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‘Lowering your standards’?: assessing the procedural legitimacy of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Mason, Scott

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Authors

Scott Mason



Abstract

Today technical web standards have become one of the most important mechanisms of internet governance, impinging on a wide range of areas of public policy from privacy and to freedom of speech. Despite their importance, however, the processes through which web standards are developed are not well understood, and to date, very little empirical research has been conducted to examine the procedural legitimacy of web standards consortia. To address this gap in the literature, this thesis develops and applies an analytical framework inspired by deliberative democratic theory to assess the procedural legitimacy of the World Wide Web Consortium in the context of its development of the highly controversial Encrypted Media Extension specification. In doing so, the thesis argues that the W3C is characterised by a lack of procedural legitimacy. Specifically, it will be shown how the framing of the W3C as a purely coordinative and technical organisation acted to marginalise principle based objections to the EME proposal and undermine participant’s attempts to engage fully with the public policy questions raised by the specification. The thesis also raises concerns about the consortium’s diversity and outlines several practical recommendations for how the procedural deficits identified by the research might be addressed.

Publication Date Jun 1, 2019

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