Internet Architecture Board (IAB) M. Nottingham
Request for Comments: 8890
The Internet is for End Users
This document explains why the IAB believes that, when there is a
conflict between the interests of end users of the Internet and other
parties, IETF decisions should favor end users. It also explores how
the IETF can more effectively achieve this.
Status of This Memo
This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is
published for informational purposes.
This document is a product of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB)
and represents information that the IAB has deemed valuable to
provide for permanent record. It represents the consensus of the
Internet Architecture Board (IAB). Documents approved for
publication by the IAB are not candidates for any level of Internet
Standard; see Section 2 of RFC 7841
Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8890
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Table of Contents 1.
Who Are "End Users"? 3.
Why the IETF Should Prioritize End Users 4.
How the IETF Can Prioritize End Users 4.1.
Engaging the Internet Community 4.2.
Creating User-Focused Systems 4.3.
Identifying Negative End-User Impact 4.4.
Handling Conflicting End-User Needs 4.5.
Deprioritizing Internal Needs 5.
IANA Considerations 6.
Security Considerations 7.
IAB Members at the Time of Approval
Many who participate in the IETF are most comfortable making what we
believe to be purely technical decisions; our process favors
technical merit through our well-known mantra of "rough consensus and
Nevertheless, the running code that results from our process (when
things work well) inevitably has an impact beyond technical
considerations, because the underlying decisions afford some uses
while discouraging others. While we believe we are making only
technical decisions, in reality, we are defining (in some degree)
what is possible on the Internet itself.
This impact has become significant. As the Internet increasingly
mediates essential functions in societies, it has unavoidably become
profoundly political; it has helped people overthrow governments,
revolutionize social orders, swing elections, control populations,
collect data about individuals, and reveal secrets. It has created
wealth for some individuals and companies while destroying that of
All of this raises the question: For whom do we go through the pain
of gathering rough consensus and writing running code?
After all, there are a variety of parties that standards can benefit,
such as (but not limited to) end users, network operators, schools,
equipment vendors, specification authors, specification implementers,
content owners, governments, nongovernmental organizations, social
movements, employers, and parents.
Successful specifications will provide some benefit to all the
relevant parties because standards do not represent a zero-sum game.
However, there are sometimes situations where there is a conflict
between the needs of two (or more) parties.
In these situations, when one of those parties is an "end user" of
the Internet -- for example, a person using a web browser, mail
client, or another agent that connects to the Internet -- the
Internet Architecture Board argues that the IETF should favor their
interests over those of other parties. Section 2
explains what is meant by "end users", Section 3
why IETF work should prioritize them, and Section 4
describes how we
can do that.
2. Who Are "End Users"?
In this document, "end users" means human users whose activities IETF
standards support, sometimes indirectly. Thus, the end user of a
protocol to manage routers is not a router administrator; it is the
people using the network that the router operates within.
End users are not necessarily a homogenous group; they might have
different views of how the Internet should work and might occupy
several roles, such as a seller, buyer, publisher, reader, service
provider, and consumer. An end user might browse the Web, monitor
remote equipment, play a game, videoconference with colleagues, send
messages to friends, or perform an operation in a remote surgery
theater. They might be "at the keyboard" or represented by software
indirectly (e.g., as a daemon).
Likewise, an individual end user might have many interests (e.g.,
privacy, security, flexibility, reachability) that are sometimes in
A person whose interests we need to consider might not directly be
using a specific system connected to the Internet. For example, if a
child is using a browser, the interests of that child's parents or
guardians may be relevant. A person pictured in a photograph may
have an interest in systems that process that photograph; a person
entering a room with sensors that send data to the Internet may have
interests that may be involved in our deliberations about how those
sensor readings are handled.
While such less-direct interactions between people and the Internet
may be harder to evaluate, this document's concept of "end user"
nonetheless includes such people.
