Ensuring An Open Mobile Web

mitchell-baker

Today, smartphones are taking over. Soon, smart devices will be everywhere. We’ll have computing power in a range of artifacts we can barely imagine as being “smart.” Data will move around us, about us, and before us, figuring out what we’re trying to do and being smart about helping us.

Mitchell Baker is Executive Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation

This could happen in the way the World Wide Web originally developed — open, unowned, distributed, with many making their own decisions. Or it could happen in a highly-centralized way, where a handful of winners control the network, the data, the devices, and the kinds of opportunities that are available for the rest of us.

We’ve seen this sort of setting before. A decade ago, the browser had become part of Windows, and it was generally accepted that access to the Internet would flow through Microsoft. We managed to change that. Firefox gave consumers and industry experts a glimpse into a future that could be different. Once that happened, millions of people helped shift the trajectory of the Internet.

In the mobile space today we see the same tendency towards centralization and ownership by a few. Openness, innovation and the scope of opportunity are increasingly determined by a few players. This is not unusual — it’s common for infrastructure to become highly centralized. The bigger it gets, the more centralized it must be, and the more centralized it gets, the more one has to get permission from a central authority to be able to do anything.

The Web Has Fostered Boundless Innovation

The Internet and the World Wide Web were designed as a rare exception to this centralized approach. It was designed to have no center and to enable people everywhere to make decisions. Individuals and small businesses can create opportunities and try things for themselves without needing to ask large centralized authorities for permission. Anyone can reach everyone. As a result, the Web has fostered boundless innovation from many different places.

This is changing.

The promise of mobile computing and smart devices everywhere is astonishing. However, these platforms are more closed and more centralized technologies than we’ve seen in decades. The device that you choose will determine your online experience: the software and content available to you, the payment systems you use, the places your data is stored, the data you can access, and the identity you present to the world. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are only able to innovate within the frameworks determined by larger businesses. One can only act as permission is granted by the gatekeepers. It’s easy to imagine a world managed by a few powerful interests.

This is not the right path, especially when we consider the progress that has been made to make the Internet more accessible. Never before has the world been so connected: mobile broadband and low-cost smartphones and tablets are bringing new opportunities to billions of people. We must make sure these newly-connected people experience the true equalizing power and vast opportunity the Internet and the World Wide Web make possible.

In 2013, Mozilla took steps to break open the world of native operating systems and closed platforms through the release of Firefox OS for entry-level smartphones. Our goal is to demonstrate that the open ecosystem of the Web offers a level playing field for business and unparalleled opportunities for all in the mobile world.

A World In Which Everyone Contributes

As is always the case at Mozilla, a very large community made this happen, including Mozillian volunteers, operators and device partners who all shared our vision. We have many people to thank for contributing significantly to the idea that the Internet and mobile technology can help society in very meaningful ways.

However, making sure the last unconnected person in this world gets a smartphone isn’t our ultimate goal. Firefox OS has set the stage for something even bigger. It allows anyone to build on the Web what he or she imagines, leading us to a world in which everyone contributes on a shared global network.
The intense degree of interest and support across the mobile ecosystem for Firefox OS shows us there is an incredible appetite for an open mobile ecosystem. It lowers the barrier for innovative devices and services and can provide more customized and enriching customer experiences. Giving control to a global community encourages openness and inclusion.

Of course, changing this trajectory may feel daring to many — just as it did 10 years ago. But we should be able to have great technology, exciting products, great user experiences, and innovation and ensure freedom of opportunity as well.

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