Read why “Web Environment Integrity” is terrible, and why we must vocally oppose it now. Google’s latest maneuver, if we don’t act to stop it, threatens our freedom to explore the Internet with browsers of our choice.
Using a free browser is now more important than ever. We’ve written recently on this topic, but the issue we wrote about there was minor compared to the gross injustice Google is now attempting to force down the throats of web users around the world. The so-called “Web Environment Integrity” (WEI) is the worst stunt we’ve seen from them in some time. Beginning its life as an innocuous, if worrying, policy document posted to Microsoft GitHub, Google has now fast-tracked its development into their Chromium browser. At its current rate of progress, WEI will be upon us in no time.
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By giving developers an API through which they can approve certain browser configurations while forbidding others, WEI is a tremendous step toward the “enshittification” of the web as a whole. Many of us have grown up with a specific idea of the Internet, the notion of it as a collection of hyperlinked pages that can be accessed by a wide variety of different machines, programs, and operating systems. WEI is this idea’s antithesis.
Compared to its staggering potential effects, the technical means through which WEI will accomplish its ends is relatively simple. Before serving a web page, a server can ask a third-party “verification” service to make sure that the user’s browsing environment has not been “tampered” with. A translation of the policy’s terminology will help us here: this Google-owned server will be asked to make sure that the browser does not deviate in any way from Google’s accepted browser configuration, precluding any meaningful use of the four freedoms. It is not far-fetched to imagine a future in which sites simply refuse to serve pages to users running free browsers or free operating systems. If WEI isn’t stopped now, that future will come sooner than we think.
While Web Environment Integrity has a policy document that attempts to explain valid ways in which it could be used, these are all non-issues compared to the way that we know it will be used. It will be used by governments to ensure that only their officially “approved” (read: backdoored) browsers are able to access the Internet; it will be used by corporations like Netflix to further Digital Restrictions Management (DRM); it will be used by Google to deny access to their services unless you are using a browser that gels with their profit margin.
Once upon a time, Google’s official policy was “don’t be evil.” With the rapid progress they’ve made on Web Environment Integrity in such a short time, we can say very safely that their policy is now to pioneer evil. As we write this, talented and well-paid Google engineers and executives are working to dismantle what makes the web the web. Given that Google is one of the largest corporations on the planet, our only hope of saving the Internet as we know it is a clear and principled stance for freedom, a collective upholding of the communal principles on which the web was based.
Let us repeat: there is absolutely no legitimate justification for WEI. The use cases that the policy document highlights are nothing compared to its real use case, which is developing a method to obtain complete and total restriction of the free Internet.
We urge everyone involved in a decision-making capacity at Google to consider the principles on which the web was founded, and to carefully contemplate whether Web Environment Integrity aligns with those principles. We hope that they will realize WEI’s fundamental incompatibility with the free Internet and cease work on the standard immediately.
And if they don’t? Well, they ought to be ashamed.
By: Greg Farough
Originally published at Free Software Foundation