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Microsoft and the Government’s Open Standards

Microsoft and the Government’s Open Standards

In 2010, the United Kingdom began the arduous process of reforming its digital strategy. The UK Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills launched an extensive investigation into which IT standards would become official policy. The goal of this inquiry and overhaul was to attain standard protocols that would foster more efficient communication between departmental systems. Francis Maude, the former Minister of State for Trade and Investment, emphatically asserted “The kind of standards we should be militant about are standards of interoperability, so you have proper connectivity.”

Especially important was the debate over which file format would be used for all public documents.

Behind the scenes of the government’s plan to push forward with standardization of file formats was high-pressure lobbying by Microsoft and other makers of proprietary software. Despite blog posts touting their support and integration of the ODF, Microsoft was completely against the adoption of open document formats. While the UK government investigated which file format would best suit their needs, Microsoft lobbied for its own file format, Office Open XML (OOXML), to become the common document type.

On the surface, the debate about how governmental documents are saved seems inane. However, OOXML losing out to ODF means a considerable loss of revenue for Microsoft and its business partners. ODF files can be opened, edited and saved in a myriad of programs, while OOXML files can only be accessed using Microsoft Office. The significance of these standards is that citizens and government agencies can access, save and distribute all of their files without having to purchase Microsoft Office. For example, Apache Open Office offers a full line of productivity software that works with ODF and is entirely free. Additionally, the UK IT mandate means that users can circumvent using Microsoft products altogether; open source operating systems like Linux can now access and share documents as well.

By codifying the new IT standards, the British government will be able to effect better communication within and between departments, leading to fewer errors at a lower cost. While this seems to be a major loss for Microsoft, it is a significant win for the cause of streamlining interoperability in the public sector.

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The Hague Declaration in the Digital Age

The Hague Declaration in the Digital Age

The Hague Declaration is about the discovery of knowledge during the digital age. The declaration is capable of shaping the practice of ethical research, developing an open access infrastructure and policies and shaping legislative reform. The availability of ideas, data, facts, computing power, and the internet are all possible with a commitment from the government. The legal legislative framework may not be able to support specific research including content mining. Instead, is the process of extracting material by copying materials, extracting data, and classifying trends and patterns. 

The intellectual property laws came before data and text mining, and have created inequalities regarding knowledge discovery. Databases, patents, and copyright laws restrict detailed content analysis. Researchers require the freedom to analyze without fear of repercussions despite the digital environment. Content mining provides public knowledge and insights regarding cultural, social and economic life. This enables the understanding of demographic changes and political uprisings. There are numerous benefits to content mining including addressing climate change, improving the development and health of the population, and creating new jobs. 

Researchers have used content mining for a decade, despite being limited because of restrictions and legalities. New principles are necessary to access ideas, data and facts. Intellectual property was not created to regulate ideas, facts and data, but to promote research. Ideas and information are a human right, and necessary for knowledge, prosperity, and welfare. The modern view has become an obstacle to knowledge. Many countries interpret copyright law as a restriction to analysis and computer reading. These legislations were not the originally meant to cover intellectual property in this way. 

People should be entitled to satisfy their curiosity with analysis without repercussions. The use of data and facts should be a legitimate right of the individual. Contract terms and licenses should not prevent people from using ideas, data, and facts. This idea is unacceptable and inhibits knowledge and innovation. Digital technology is also hindering the right to content mine. Ethics regarding content mining must evolve in accordance with the changes in technology for the benefit of society. 

Commercial research and innovation using ideas data and facts must not allow restrictions on the laws of intellectual property. Since it is not possible to copyright ideas, data and facts, restricting their ethical commercial use does not seem to make any sense. These ideas are available for extraction from legally obtained content. Patent laws are designed to protect inventions, not data and facts. When ideas, facts, and data are restricted, it has a severe impact on economic development and innovation.

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Is Net Neutrality Really a Threat to the Internet?

Is Net Neutrality Really a Threat to the Internet?

On December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules put into place two years earlier. The rollback gives internet service providers (ISPs) the ability to act as gatekeepers for web content; essentially, they can promote their own services while slowing down access to competing platforms. This goes against the central principle of net neutrality where all traffic is treated equally. 

Ajit Pai, current head of the FCC and a former Verizon attorney, said the 2015 net neutrality rules, which reclassified ISPs as public utilities, were too “heavy-handed.” He claimed that a “lighter touch” approach is better for investment and continued innovation. Pai also claimed that ISPs had been held back from updating their infrastructure because of the reclassification, although this point was proven wrong by both tech companies and activists. 

Before the vote, activists, most notably Fight for the Future, went into action, setting up protests, shaming lawmakers on billboards and encouraging consumers to comment on the FCC website. They warned that a repeal of the 2015 rules would allow ISPs to create fast lanes for preferred content, charge customers more to access common sites and slow down the rest of the web for those who cannot pay. In the end, ISPs would create tiered service, similar to television packages. A repeal would also ensure continued service monopolies in many cities and virtually no price controls. 

A common argument against the new 2015 rules is that the internet operated well enough under the old 1996 Title I classification, so there was no need to change anything. The reality is, the web has changed and grown substantially in 21 years, and a rule change was needed to protect its freedoms. 

Under the 2015 Title II reclassification, all ISPs had to treat web traffic equally and were subject to government oversight. Contrary to Pai’s claims, several ISPs had updated their infrastructure and invested in faster gigabit service for their communities since the new rules were passed. Over the long term, the rules would likely have brought consumer costs under control and made internet service more affordable and accessible to everyone. 

Net neutrality is not a threat. It is the foundation on which the web was built and should be defended to keep the internet free and open for generations to come.

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Understanding Open Standards

Understanding Open Standards

A Brief Look At Open Standards and More

What is an open source?

Open source is defined as any open material on the web which is publicly accessible by anyone.

What is an open standard?

Open standards are defined as guidelines to keep the technologies open, particularly to developers.

The definitions are simple, but dealing with the complexities, that is another matter. Debates are still ongoing as to what is considered an “open source” and who gets to regulate these “standards”.

How are they developed?

This is where it becomes a bit more complicated. There are literally thousands of documents moving on the web every day. Every standard is part of something bigger. There is no way to possible govern everything that comes down the pike with web development and ISO.

Standards fall into one of four categories: industry, vendor, closed, or open. Developers have their own opinions on what information should stay open or closed.

Are standards voluntary?

Yes, they are. Some standards are considered “classified” or “restricted”. There might be a valid reason for placing these restrictions on some of the standards.

An example

Back in September 2016, Apple announced it was going to ship the new iPhone 7 and 7 plus was going to ship without the headphone port. That headphone port has always been a staple on most devices.

A lot of journalists did opinion pieces on this, citing that the company was looking to put profit over the customer. Customers will not have to put out money for the headphones, something they did not have to do before. Journalists had a feeding frenzy with this.

Apple cited industry standard specifications and kept some of the information classified. Others cited “vendor standards”, citing the need to please the vendor and not the consumer.

This example illustrates perfectly how people can be divided on the subject of standards, especially when you choose one party over another.

The timing of standards

Placing standards on the certain information requires a certain window of opportunity. Some argue that if you place standards on something too early, you will stunt the growth.

Standards evolve. Data that is classified as “closed” in the beginning end up being classified as “open” later. You also need to sort out what standards benefit the consumer and which ones do not.

To read more about open standards and what it means for you, visit or

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