3. Why the IETF Should Prioritize End Users
Even before the IETF was established, the Internet technical
community has focused on user needs since at least [RFC0001
stated that "One of our goals must be to stimulate the immediate and
easy use by a wide class of users."
And, while we specialize in technical matters, the IETF is not
neutral about the purpose of its work in developing the Internet; in
"A Mission Statement for the IETF" [RFC3935
], the definitions
| The IETF community wants the Internet to succeed because we
| believe that the existence of the Internet, and its influence on
| economics, communication, and education, will help us to build a
| better human society.
Later, in "The Scope of the Internet" (Section 4.1
| The Internet isn't value-neutral, and neither is the IETF. We
| want the Internet to be useful for communities that share our
| commitment to openness and fairness. We embrace technical
| concepts such as decentralized control, edge-user empowerment and
| sharing of resources, because those concepts resonate with the
| core values of the IETF community. These concepts have little to
| do with the technology that's possible, and much to do with the
| technology that we choose to create.
In other words, the IETF develops and maintains the Internet to
promote the social good. The society that the IETF is attempting to
enhance is composed of end users, along with groups of them forming
businesses, governments, clubs, civil society organizations, and
Merely advancing the measurable success of the Internet (e.g.,
deployment size, bandwidth, latency, number of users) is not an
adequate goal; doing so ignores how technology is so often used as a
lever to assert power over users, rather than empower them.
Beyond fulfilling the IETF's mission, prioritizing end users can also
help to ensure the long-term health of the Internet and the IETF's
relevance to it. Perceptions of capture by vendors or other
providers harm both; the IETF's work will (deservedly) lose end
users' trust if it prioritizes (or is perceived to prioritize)
others' interests over them.
Ultimately, the Internet will succeed or fail based upon the actions
of its end users, because they are the driving force behind its
growth to date. Not prioritizing them jeopardizes the network effect
that the Internet relies upon to provide so much value.
4. How the IETF Can Prioritize End Users
There are a few ways that the IAB believes the IETF community can
prioritize end users, based upon our observations. This is not a
4.1. Engaging the Internet Community
The IETF community does not have any unique insight into what is
"good for end users", and it is not uncommon for us to be at a
further disadvantage because of our close understanding of some --
but not all -- aspects of the Internet.
At the same time, we have a culture of considerable deference to a
broader "Internet community" -- roughly what this document calls end
users -- in our decision-making processes. Mere deference, however,
is not adequate; even with the best intentions, we cannot assume that
our experiences of the Internet are those of all of its end users or
that our decisions have a positive impact upon them.
Therefore, we have not only a responsibility to analyze and consider
the impacts of the IETF's work, but also a responsibility to consult
with that greater Internet community. In particular, we should do so
when one of our decisions has a potential impact upon end users.
The IETF community faces significant hurdles in doing so. Our work
is specialized and often esoteric, and processes for developing
standards often involve very long timescales. Affected parties are
rarely technical experts, and they often base their understanding of
the Internet upon incomplete (and sometimes inaccurate) models.
Often, even when we try to engage a broader audience, their
participation is minimal -- until a change affects someone in a way
they don't like. Surprising the Internet community is rarely a good
Government-sponsored individuals sometimes participate in the IETF
community. While this is welcome, it should not be taken as
automatically representative of end users elsewhere, or even all end
users in the relevant jurisdiction. Furthermore, what is desirable
in one jurisdiction (or at least to its administrators) might be
detrimental in others (see Section 4.4
While some civil society organizations specialize in technology and
Internet policy, they rarely can participate broadly, nor are they
necessarily representative of the larger Internet community.
Nevertheless, their understanding of end-user needs is often
profound, and they are in many ways the best-informed advocates for
end-user concerns; they should be considered a primary channel for
engaging the broader Internet community.
A promising approach to help fill these gaps is to identify and
engage with specifically affected communities when making decisions
that might affect them, for example, one or more industry
associations, user groups, or a set of individuals, though we can't
formally ensure that they are appropriately representative.
