Onus on companies to protect privacy, says Wikipedia founder

Jimmy Wales speaks on ‘The current state of government communication and how to build flexible strategies’.

Sharjah: The ball lies in the court of private companies, “as regulation can be incredibly dangerous”, so believes Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, when approached for comment by WAM on the way to address the headline-grabbing issue of data breaches.

Speaking to the Emirates News Agency on the sidelines of the International Government Communications Forum which ended in Sharjah on Thursday, Wales said, “The onus is on private companies to protect the user privacy. It is very difficult to decide to regulate as regulation can be incredibly dangerous. Governments, if given an excuse, can crack down on any type of information they don’t like. We should be very cautious about the issue of regulation.

“Such forums are quite important so governments can listen and learn about technology in light of the talk about regulation. Ok, well if we go for regulation, which, you know, I am sceptical about, it should be at least informed regulation.

“The relation between government and people and technologies should be on top of the list for all politicians. Private companies have to take the issue of privacy much more seriously. They have to know people need to have control on their environment and there is, of course, a lot of work that has to be done as the alternative, which is regulation, is dangerous.”

Now, 18 years have passed since the establishment of Wikipedia. Wales believes his biggest challenge remains “to keep focus on quality and to continue to find the way inside the community while working together harmoniously. In the beginning our biggest challenge was we were growing so quickly that we had to buy more servers and upgrade capacity. But we managed to survive this”.

Recalling how the idea of Wikipedia started, he said, “Wikipedia was originally sparked by the growth of open-source software, so you could collaborate to build all the great software that runs the web. I realised that this kind of collaboration on the internet could go beyond the software into all kinds of cultural work. Wikipedia was the first stage of that, creating an encyclopedia in all the languages of the world. The Wikia was the second phase: what else can we do, let’s push this platform further and see the kinds of innovations we can do to empower communities of people to do other things. So that’s what we do.”

Despite all the headwinds blowing away trust on the world media scene, Wales believes that it is the golden age of media. “We are in many ways in the golden age of media though we have a lot of problems. We have seen advertising, the only business model of news, is not healthy. There is much fluff news; there are financial pressures; and there are a lot of challenges that we have to find solutions to because we need to focus on quality and we need journalism. But in general people have incredible access to information and entertainment. We are absolutely in the golden age of TV.”

Wales is proud to say his invention has hit a viewership of 1.3 billion devices per month worldwide. “We are the most popular website worldwide,” he enthused.

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