UK

Jimmy Wales On Joining The People's Operator And The UK Government's Porn Filter

21/01/2014 17:45 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 21:01 GMT
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Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, poses for a photograph in London, U.K., on Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. To keep the online encyclopedia free and without advertising, Wikimedia Foundation Inc., the non-profit organization that operates Wikipedia, has held funderaisers since 2005. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has just branched out into the phone business, becoming co-chair of the People's Operator, a London-based ethical mobile phone network that donates 10% of its customers' bills to a charity of their choice and 25% of its own profits to good causes.

As co-chair, Wales has now taken a stake in the business and will work to take it global. Besides his new phone network, Wales has been a passionate free speech advocate, working with other sites to strike down the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) act in 2012 and recently hailing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a "hero".

The Wikipedia founder was recently brought on as a high-profile adviser by the UK government, working to advise on how to make its policy decisions more transparent. Last year, he lashed out at the government over its "ridiculous" proposal to implement a porn filter through internet service providers.

HuffPostUK spoke to him about his new cellphone business, his objections to the UK porn filter and how he sees Wikipedia's role in British education.

So Jimmy, what attracted you to The People's Operator?

I get pitched lots of things and they generally fall into one or two camps, either they're very lofty and noble visions but with no practical way to get to those goals or they're perfectly suitable business propositions which I don’t find all that inspirational. This was a unique combination of both.

I see the opportunity to raise huge amounts of money for charitable causes but also they have a practical model. They're up and working in the UK and I'm going to help them go global.

After Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA's phone surveillance, are you confident about the TPO's security procedures?

We're going to follow the strongest best practises on the privacy matters. It's an issue I have a great passion about.

We are partnered with Everything Everywhere so we don't have complete control of the network, so there is only so much we can do.

Do you feel the UK government's porn filter is an insidious proposal?

Yes completely. It was always going to be that way. Speaking purely as a technolgist, this software does not work. It is completely non-functional so it does as much harm as good and it as very unwise to force it on people as a default.

One of the big problems that we have in society these days is that politicians feel very comfortable regulating things about which they know nothing. This gives rise to some cases that you can criticize as a human rights issue but in many cases with the internet, in addition to being a human rights issue, it's also completely incompetent what they're trying to accomplish and they don't understand the internet at all.

Do any of them strike you as understanding the internet?

They're rare, they're few and far between. There are far more who unfortunately are just clueless and take a lot of pride in their cluelessness.

I think a lot of times politicians just give in to cosmetic measures so they can say they've done something. It's not just about the internet but it's a disease of politics everywhere. [They make] knee-jerk moves that don't really make much sense so they can go home and say I've done something. It's unfortunate.

How do you see Wikipedia's role in the UK syllabus for students?

One of the things we can know for sure is 100% of all students are using Wikipedia so it is a fundamental part of education today.

I think we have moved on from the question of should students use Wikipedia to a question of how should students use Wikipedia and grow with media conference to be able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of various sources of knowledge. We fit into an overall landscape that gets not just kids but university students and people need to be educated about it.