In doing so, we should not require them to "come to us"; unless a
stakeholder community is already engaged in the IETF process
effectively, the IETF community should explore how to meet with them
on their terms -- take the initiative to contact them, explain our
work, and solicit their feedback.
In particular, while IAB workshops, BOFs, and Bar BOFs can be an
effective mechanism to gather input within our community, they rarely
have the visibility into other communities that is required to
solicit input, much less effective participation.
Instead, an event like a workshop may be more effective if co-located
with -- and ideally hosted or co-hosted by -- a forum that's familiar
to that stakeholder community. We should also raise the visibility
of IETF work (or potential IETF work) in such fora through conference
talks, panels, newsletter articles, etc.
For example, the IAB ESCAPE workshop [RFC8752
] solicited input from
Internet publishers and advertisers about a proposal that might
affect them. While the workshop was considered successful,
participation might have been improved by identifying an appropriate
industry forum and working with them to host the event.
When we engage with the Internet community, we should also clearly
identify tailored feedback mechanisms (e.g., subscribing to a mailing
list may not be appropriate) and assure that they are well known in
The Internet Society can be an invaluable partner in these efforts;
their focus on the Internet community, policy expertise, and
resources can help to facilitate discussions with the appropriate
Finally, we should remember that the RFC Series contains Requests For
Comments; if there are serious implications of our work, we should
document them and ask for feedback from the Internet community.
4.2. Creating User-Focused Systems
We should pay particular attention to the kinds of architectures we
create and whether they encourage or discourage an Internet that
works for end users.
For example, one of the most successful Internet applications is the
Web, which uses the HTTP application protocol. One of HTTP's key
implementation roles is that of the web browser -- called the "user
agent" in [RFC7230
] and other specifications.
User agents act as intermediaries between a service and the end user;
rather than downloading an executable program from a service that has
arbitrary access into the users' system, the user agent only allows
limited access to display content and run code in a sandboxed
environment. End users are diverse and the ability of a few user
agents to represent individual interests properly is imperfect, but
this arrangement is an improvement over the alternative -- the need
to trust a website completely with all information on your system to
Defining the user agent role in standards also creates a virtuous
cycle; it allows multiple implementations, allowing end users to
switch between them with relatively low costs (although there are
concerns about the complexity of the Web creating barriers to entry
for new implementations). This creates an incentive for implementers
to consider the users' needs carefully, which are often reflected
into the defining standards. The resulting ecosystem has many
remaining problems, but a distinguished user agent role provides an
opportunity to improve it.
In contrast, the Internet of Things (IoT) has not yet seen the broad
adoption of a similar role; many current systems require opaque,
vendor-specific software or hardware for the user-facing component.
Perhaps as a result of this, that ecosystem and its end users face
4.3. Identifying Negative End-User Impact
At its best, our work will unambiguously build a better human
society. Sometimes, we will consciously be neutral and open-ended,
allowing the "tussle" among stakeholders to produce a range of
results (see [TUSSLE] for further discussion).
At the very least, however, we must examine our work for negative
impact on end users and take steps to mitigate it where encountered.
In particular, when we've identified a conflict between the interests
of end users and other stakeholders, we should err on the side of
protecting end users.
Note that "negative impact on end users" is not defined in this
document; that is something that the relevant body (e.g., working
group) needs to discuss and come to consensus on. Merely asserting
that something is harmful is not adequate. The converse is also
true, though; it's not good practice to avoid identifying harms, nor
is it acceptable to ignore them when brought to our attention.
The IAB and IETF have already established a body of guidance for
situations where this conflict is common, including (but not limited
] on filtering, [RFC7258
] and [RFC7624
] on pervasive
] on host firewalls, and [RFC6973
Much of that advice has focused on maintaining the end-to-end
properties of a connection [RFC3724
]. This does not mean that our
responsibility to end users stops there; decisions might affect them
in other ways. For example, data collection by various applications
even inside otherwise secure connections is a major problem on the
Internet today. Also, inappropriate concentration of power on the
Internet has become a concerning phenomenon -- one that protocol
design might have some influence upon.
