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W3C Formal Objections: When Powerful Corporations Play Both Sides

From: Manu Sporny <msporny@digitalbazaar.com>
Date: Mon, 11 Oct 2021 22:37:28 -0400
To: W3C Credentials CG <public-credentials@w3.org>
Message-ID: <2eb5cb62-37ed-2614-1d4d-34d6ad46ffad@digitalbazaar.com>
Hi folks,

Just giving this community a heads-up that the W3C Advisory Committee Meeting
is tomorrow at 9am ET (you must be a W3C Member and an Advisory Committee
Representative to attend, IIUC):

https://www.w3.org/2021/10/TPAC/ac-agenda.html#live

Based on the recent Google, Apple, and Mozilla objections to the DID Core
specification becoming a global standard, I prepared the following open letter
to the W3C Advisory Committee and kicked off a discussion with the 450+ W3C AC
Members earlier today:

https://lists.w3.org/Archives/Member/w3c-ac-forum/2021OctDec/0007.html

Again, you can't see the discussion unless you're a W3C Member. I know that
will be frustrating for most of you so I've set up a FAQ page to cover topics
being discussed with the AC (without violating W3C Member confidentiality) here:

https://msporny.github.io/did-core-formal-objections/

The original open letter that I sent can be found below. If you are a W3C AC
Representative, please make sure to engage the AC to help educate them about
the DID Core objections, the validity of the arguments, and your thoughts
about how to proceed.

-------------------------------------------------------

Fellow W3C Advisory Committee Representatives,

This is an open letter to each of you highlighting deep concerns with the new
Director-free approach[1] to processing Formal Objections. Namely, the new
process provides advantages to objectors that also sit on the same W3C Council
that determines the outcome of formal objections. That is, per the new
process, Google, Apple, and Mozilla get to object to a new standard for the
Web and then could provide input on determining whether or not to uphold their
own objection. The concern is not theoretical, it is occurring as you read
this letter.

For those of you that might not be aware, here is a summary of the current
state of play:

The W3C Decentralized Identifier (DID) Working Group[2] had consensus[3] to
propose publication of DID Core 1.0[4] as a W3C Proposed Recommendation. There
were 40 W3C Member companies that agreed to publication of DID Core 1.0 as a
W3C Recommendation and there were 3 companies that objected: Google, Apple,
and Mozilla. The W3C Team stepped in to mediate a discussion[6] that did not
resolve the formal objections.

The acting W3C Director then decided to request feedback from the W3C
Council[7], which is composed of the W3C Advisory Board and the W3C Technical
Architecture Group, and take the new W3C Council Formal Objection resolution
process for a spin. The Decentralized Identifier Working Group is deeply
frustrated by this recent turn of events, but understands that someone needs
to be the first through this new process.

There are four aspects of how this is playing out that are deeply concerning:

1. The objectors (Google, Apple, and Mozilla), and the proponents (over 40
companies) collectively hold 7 out of the 21 seats on the W3C Council. This
enables 1/3rd of the W3C Council who are taking a position on the formal
objection to engage in what is supposed to be an impartial process.

2. The new W3C Council Formal Objection Process gently suggests that
individuals that might have a conflict of interest can voluntarily recuse
themselves; the decision is left up to the individual. Apple has raised a
formal objection and sits on both the W3C AB and W3C TAG; are both individuals
expected to recuse themselves? I hope the answer to this question is "Yes,
because the formal objection is on behalf of Apple and therefore, there is a
conflict of interest." The same recusal issue applies to Google's representatives.

3. The W3C Team, who have a long and positive track record of striking the
right balance when providing input into these sorts of decisions, have been
stripped of any decision making authority.

4. Lastly, Google, Apple, and Mozilla made no attempt to bring their formal
objections to the Decentralized Identifier Working Group since the Working
Group started, and then during the first transition to Candidate
Recommendation and then during the second transition to Candidate
Recommendation. The first time the group heard of these objections during its
two-year charter was in the days before the poll closed to approve DID Core
1.0 as a W3C Recommendation.

Given these concerns, the W3C Advisory Committee should provide some guidance
to this new formal objection process, as all of us will experience what is
going on now at some point if we don't resolve these issues as a community.

There are courses of action that we can take to resolve these concerns:

1. Make communicating with the W3C Council regarding the formal objection
strictly off-limits outside of the formal objection process (public
communication is allowed, non-public communication is disallowed). Violating
this hard line should result in removal from the W3C TAG or W3C AB because it
is an egregious violation of trust in our elected representatives.

2. Make recusal from the W3C Council decision mandatory for any individual
that is associated on either side of the formal objection.

3. Ensure that the W3C Staff are a substantive part of the formal objection
process, and not relegated to the sidelines as they seem to be in the new W3C
Council-based process. They are a check and balance that we should be
depending on as a community.

4. Strike down formal objections that made no attempt to engage with the
Working Group. Allowing formal objections in the 11th hour accomplishes
nothing other than stress, distrust, and drama -- three things we don't need
more of at W3C. The W3C Process should be predictable, trustworthy, and boring.

I plan to bring all of this up during our upcoming W3C Advisory Committee
meeting. We have some work to do if we want to ensure a smooth transition to
handling Formal Objections via the W3C Council.

-- manu

[1]https://www.w3.org/2021/05/W3C_Council_Guide.html
[2]https://www.w3.org/2019/did-wg/
[3]https://www.w3.org/2019/did-wg/Meetings/Minutes/2021-07-20-did#resolution1
[4]https://www.w3.org/TR/did-core/
[5]https://www.w3.org/2002/09/wbs/33280/did-core-pr/results
[6]https://www.w3.org/2021/09/21-did10-minutes.html
[7]https://www.w3.org/2019/did-wg/Meetings/Minutes/2021-10-05-did#section2

-- 
Manu Sporny - https://www.linkedin.com/in/manusporny/
Founder/CEO - Digital Bazaar, Inc.
News: Digital Bazaar Announces New Case Studies (2021)
https://www.digitalbazaar.com/
Received on Tuesday, 12 October 2021 02:37:45 UTC

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