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NETFLIX, MICROSOFT, AND GOOGLE JUST QUIETLY CHANGED HOW THE WEB WORKS

The proposed standard that was voted on is called Encrypted Media Extensions, or EME. Basically it standardizes parts of how copyrighted video is delivered within a browser. The most obvious effect of this will be that users will never have to download the Microsoft Silverlight or Adobe Flash add-ons in order to watch a copyright protected video from an authorized source like Netflix. This transition began in 2012 but is now set in stone.

Opponents, who include net neutrality father Tim Wu and stakeholders like the Ethereum Foundation, say this change will make the web less secure, less open, less accessible for people with hearing and vision impairment, and harder to archive. Proponents, who include large media companies like Netflix, argue it would actually make the web more secure, more open, moreaccessible, and, okay, more difficult to archive, but let’s not dwell on that. If you boil down the reason why EME was contentious, it’s because some people saw it as a gift to large corporations that would make the web worse for users, and extrapolated from there that the web’s most important organization is now in the pocket of Big Capitalism.

The consortium, also know by the awkward acronym W3C, does not normally share the breakdown of its votes. But because this vote was so controversial, it did. Out of the consortium’s 463 members, which include stakeholders from academia to nonprofits to major Silicon Valley corporations, 108 voted yes, 57 objected, 20 abstained, and the rest didn’t participate. The fact that just 185 out of 463 members voted or explicitly abstained may sound like a low turnout, but it was in fact historically high. “We’ve never had such a high percentage in my recollection,” said Jeff Jaffe, the consortium’s CEO.

What is also unusual is that after the vote took place, and the consortium officially endorsed the new standard, one of its members — Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital civil rights group that joined as a full member in 2013 expressly to fight EME— resigned in protest. No member has quit the consortium in protest before, Jaffe said. At least one staff member, Harry Halpin, resigned in protest as well.

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