They were separated by 300 meters… and a world of ideology. While French Prime Minister Manuel Valls presented his government’s digital strategy at La Gaîté lyrique, the open software community met in Numa for Pas Sage en Seine.
The president of the Digital National Council (CNNum), Benoît Thieulin, announced it: “It’s time to politicize the Internet.” Not sure the militant geeks of Pas Sage en Seine 2015—PSES, hack version of Paris’ Futur en Seine digital media festival—had the same vision as the government, which on June 18 outlined its “digital ambition” at La Gaîté lyrique. The future of digital media in review: official version or alternative version.
Freedom to innovate: start-up vs. organization
As French Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs Emmanuel Macron evoked French Tech, start-ups and Emploi Store, Numa participants discussed the legal rights of nonprofit organizations, volunteering and local action. Jérôme Poisson, a confirmed libertarian who came to present his Libervia social network explained: “We don’t adhere to the start-up model, but rather to the self-management of the 1970s—no boss, equal salaries and making decisions via consensus. The future of a project depends a lot on how it’s managed. There’s always a risk, but it’s a lot lower than when you have a majority shareholder who can drop a banknote and do whatever he wants.”
These words are seconded by Pierre-Yves Gosset, who came to present his Framasoft organization and encourage his audience to “degooglize the Internet”. His ambitious agenda begins with the endless inventory of services offered by the 60-billion-dollar company, from Gmail to Google Car to the Google CDN developer’s tool to DNA research. “It’s starting to look like Sarah Connor”, he says, only half-joking.
He insists on this inventory in order to remind us that Google and fellow members of GAFAM (Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) “are black holes that suck up data, as well as innovation”. In turn, the “start-up strategy” consists of young entrepreneurs developing apps with the goal of selling them for billions to the online giants. If you’re skeptical, just ask Whatsapp, acquired for 22 billion dollars by Facebook.
Equal rights: from Net neutrality to decentralization
Valls promised: Net neutrality will be included in the future law on digital media. This good news should delight all the PSES participants—except that, of course, they want to push it further. This is particularly the case with John Rambouilled and iZy, two developers who came to present their project for a decentralized network. While the actual techniques that would allow such a network to be controled by the community rather than by a unique entity are complicated (at PSES, you often need to speak advanced geek), one simple metaphor is clear: in the mountains, a walkie-talkie may be more useful than a cell-phone. A direct network between two people is better than a network distributed by an operator. “No need for neutrality, because the network is open, and no entity can prohibit any content.”
When it comes to data protection and privacy, which the Prime Minister promised to ensure, we still have a long way to go: VPN, encryption, self-hosting… a happy life is a hidden life.
Fraternity: how to avoid the digital divide
The French government plans to establish the “right to Internet connection” and accompany people digitally. On this point, at least, geeks and government are on the same page. The jargon is specific, and open does not mean accessible. “It’s still a case of the community talking to itself”, Jerôme Poisson regrets. “It’s one of the big problems”, Pierre-Yves confirms. “How can we avoid the digital divide between those who are Net-savvy and the others? Once people are aware and willing, how do we accompany them? How do we make things simple enough?”
The issue is pending, even if a few solutions are already in place, such as open software user groups (GULL) that provides assistance and support to people locally, Cafés Vie Privée (privacy cafés) or Chiffrofêtes (encryption parties)—like at PSES—to teach people how to use encryption techniques.
To reach a wider audience, Laurent Chemla founder of Gandi and longtime “open” activist, is devoted to developing an argument to educate the common people on the issue privacy. Basically, don’t talk metadata. It may be important, but nobody cares. Really?
The “digital Republic” will be exemplary…
After seeing what François Hollande’s exemplary Republic looked like, we’re waiting for the digital version (after passing the bill on data collection). At PSES, deputy Isabelle Attard and her Parliamentary attaché Frédéric Toutain rubbed shoulders with a geek audience at their “Hack Parliament” lecture. Those convicted of political insubordination in the Tarnac affair and their friends will come Saturday to explain why “Hacking means making yourself ungovernable.” Sounds like fun…