Open Letter to Steve Jobs

update 16:00: Steve Jobs answers to my open letter, see below.

Steve Jobs pointing his finger

That's rude!

Dear Steve Jobs,

Having read your Thoughts on Flash, I could not agree with you more. Flash is not the Web, and I am glad Apple seizes the opportunity of open standards to build better products for their customers.

But I am not so sure about your definition of the word Open in general. I will not argue here that it is ironic you find the Apple Store more open than Flash. I will not complain either that you like Openness so much that when you use “Open Source” Software to build your Mac operating system, you keep all the openness for yourself and don’t give it to your customers, nor to the developers whose works have been very useful to you.

I figured that writing an open letter was an appropriate way to remind you of a couple of things that you may have forgotten — maybe in good faith — about open standards.

It is true that HTML5 is an emerging open standard, and I am glad that you adopted it (well, did you really have the choice anyway?). However I have to say I am impressed in the way you succeed in saying how Apple has been doing great with open standards against Flash… while explaining Flash videos is not a problem, because Apple has implemented another video codec: H.264.

May I remind you that H.264 is not an open standard? This video codec is covered by patents, and “vendors and commercial users of products which make use of H.264/AVC are expected to pay patent licensing royalties for the patented technology” (ref). This is why Mozilla Firefox and Opera have not adopted this video codec for their HTML5 implementation, and decided to chose Theora as a sustainable and open alternative.

Free Software Foundation Europe have been raising consensus and awareness on Open Standards for some years already. I am sure we would be happy to help Apple make the good decision. So, to begin with, here is the definition:

An Open Standard refers to a format or protocol that is

  1. subject to full public assessment and use without constraints in a manner equally available to all parties;
  2. without any components or extensions that have dependencies on formats or protocols that do not meet the definition of an Open Standard themselves;
  3. free from legal or technical clauses that limit its utilisation by any party or in any business model;
  4. managed and further developed independently of any single vendor in a process open to the equal participation of competitors and third parties;
  5. available in multiple complete implementations by competing vendors, or as a complete implementation equally available to all parties.

Hugo Roy
April 2010


Steve Jobs’ email (with sources)

From: Steve Jobs
To: Hugo Roy
Subject: Re:Open letter to Steve Jobs: Thoughts on Flash
Date 30/04/2010 15:21:17

All video codecs are covered by patents. A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other “open source” codecs now. Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents. An open standard is different from being royalty free or open source.

Sent from my iPad

Since it was an open letter, I think I have the right to publish his answer.

ACTA: threats to Free Software

Today with the first public release of ACTA, the effects the international agreement will have on Free Software appear to be  dangerous for its development and its distribution. First, by extending infringements proceedings and criminal offences to a broad scope of “intellectual property” including software patents. Second, by destabilizing the most important means of distribution for Free Software, which relies on an open and neutral platform on which online services are not meant to control whether “intellectual property rights” (including patents) are infringed. Third, by strengthening the protection of Digital Restrictions Managements (DRMs) against Free Software and fair competition.

Earlier today, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Trade published the first public version of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, aka ACTA (PDF). However this document does not give the details on the negotiations, which began secretly in October 2007. I will not speak here about the political damages ACTA inflicts to the respect of democracy, nor about the disastrous effects ACTA will have directly on free speech, privacy, and the internet ecosystem’s sustainability as an open, neutral and innovative platform.

Instead, I want to focus here on the direct and indirect threats ACTA represents for Free Software, on its development, its legal viability and on its business and trade related aspects.

First, let’s set things straight. ACTA is not just about counterfeiting, it is broader than copyright. The scope of ACTA is, as defined in the public release:

intellectual property refers to all categories of intellectual property that are the subject of Sections 1 through 7 of Part II of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

This includes copyright, trademark, industrial design and patent. If this definition is clear, all along the text paragraphs refers sometimes only to copyright and trademark, and sometimes to a broader scope, depending on how the negotiations will evolve over time. In this case, we know that the threats to Free Software are multiple because of the software patents granted every year by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the licensing schemes tied with patents that are incompatible with Free Software (To know more about software patents in ACTA, read End Software Patents).