4.4. Handling Conflicting End-User Needs
When the needs of different end users conflict (for example, two sets
of end users both have reasonable desires), we again should try to
minimize negative impact.
For example, when a decision improves the Internet for end users in
one jurisdiction, but at the cost of potential harm to others
elsewhere, that is not a good trade-off. As such, we design the
Internet for the pessimal environment; if a user can be harmed, they
probably will be, somewhere.
There may be cases where genuine technical need requires compromise.
However, such trade-offs are carefully examined and avoided when
there are alternate means of achieving the desired goals. If they
cannot be, these choices and reasoning ought to be thoroughly
4.5. Deprioritizing Internal Needs
There are several needs that are very visible to us as specification
authors but should explicitly not be prioritized over the needs of
These include convenience for document editors, IETF process matters,
and "architectural purity" for its own sake.
5. IANA Considerations
This document has no IANA actions.
6. Security Considerations
This document does not have any direct security impact; however,
failing to prioritize end users might well affect their security
negatively in the long term.
7. Informative References
] Crocker, S., "Host Software", RFC 1
, DOI 10.17487/RFC0001
April 1969, <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc1
] Kempf, J., Ed., Austein, R., Ed., and IAB, "The Rise of
the Middle and the Future of End-to-End: Reflections on
the Evolution of the Internet Architecture", RFC 3724
, March 2004,
] Alvestrand, H., "A Mission Statement for the IETF",
BCP 95, RFC 3935
, DOI 10.17487/RFC3935
, October 2004,
] Cooper, A., Tschofenig, H., Aboba, B., Peterson, J.,
Morris, J., Hansen, M., and R. Smith, "Privacy
Considerations for Internet Protocols", RFC 6973
, July 2013,
] Fielding, R., Ed. and J. Reschke, Ed., "Hypertext Transfer
Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Message Syntax and Routing", RFC 7230
, DOI 10.17487/RFC7230
, June 2014,
] Farrell, S. and H. Tschofenig, "Pervasive Monitoring Is an
Attack", BCP 188, RFC 7258
, DOI 10.17487/RFC7258
] Thaler, D., "Reflections on Host Firewalls", RFC 7288
, June 2014,
] Barnes, R., Schneier, B., Jennings, C., Hardie, T.,
Trammell, B., Huitema, C., and D. Borkmann,
"Confidentiality in the Face of Pervasive Surveillance: A
Threat Model and Problem Statement", RFC 7624
, August 2015,
] Barnes, R., Cooper, A., Kolkman, O., Thaler, D., and E.
Nordmark, "Technical Considerations for Internet Service
Blocking and Filtering", RFC 7754
, DOI 10.17487/RFC7754
March 2016, <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc7754
] Thomson, M. and M. Nottingham, "Report from the IAB
Workshop on Exploring Synergy between Content Aggregation
and the Publisher Ecosystem (ESCAPE)", RFC 8752
, March 2020,
[TUSSLE] Clark, D., Sollins, K., Wroclawski, J., and R. Braden,
"Tussle in Cyberspace: Defining Tomorrow's Internet",
DOI 10.1145/633025.633059, August 2002,
IAB Members at the Time of Approval
Internet Architecture Board members at the time this document was
approved for publication were:
Many discussions influenced this document, both inside and outside of
the IETF and IAB. In particular, Edward Snowden's comments regarding
the priority of end users at IETF 93 and the HTML5 Priority of
Constituencies were both influential.
Many people gave feedback and input, including Harald Alvestrand,
Mohamed Boucadair, Joe Hildebrand, Lee Howard, Russ Housley, Niels
ten Oever, Mando Rachovitsa, John Klensin, and Eliot Lear.