(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

The second reason to fight Digital Dangers just in order to boost the (local) economy is to make it much more affordable to start up and run a small business in any field. For an artist, fighting the Digital Dangers makes it much easier to live off the profits of his or her own talent, be they from copyright or other sources, with much more control than is often possible today.

In all these cases (basically, everybody on Earth but large corporations and artists who have already won three or four Oscar or Grammy Awards) the difference between open digital technologies or balanced copyright models and the current situation is the same as between owning a house and renting an apartment. If you are the owner you, not the landlord, are free to find and choose the best contractors who will remodel the house like you want, when you want and at the best possible price. All without any need to become an electrician or a plumber yourself. And there is no risk that somebody blocks your access to the personal files, er, belongings, that you left inside the house because they decide that it’s time to remodel or double the rent.

Freeing small businesses from software hassles

Truly open digital technologies can create or save a lot of medium and small businesses, sometimes even outside of the programming sector.

In August 2006, for example, many Internet cafes in Malaysia were informed that letting their own customers use the software purchased for the store was not permitted, unless they purchased a different, obviously more expensive license. The basic license of many commercial software products allows their use only by the employees of the company which purchased the license.

The cost of the license was still too high, and wasn’t even a one time fee. After a quick investigation, many of those Cafe owners discovered a much cheaper and safer alternative, one that may be useful for many other small businesses in any part of the world. In many other cases software free from high licensing costs and complicated end-user agreements may be the only way to start up or run any business with peace of mind. According to a January 2007 report, small and midsized businesses are often more at risk than larger ones of being investigated and sued for software “piracy” issues. Even if they still “have got the original disks, packaging materials and registration documents all on file”.

Will the Internet work against small businesses?

The Digital Dangers for small businesses don’t come only from how software is priced or licensed nowadays. Unbalanced implementations of Net Neutrality, for examples, may hurt small companies and start-ups much more than large corporations.

Another trap lying behind the corner for all small businesses may be the anti fraud feature built into the most popular proprietary Internet browser. This is a problem especially for all those activities which were impossible, or much less profitable, before the Internet.

Internet Explorer 7 will be the first browser able to color in green the address of genuine websites and display their owner’s identity. Note that displaying “www.acme.com, owned by Mr John Doe” in green only means that the website you are looking at is the one actually run by Mr. John Doe. It is no guarantee at all that Mr Doe is an honest guy.

The same browser can also turn Internet addresses yellow on suspicious sites and red on sites which have already been confirmed as fraudulent. All the websites for which there is neither good or bad information would remain plain black on white.

Regardless of how many browsers support it, once this system really takes off, many consumers will naturally feel that it is only safe, or much safer anyway, to only shop on “green websites”. So far so good, but for small businesses this has already been defined by an expert as “a ticking time bomb that is going to explode”.

As they are conceived today, the green colors only appear for websites which have received a special certificate from a central authority. The trap is that, at least initially, sole proprietorships, general partnerships and individuals won’t be eligible to apply for the certificate, no matter how honest and trustworthy they are. The members of that authority couldn’t agree on which rules to apply to such businesses.

(this chapter continues here)