Saturday, 30 April 2011

Sunil Abraham interview: Congress a ‘milestone’ in consumer movement across developing countries


A social entrepreneur and free software advocate, Sunil Abraham is also Director of Policy at the Centre for Internet and Society based in Bangalore, India. He will be speaking about “Consumer rights in the digital world: privacy, access, and activism” at CI World Congress.

In an interview with Consumers International, he said: “My presentation will focus on privacy, access and activism in the digital world. For privacy, I will aim to demonstrate how the patent and copyright law and their practices such as Open Standards, Free/Open Source Software and Peer To Peer empower consumers to configure their privacy settings based upon how they feel they should inhabit the global attention economy. Proprietary software, closed standards and centralised architectures undermine privacy by design. The latest example of that being Apple spying on the iPhone users.

Pervasive technologies

“On access, I will examine various networked pervasive technologies especially mobile phones, MP3 players and VCD players. There are thousands of patents in every layer of mobile technologies. The average Blackberry sells for USD300 and the average Blackcherry retails for USD50. The new Spice Popkorn phone features an inbuilt projector. How can the patent system be configured to promote more such innovation at the bottom of the pyramid.”

Abraham is passionate about access to knowledge: “Increasingly, large corporations and governments are undermining A2K - copyright law has been used to muzzle artists, reporters, minorities and citizens. Network neutrality is being used by incumbents to keep out new competition, and by the powerful to censor unpopular speech.”

Information and participation

The solution to the above problems is consumer empowerment, the theme of this year’s CI World Congress, Sunil believes: “In the areas of internet governance, privacy, IPR and A2K we need more consumer participation in the policy formulation process. At the moment, only the rights-holders or rent-seekers are represented at these fora at the national, regional and international levels. The users of the internet and intellectual property, or rent-payers, also need to be fully informed of the various developments, and must participate by providing substantial input; otherwise their interests will be compromised.”

The plethora of delegates from various consumer backgrounds at CI World Congress can prove very useful to Sunil Abraham and his organisation: “I hope to learn more about other areas of consumer activism so that I can advance the research agenda at the Centre for Internet and Society. I am keen to understand how the digital world reshapes traditional consumer rights campaigns, both in terms of substance and in terms of strategy.”

Recruitment drive

He also feels that other consumer activists will be able to benefit from his presence too: “I hope the Congress will be yet another important milestone in the building of a vibrant consumer movement across developing countries especially those in the Asia-Pacific. I hope they are able to recruit more digital natives into their fold. There are many lessons for consumers from the online phenomenon such as commons-based peer production methodologies and philosophies.

“With regard to my presentation, I hope to be able to convince interested delegates that a homogeneous global regime is undesirable. A regime based on ideological positions or considerations may also be infeasible. In collaboration with legal and technical experts, the consumers of the world must design and implement ‘Intellectual Property’ or ‘Access to Knowledge’ laws that will be viewed as just within particular context and therefore largely complied with.”

See the full Consumers International World Congress Programme

See the full list of speakers at Consumers International World Congress

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