Second, ACTA is not a trade agreement. Whatever the EU negotiators claim, the fact is that ACTA goes beyond current legislations and aims at creating internationally harmonized legislations on how “intellectual property rights” should be enforced. This is one of the reason why ACTA is creating its own body (the Committee) with its own executives (the Secretariat), independently from the World Trade Organization within which international trade agreements should be negotiated, and independently from World Intellectual Property Organization within which international treaties dealing with copyright, trademark and patents are usually negotiated (and open to NGOs like FSFE). The threat to Free Software is that there is absolutely no safeguards as to how the principles of freedom and sharing software would be kept intact.

What ACTA does is creating civil enforcement procedures harming Free Software development and distribution. Indeed, this is the other side effect of the changes in judicial authorities and civil proceedings regarding “intellectual property rights.” Free Software is an important milestone of an open and neutral Internet, and the Internet itself is a core tool of how Free Software is developed (by allowing developers to contribute to code and create programs around the world) and how Free Software is distributed (with online services, including multiple protocols such as peer to peer protocols among others). All this system is threatened by ACTA with such measures and propositions as:

prevent infringing goods [infringing any intellectual property right, including patent] from entering the channels of commerce [...]

injunction against intermediaries whose services are used by third party to infringe an intellectual property right [...]

These measures create a risk for online service providers and web services, because it makes them responsible for infringements and so encourages them to monitor, filter, control and censor their services — which has always been proved to diminish the incentive for innovation, tinkering and hacking; possibilities required to develop Free Software. Also, ACTA

promotes the development of mutually supportive relationships between online services providers and right holders to deal effectively with patents, industrial design, trademark and copyright or related rights infringement which takes place by means of the Internet [...]

Which itself is a danger to network neutrality because it creates more concentration between ISPs, operators and rights holders, but also it is a direct threat to Free Software because the major means of distribution are controlled, supportively by rights holders including software patents holders.

Above these procedures, ACTA goes where the EU Directive IPRED2 attempted to: criminal enforcement, which includes “Inciting, Aidind and Abetting”. Of course, this concerns “Technological Enforcement of Intellectual Property in the Digital Environment”, extending the scope of IPRED.

What’s more, Free Software itself, and not only the means of its distribution, is targeted:

These shall apply to:] [...] the manufacture, importation, or circulation of a [technology], service, device, product, [component, or part thereof, that is: [marketed] or primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing an effective technological measure; or that has only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than circumventing an effective technological measure.]

Finally, ACTA endangers Free Software by protecting Digital Restrictions Management and proposing civil remedies against removing or altering DRMs, or

distribute, import for distribution, broadcast, communicate, or make available to the public copies of works, knowing that electronic rights management information has been removed or altered without authority

Not only ACTA is a direct and indrect threat to Free Software, it is also an important step backward to less freedom and towards a dogmatic approach of “intellectual property” that will harm the sharing of knowledge and the Free Software values, by

Promoting the culture of intellectual property [...]

To support, developing countries efforts, for the implementation of the Agreement and the integration of anti-counterfeiting and anti-hacking actions in national development strategies.

(If you want to help, spread the word about ACTA and contribute to the comments of the public release).

The paradox of the sauna

On Wednesday at Re:Publica, Jeff Jarvis gave a talk on the German Paradox, a concept he introduced on his blog, BuzzMachine. A blog post that journalist Jean-Marc Manach already commented (for those of you who read French). Looking at Jeff Jarvis’ experience is interesting: by talking publicly about his prostate cancer on his blog, he got a lot of valuable information that helped him make important choices. As a result, he argues that we don’t see all the benefits of “publicness.”

Our culture and our social norms have trained us to be secret about our private life. For Jeff Jarvis, this is stronger in Germany than in the US. There is a cultural aspect of privacy. But is it really a good thing? Maybe we talk about privacy too much, and the issue is elsewhere. Furthermore, generations don’t all share the same perception of what privacy is. Jean-Marc Manach has described the differences in his article Privacy, a Problem for old fools? (in French).

