The move aims to secure the nuts and bolts of Internet infrastructure that are currently controlled by the United States.
Germany is set to launch a sovereign tech fund to support the open source software that underpins the internet, according to reporting in Science Business. The move is prompted by fears the US could withdraw support for this neglected but crucial building block of digital infrastructure.
Initial backing of €3.5 million a year for the fund is far less than campaigners hoped for. But supporters see it as a crucial first step to bolstering European resilience against internet security flaws, for example, that can cripple companies and research institutions.
The open source regime that supports Internet infrastructure is fragile, according to the Germans. “Over the last couple of years, these basic technologies were only discussed when something was going wrong,” said Felix Reda, a German former Pirate Party MEP and now copyright researcher at Harvard University, who has been pushing for the fund.
Danger in letting the US control the technology
What particularly spooked European software experts was a threat in 2020 by the US administration of Donald Trump to cut funding for the Washington DC-based Open Technology Fund (OTF).
The OTF has been key in maintaining many of these underlying technologies and also has a mission to preserve internet freedom and privacy. It has given millions of dollars to the Tor Project, for example, which allows users to browse the web anonymously.
Ultimately, the Trump administration’s attack on the OTF was headed off, but even so, campaigners in Europe remain convinced the EU needs more of its own support for open source software.
The German government has now committed €3.5 million annually for its sovereign tech fund to support these base digital technologies, confirmed a spokeswoman for Maik Außendorf, digital policy spokesman for the Green Party, which is part of the governing coalition.
“This is a good beginning,” the spokeswoman said. But this budget is just a third of the €10 million recommended by a feasibility study written by Krakenbürger and colleagues last year.
“It’s not as much as we initially thought,” said Reda. “My hope is that it would be increased. So that before long, we would be able to reach this budget of €10 million a year, which I still think is necessary.”
“It will still be an incredibly good investment,” said Reda. “It will still be much, much more effective than giving money to a single company to build some proprietary [non open source] solution that we might become dependent on in ourselves in the future.”