Imagine a public service video conference service

Its pretty disheartening to hear about people who seeking/getting help for addiction being trolled. Business insider’s article about Trolls breaking into AA meetings held on Zoom and harassing recovering alcoholics. Speaks volumes about where we currently are with our technology and society.

Its easy to blame the people who would troll people who are seeking help and support. Yes but also Zoom are to blame? Well thats a very easy target and they are not doing themselves any favors although they recently seem to be sorting themselves out. The problem with default settings is a well known problem and the easy thing to do is switch to another platform right?

Looking at the list in the Guardian, its clear the amount which are profit making businesses just like zoom. Its not exactly their fault, the scenario of the public using your service for to run a help group wasn’t in the business plan.

Maybe its time there was a business which did have that in their plans? Maybe not a business at all? Maybe an organisation with public interest & benefit at the centre of its remit?

This is something I was thinking through with Herb the other day, as we talked through the problems with Zoom. Could an organisation like for example the BBC run a video conferencing system for the benefit of the public?

Wouldn’t this conflict with existing commercial businesses and be a problem? Nope not if done correctly. I used healthcare when talking with Herb.

The NHS is a catch all and provide baseline health care. If you want to pay for better/quicker healthcare you can pay BUPA or someone else. In the same way, could the BBC or others provide baseline video conferencing aimed to give everybody a free platform which is  basic but focused on important things like privacy, security, anonymity, etc. This means no custom backgrounds, no filters, no full HD, etc. Thats the realm of the  commercial providers.

I know its a thin line but we can’t such important public services be hostage to commercial factors/models.

There is another aspect to this, the public sector could finally double down on services which preserve privacy and security of the public with software which is audit-able, has levels of transparency and is decentralised & distributed in nature.  For example I was checking out Jitsi with its webRTC support. Jitsi meet might struggling if everybody is hitting the main site but as its self installable, suits a more decentralised model. A public company could easily set it up and run it for under-served audiences?

Thoughts?

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.