16%
    • Middle East & North Africa: 15%
    • Europe: 13%
    • South America: 6%

    We were enthused by the high interest from Sub-Saharan Africa, and attribute this to our presence on a career website. We were also surprised by the lack of applications from Oceania. This information will help guide our call for applications for next year’s cohort, as we work to have more opportunities in different regions, and attract candidates from everywhere.

    The Review Process
    The review team -- a group of Mozillians including policy experts and leaders of communities -- “met” impressive people by reading applications from people around the world who were passionate about protecting data and better defining our online rights. They shared concerns about surveillance and privacy; they cared about improving access to an open and free Internet; and they saw education as a vital tool to promote better understanding of these issues in their communities. Over and over, we read about technologists looking for a way to use their skills for social good, and about activists who saw the value in using technology to teach, connect, and empower others.

    Word cloud from answers to “What issue areas are you most passionate about?”

    Since each host organization had different needs, we had a broad sense of the ideal skills of a Fellow. Though the candidates may not have identified as such, we were looking for Mozillians: leaders who value community participation and work to empower others; activists who view an open and trustworthy Internet as a global public resource; and technologists who shape the Web through innovation.

    Successful applications went through five rounds of review:
    1. Interest.
    Our open application -- anyone could apply -- encouraged candidates to share their passions. Those who expressed protecting the open Web as a primary interest made the first pass.

    1. Skills.
    Since the Fellows will be embedded within host organizations, getting the right skills match was a critical step. The six host organizations -- the ACLU, Amnesty International, APC, Free Press, Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge -- outlined projects they needed help on, and had ideas about the skills and personality fits for which they were looking. We used this as a guide to create a list of 80 candidates.

    1. Fit.
    The host organizations looked over the list of 80 candidates and together chose 25 semi-finalists about whom they wanted to learn more. They chose these candidates based on potential for the applicant to contribute to their projects on a technical level, and on shared values that came through in the application.

    1. Interviews (two rounds).
    The first interview -- with Mozilla -- was an opportunity for us to hear more about the aspiring candidate’s interest in becoming an Open Web Fellow. The second interview -- with the host organization and Mozilla -- was an opportunity for both the host organization and candidate to learn about each other, and determine their levels of mutual interest.

    1. Matching.
    After reviewing notes from both interviews and getting input from the host organizations, Mozilla made the Fellowship offers. This was determined both by matching the needs of the host organizations with the skills the candidates brought, and by looking at the Fellows cohort as a cohesive unit that would work and grow together.

    We’re extremely proud of the six Fellows who will lead our inaugural year. They bring a range of experiences that will be valuable not only for their host organizations, but also to each other and to those with whom they interact, including members of the larger Mozilla Advocacy Community. A successful Fellowship will include teaching and empowering this community; building tools and resources to both measure and improve people’s privacy online; and sharing information in an effective way with the general public and policymakers.

    Beyond the Fellowship
    A critical piece of affecting change is in supporting and growing the community. Our current challenge is to engage with and elevate the hundreds of other talented applicants who were not awarded a Fellowship. Mozilla is collaborating with other organizations to provide more opportunities for technologists to find employment and fellowships within civil society organizations through which they can have a positive impact on the open Internet. Along with these opportunities, important conversations about the state of Internet policy worldwide take place amongst our Mozilla Advocacy Community on Discourse, where community members share knowledge and resources to protect the open Web.

    It is our job and privilege to keep this amazing group of people involved and engaged in projects and initiatives worldwide. More importantly, we continue to learn from this community of activists and technologists -- not only about their personal interests, but also about important issues happening in local contexts.

    We invite you to join the Mozilla Advocacy Community, and add your voice to the many conversations and strategies that are helping to protect the free and open Web.

    Sunday, January 25, 2015


    Hot on the heels of the President Obama's State of the Union address, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held hearings on "Internet Freedom and Net Neutrality" and "Protecting the Internet and Consumers through Congressional Action," respectively. These hearings were a chance for representatives from online companies and civil society organizations to present their arguments to the Senate and Congress on why or why not protecting net neutrality is important, and should be overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

    The arguments on both sides are interesting and worth understanding. However, we should look at what net neutrality means in simple terms. Senator Markey from Massachusetts said it best: "Network Neutrality is just a fancy word for non-discrimination." Meaning, if you support net neutrality, you support non-discrimination. You see, net neutrality protects innovation and the small guy. And that's what we should be fighting for: the opportunity for everyone to try; this country was built on the idea of the self-made man -- the idea that people can reinvent themselves. In this day and age the Internet is a big player in that effort, what with crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo bringing in money for everything from open hardware game consoles to potato salad. Limiting access and exposure to innovative ideas can lead to a reduced investment in small ideas, no matter how seemingly ludicrous.

    At the hearings, the Vice President of Global Public Policy of seemed to be arguing against net neutrality under the FCC, saying that Congressional power over net neutrality -- where lobbying could come into play -- wouldn't hurt investments for the small guys. They're big and successful, so of course they don't want the competition that could bring.  Don't get me wrong -- I use Amazon and the services it provides save me loads of time and money; I love it for what it is, but if something better were to come along, or if/when times change and someone else comes up with an adequate response, I want that business to have the opportunity to be successful. That being said, the FCC does need to review its latest proposal and make sure their strategies for oversight are viable; there's still work to be done.

    But that's the Web I want: a non-hypocritical playing field where everyone can try; one that promotes innovation -- no matter how small the player. In talking about free Community College, Obama said, "Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt. Understand, you’ve got to earn it — you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time." And I think this applies largely to the open Web as well: this is your chance, and you've got to try. But at least the opportunity is there.