Issie Lapowsky, Protocol:
One of the web’s geekiest corners, the W3C is a mostly-online community where the people who operate the internet — website publishers, browser companies, ad tech firms, privacy advocates, academics and others — come together to hash out how the plumbing of the web works. It’s where top developers from companies like Google pitch proposals for new technical standards, the rest of the community fine-tunes them and, if all goes well, the consortium ends up writing the rules that ensure websites are secure and that they work no matter which browser you’re using or where you’re using it.
The W3C’s members do it all by consensus in public Github forums and open Zoom meetings with meticulously documented meeting minutes, creating a rare archive on the internet of conversations between some of the world’s most secretive companies as they collaborate on new rules for the web in plain sight.
But lately, that spirit of collaboration has been under intense strain as the W3C has become a key battleground in the war over web privacy. Over the last year, far from the notice of the average consumer or lawmaker, the people who actually make the web run have converged on this niche community of engineers to wrangle over what privacy really means, how the web can be more private in practice and how much power tech giants should have to unilaterally enact this change.
The “tech giant” framing of this piece obscures the multisided battle that is going on within these discussions. There are browser vendors — like Apple and Brave — that are more privacy-conscious, but with conflicts of interest, as well as people who advocate for these features with fewer conflicts. There are representatives of the big privacy-hostile tech companies: Google and Microsoft1 have web browsers, while Amazon and Facebook do not. And then there are ad tech companies that are smaller than the big tech companies but, as I have repeatedly argued, can be almost as creepy.