On 21 May 2019, EDRi observer La Quadrature du Net, along with 70 other organisations, including some EDRi members, sent a letter asking the French government and members of the Parliament to force web giants (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter…) to be interoperable with other online services. The purpose is to allow users of these platforms to leave them for other services, while still being able to communicate with people that decided to stay on it – as, for example, this is already the case with emails, with which people are able to communicate regardless of whether they use different email providers like Protonmail, Gmail or RiseUp.
The letter coincides with the French Parliament preparing to vote on a law requiring online platforms to remove hate speech 24 hours after having received a notification. In case they repeatedly fail to do so, a French administration would have the power to impose a fine up to 4 % of their global revenue.
Criticising the dangers of censorship and centralisation of the internet that could result from such a law, the signatories of the open letter recommend that the Parliament does not address the symptoms but the causes of the dissemination of hate speech. One of the causes is the structure and the business model of these platforms that promotes and facilitates the dissemination of hate speech. As the platforms are built on the “attention economy”, it is in their interest to host as much of any kind of engaging content as possible.
The letter explains that forcing web’s giants to become interoperable, based on open standards, would allow people that are “captives” of these platforms to escape them. They would be able to join other services that are more respectful of users’ personal data and freedoms, and not making profits on surveillance and targeted advertising. Outside of these platforms, millions of people are already united across interoperable services such as Mastodon, Diaspora, and PeerTube — notably through ActivityPub, an interoperability protocol published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 2018.
The proposition has been well received by experts, journalists, and some members of the French Parliament. Laetitia Avia, the rapporteur of this law, however, has refused to support it, preferring to promote the solution of fast removal of contents. The French government has also rejected the idea of interoperability presented in the letter, stating that it’s “excessively aggressive for the business model of large platforms”, and refusing to see the connection with hate speech. Nevertheless, as some members of the Parliament have proposed amendments on interoperability, the next session in Parliament on 3 July will clarify the results of this first campaign.
Should the Parliament reject the idea, La Quadrature du Net will, together with the signatories of the open-letter, continue to promote the idea of interoperability, in France and at a European level, with the help of EDRi members. It’s urgent to give everyone the ability to escape from the surveillance and toxicity of these giant platforms and to join free, decentralised and human-scale services — without losing their social links by doing so.
The open letter remains open for signatures from organisations and companies. Individuals are strongly encouraged to spread and promote it widely. To sign the letter, please write at email@example.com, with the email subject “Signing interoperability letter”, and noting the name of your organisation in the email.
La Quadrature du Net
For the interoperability of the web’s giants: An open letter from 70 organisations (14.06.2019)
French online hate speech bill aims to wipe out racist trolling (29.06.2019)
Report to strengthen the fight against racism and antisemitism online (only in French, 28.09.2018)
Imposing interoperability on platforms? Doubts and prudence of Cédric O (only in French, 05.06.2019)
(Contribution by EDRi observer La Quadrature du Net, France)