And Privacy is indeed full of paradoxes. I see at least two of them:

  • I have been filmed and taken into pictures by my parents, by my family and then by my friends, since even before I was born. You can find a video, somewhere in my house, of an echography of me, my little brother and my little sister. With digital cameras, people now take pictures of everything and they take thousands of pictures. And people share them and show them to other friends or relatives. Then, why are so many people bothered when we, young people, share the pictures of ourselves with our friends?
  • However, among my own generation, there is this paradox of privacy, that we are willing to share more content, with more people. And yet, every time something is happening online (Facebook changes some settings, Google Buzz launches, etc) we have tons of people claiming that peoples’ privacy is being violated.

What’s important if one wants to understand what’s happening here, is to ask the appropriate questions. Who is sharing with whom? What kind of tools (and tools implies control)? Who is benefiting from these social practices, and who would benefit from their changes?

Every once in a while, we have some people claiming that privacy is dead, it does not make sense anymore. Ethnologist and sociologist Danah Boyd has an excellent overview of the situation (emphasis is mine):

No matter how many times a privileged straight white male technology executive pronounces the death of privacy, Privacy Is Not Dead. People of all ages care deeply about privacy. And they care just as much about privacy online as they do offline. But what privacy means may not be what you think.

Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows. It’s about being able to understand the social setting in order to behave appropriately. To do so, people must trust their interpretation of the context, including the people in the room and the architecture that defines the setting. When they feel as though control has been taken away from them or when they lack the control they need to do the right thing, they scream privacy foul.

On the other hand, there are also people who are fundamentally taking the opposite direction and always complain about anything like it is a huge scandal and that people’s privacy is violated at least as much as in Stasi’s Germany. Examples: Google Street View would be a big violation of privacy. Or body scanners in airports would be a violation of privacy (although I am not saying it is a good thing) Also, sometimes cultural differences make situations even stranger: e.g. in saunas in Germany, people have no problem showing their “private” parts–which is not the case in the US.

Anyway, this category of privacy-alarmists have been described by The Tech Liberation Front (emphasis is mine):

I think that it’s clear there is such a thing as a “privacy paternalist”—and there are not a few among folks I consider allies on other issues. They’re the ones who are convinced that anyone who values privacy less highly than they do must be confused or irrational. A genuine privacy paternalist will say that even if almost everyone understands that Amazon keeps track of their purchases to make useful recommendations, this collection must be prohibited because they’re not thinking clearly about what this really means and may someday regret it.

There’s actually a variant on this view that I won’t go into at length, but which I don’t think should be classed as strictly paternalist. Call this the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” view of privacy. On this account, there are systemic consequences to information sharing, such that we each get some benefit from participating in certain systems of disclosure, but would all be better off if nobody did.

So in all that, the question that we must ask is not so much about privacy, but about publicity. And in this matter, I am grateful for the direction Jeff Jarvis have taken in his talk at Re:Publica: the benefits of publicness (and in the meantime, I would like the discussions on Privacy to focus really on privacy problems–but that’s for another blog post).

Taking his American view of Germany, Jeff Jarvis then make this interesting finding (if someone have sources and figures for that, please drop me an email): Why are there so few bloggers in Germany compared to the US? To what someone answered: “We lack a culture of sharing knowledge… and we mistrust the fools giving it away for free.”

That’s where the benefits of publicness rely: sharing knowledge and, indeed giving it away for free. But what does “free” mean here? I would like to think of Free as in Freedom, and by that I mean: give your knowledge and give others the rights to share it freely, like we do with software. However, some may think of free as in gratis. Which leads to the question of the price of privacy, or its costs (see Privacy is a currency). What’s important here is where the control is and who has it.

Unfortunately, today little control is given to the users, and most of it is centralized by Web services like Facebook, or Google’s. But Jeff Jarvis makes no mention of that.

Let’s get more focused on the value of publicness. We should not act like privacy paternalists. As he puts it, public should be the rule, private should be the exception. Danah Boyd had an interesting piece on the same logics: Public by default, Private when necessary. And similarly, I came up with the same advice when talking about Facebook, that it is silly to put everything “as private” but that people should accept the rules of sharing and go more public.

