W3C, the main global organization for setting standards on the world wide web, is no longer fit for purpose. The body, set up by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the web (he remains a director of W3C), has been hijacked by Big Tech, in particular Google.
Today, Movement for an Open Web (MOW) has made formal, detailed submissions to the UK Competition and Markets Authority, US Department of Justice (DoJ) and European Commission charging W3C with bias, favouring the giant tech corporations in its procedures and decision-making and failing to comply with antitrust laws. MOW, which is campaigning against Big Tech’s increasingly tight grip over the web, said it was disappointed that last week, the CMA and UK Information Commissioner’s Office, in separate papers both cited W3C as the right place for the application of universal standards. MOW points out:
- Google has 106 employees assisting W3C in its work, while most other companies have just one. The US House of Representatives Antitrust Report notes Google representatives significantly outnumber those of other members at 106. Most members have only one representative.
- The US House of Representatives Antitrust Report also says W3C “gives the impression of being a place where members collaborate to improve the web platform, but in reality, Google’s monopoly position and aggressive rate of introducing new, non-standard features frequently reduces them to discussing and codifying Google’s features and rubber-stamping decisions Google has already taken.”
In theory, the W3C is an open forum where tech companies work together on assessing the impact of proposed software and technology changes and agreeing steps that need to be taken to ensure unlimited access and fair competition for all. But this has not been the case where Google’s new ‘Privacy Sandbox’ is concerned.
MOW is calling for the authorities to investigate whether the processes and procedures operating at W3C favour Big Tech and are compatible with antitrust laws. If they are not compatible, MOW is looking for the application of suitable remedies.
Timothy Cowen, MOW’s legal advisor and head of antitrust at Preiskel & Co, said: “The W3C has been captured by Big Tech, even its own antitrust guidelines have not been enforced when they should have been.”
MOW accused W3C of adopting “weak processes which allow major players to stack the deck in their favour.” There are precedents for intervention by the authorities when such issues arise – for instance the mobile phone standards association, GSMA, was found to be similarly biased towards the major operators, when it was investigated by the DoJ in 2019.
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