As a senior policy manager at Mozilla, Heather West works with government policymakers and technology stakeholders to further the company’s vision. At Mozilla, that means promoting things like privacy, security and accessibility. West says it’s important to engage with those who set the policies surrounding technology because they weigh on the way people use it.
With the increasing public awareness of how technology affects daily life, West says people are starting to ask critical questions and actively voicing how they think products and services should work. She discusses recent developments that have given users more control over their data and how they can voice their concerns about technology issues.
CyberScoop: You work on public policy with Mozilla, and you’ve also worked with Cloudflare and Google. Why is it important for these sorts of companies and organizations to engage with the government and the public and dedicate attention to public policy?
Heather West: There’s a growing awareness that the internet is pervasive and technology is pervasive in our daily lives. And at the end of the day, engaging in a policy around that is an incredibly important way of shaping it and shaping the internet, shaping how we interact with it and shaping society.
CS: What about the average users of the internet? What do you think that they need to know about advocating for their rights online and when it comes to these devices, for example and protecting their data?
HW: I think that the message right now is very much “This is not hopeless.” At the end of the day, people aren’t accepting technology as is. They’re saying “This is how I want my world to work,” which is fantastic. And you’re seeing some of that advocacy really work. We’re seeing changes. We’re seeing people say “Wait a second, I need to develop this technology differently.” We’re seeing people look at it and say “This a very different space.”
I think we’re looking at the end of the kind of techno-libertarian optimism as people say “No, actually I do want you to be responsible” and talking about what that means. At the end of the day, the internet is what we make it and if people advocate for the internet they want I think we end up with internet and technology that is people-centric and is a global public resource, and that’s really part of the Mozilla mission.
CS: What’s one big issue that you think still needs a lot of work in terms of people being in control of their data?
HW: It’s a fantastically interesting question. People are paying attention again to how companies treat them. And when they see something going badly, their representatives are taking action, and that’s the way it should work. I think that as we are looking at things like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act, we’re starting to look at these companies and people who collect data not as Silicon Valley’s behemoths who just eat this all up, and starting to say: “Wait a second, what’s your responsibility to me? What’s your responsibility to me as the user?”
CS: Are there concrete forms of action that you think people can take in order to voice that concern?
HW: Part of it is just making sure that you’re educated and you understand some of the settings. I really don’t like placing the burden on users, but some of it is dependent on going into the privacy settings to figure out what data each one is collecting about you. There’s a lot of interest in action and I think as much as I wish companies were building this in by default, they’re noticing and they’re starting to change how products work and they’re starting to give users the education and the knowledge that they need to really be smart while they invest in these products.