The benefits are interesting, and the example Jeff Jarvis took, Flickr, is indeed a great example. By publishing on Flickr, an online community emerged where people could enjoy more pictures, and share knowledge on photographs, create groups, edit tags, making collaborative rankings and tidying, which now makes Flickr a very wide database of pictures (sometimes in creative commons). And so he concludes that, on the Internet, we should be like Germans in saunas and stop acting like Americans in saunas → The internet as a big global sauna where everyone would be naked and showing his/here private parts.

Wait a minute… Have I missed something here? Is there a part of the picture I don’t see?

I agree on the benefits of publicness, and the value of publicity. But it doesn’t mean that privacy and keeping things private is now meaningless. Because there are also the benefits of privateness and the value of privacy, in terms of social freedom and personal autonomy. And we have to keep that possible, and in some areas, we have to keep away publicity.

Follow Jeff Jarvis’ argument. Then, why wouldn’t I make my emails public? Why do I keep using emails anyway? I should just simply post Facebook messages! Is the reason why I am sending private emails that I have something to hide?  No! But it doesn’t mean that I should make that public. Why? Because there is still a private sphere I want to protect. Here, the benefits of privateness overcome the benefits of publicness. Indeed, in a worldwide sauna Internet, everyone with a towel would be suspicious. And social pressure would be too high!

So how do we make sure that we don’t fall into this trap? How do we draw the line between the public sphere–which is where the benefits of publicness are more valuable than the benefits of privateness, and the private sphere, within which the benefits of privateness are more important than the benefits of publicness?

We have to make sure that the answer comes from the right people, because the benefits are not the same for everyone! For Facebook and Google, the benefits of publicness will always overcome the benefits of privateness, because they can’t monetize and advertize what is kept secret or private! But we have to make sure that people for whom the benefits of privateness are more valuable do not have too much power to decide on our private/public sphere either: because that is censorship.

I want to stay free to choose whether something should be public or kept private, and that choice must be protected. For that, control is essential, and privacy must be granular, not binary. But before that, to understand what is the better architecture of control, in which Free Software and the Neutral and Free Internet have a huge role. We have to give people back the power and the responsibility to decide where to draw the line between public and private. And for that, we need to make the distinction between communication, sharing, publishing.

Two interesting days at “re:publica”

Yesterday was the opening of re:publica, a 3-day conference in Berlin “focussed on blogs, social media and digital culture.” This year, the emphasis has been put on Network Neutrality among others, with no less than ten talks on the subject, including speakers like Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net; or Tim Wu, one of the firsts who came up with the subject of Net Neutrality.

republica2010But of course, there are many other interesting subjects, and yesterday one of the highlights was about privacy, or merely about publicity with, as a pretext, the “German Paradox” (yes, yet another paradox about privacy…). This paradox comes from the fact that Germany is culturally very meticulous on privacy issues, and yet Germans don’t have any problem showing their private parts in saunas.

Anyway, all that stuff raised a lot of interesting questions and concepts and I have taken so many notes, I’m sure some blog posts will come in the near future to give my views on them. Fortunately, if nothing big comes to my head within the next days (wish is unlikely to happen, since things are always on the move on the European Level about the Digital Agenda and Open Standards).

Finally, since I will argue about the “benefits of publicness” I decided to do something concrete there. I have now published a wide selections of my bookmarks, collected since 2008 on http://delicious.com/hugoroy. So, am I going to benefit from this publicness? Or am I being too public here? Of course, I can see some benefits: on the one hand, my bookmarks have “tags” depending on what people who have the same bookmark write there, so it makes my bookmark collection more relevant. On the other hand, some links are highly political and the reason I bookmark them is not necessarily because I support the opinions expressed there, sometimes it is the case, sometimes it is quite the contrary. Moreover, that collection gives a detailed overview of the subjects I follow, the sources I read the most… and this is a very valuable information on myself, that could as well turn against me.