Katja Bego of Nesta will set the scene when it comes to the ecosystem of alternative open source initiatives that is being built and fostered in Europe.
Paul Keller of the Open Future foundation will give us an overview of the policy agenda that is unfolding at the EU policy level and what to expect for the future.
Eli Pariser of Civic Signals will provide an informed outside look on how things stand from an US perspective.
Afterwards there will be a Q&A with the audience in which also the speakers are able to react and discuss amongst each other.
Principle researcher at Nesta – London based foundation
On how can emerging technologies lead to challenges.
Nesta is operating the NGI forward project of the European Commission, to help the Commission with an ambitious vision for the internet. Creating building blocks of that vision and help convene an ecosystem to support that vision.
On a path towards a public interest internet. To identify where the remedies are, for building public alternatives. Ensuring the right infrastructure that fosters the ecosystem and to break the negative cycle that has been there.
This is a pivotal moment in time for this agenda, the moment to change direction. Looking at the different layers of the internet more and more. We see more fragmentation, more concentration and more of everything.
How do children see the internet? Right now, they see certain applications, not the free internet of previous generations. We got to a system where there are only a few winners that have their position reinforced over time.
Actors are operating as they were infrastructure, setting the rules, on their private platforms. For example of Google banning third party cookies on Chrome, using their gate keeper role.
Resulting in more fragmentation, balkanization, distrust in technology and national rule setting. Countries setting regulations by themselves.
More of everything, the current system is aimed at growth. It is more intrusive in our lives and also increasing the power usage. An enviromental and social overload. Eroding democracy in the process. Overloading our brains while we reach cognitive limits.
So, what can we do about it? This system of a broken economy. A business model with no open data, no governance systems.
Fixing the excesses in the system is not enough, we need to fundamentally reset the system.
What role is there for Europe in all this? The European Commission has been working on the issue. Vert actively on the regulatory front and there have been notable successes. Europe can take credit for the current drive for more regulation worldwide. But we need more than that to get the right ecosystem to develop.
Europe’s role is also in rethinking the internet. It cannot just be the regulator – the global referee. Of the COVID-recovery funds 20% are earmarked for the transitions, the green transition, but also digital one. With the idea that we need to have more sovereignty. That we cannot be that reliant on external companies.
Sovereignty does not mean just making our own European champions to compete with Silicon Valley and Shenzhen. That does not include the European values. Rethinking internet sovereignty does do that. Rather than building the next google, the Commission needs to make the infrastructure of the future.
Founder of Open Future
Towards a Shared Digital Europe. Question is how to build digital infrastructure for Europe? Looking back to the history on how we saw the internet for inspiration.
In 2001: European policy makers would talk about the information society.
Back then digital policies were not central for the EU, that came in 2010’s.
After that the main way to talk about digital issues were in market terms; the digital market. It is linked to the internal market, but at the same time that is a very limited way of looking at it. It went broader than just the market. It is a digital space, a sphere, with a more societal aspect.
At that time, there was a logic of the biggest players that have all the power. As being involved in the European policy discussion, they look at it from market terms. There is not much imagination, you can get their interest in terms of market failure.
In 2018 GDPR came, which was a game changer. The EU as a rule setter. Showing we can make rules for the digital sphere. Imagination and empowerment on the EU-level and some trickle down to the national level.
In 2019 we came with a vision for a shared digital Europe, to show what should digital policymaking look like, when not looking at it in a market term.
Four principles for designing this shared digital space:
- Enable self-determination of citizens. Policy spaces need to be in control of their own digital public space.
- Cultivate the commons. The internet is enabling a lot of opportunities to shape the commons.
- Decentralize infrastructure. Problems of centralization of platforms, working decentralized can reduce the issues.
- Empower public institutions. Europe has a history of public institutions, libraries, cultural institutions, museums, public broadcasters, are being pushed to the margins. But they are unique and important to European society
After this, in 2020 the Commission came with its new agenda: shaping Europe’s digital future. Less about the market and it moved up to the top priorities of the policy agenda. European digital sovereignty, European values. GDPR as example of European value-based policy intervention.
Policy interventions that are currently under way:
DSA – digital services act, an ambitious piece of legislation on more transparency for digital platforms. Rules for sharing content on platform, more control about the services operate. Regulating a broking system. Targeted advertising is their basis, we can fix some accesses, but not the underlying problems.
DMA – digital market act, safeguarding the competition. Some of the platforms that are too large, give them limits what they can and cannot do. This piece of regulation does not go far enough.
DGA – data governance act, which tries to fundamentally change the way we share data and tries to create a comparative advantage for Europe to try something new. Making more data available for the economy is a very dangerous idea, we have a problem with too much data already. This regulation gives an interesting opportunity for a discussion at the EU policy level and it is now being discussed in the European Parliament.
If you really want to change something, you build a new model that makes the old model obsolete. We as civil society, we have an opportunity to present alternatives.
The European Commission has some ideas, but not a clear vision. There is a lack of imagination, a hole that we can fill. This conference can help with this.
An interoperable public civic ecosystem. Driven by public institutions.
Marleen Stikker asks: Are the public institutions ready to take up this role?
Paul answers: If we would be ready we would not be here. But there is a large opportunity and the ideas are converging. Public ownership of infrastructure, that is no longer owned by large private parties.
Our effort on a shared digital Europe was a policy frame for the Commission to change its policy. We might have influenced the new commission work programme. There is a large opportunity. Yes I think we are ready for it.
After hearing Katja and Paul I think there is some convergences. For New-Public – community of designers and builders to build new public infrastructure. We did research about the qualities and values for building a better Public Digital sphere. To find out where the existing platforms go wrong, where the opportunities are.
Importance socially of Public Spaces, like parks, like libraries etc. They are an operating factor for a healthy democracy. Private platforms were not set up with this in mind. How to compare physical and digital space? There is a wealth of knowledge of public spaces to use for digital live and digital space.
How to define publicness – where anyone can come to participate and interact.
What can we learn from physical public space? Programming and organizing public space? Combination of design and social infrastructure that makes a space flourishing. What is a space for? What is it inviting and what is not? A lot of attention to accessibility of space. People who took responsibility for the space, for the maintenance. Spaces were designed with the communities.
From user friendly design, to optimize for the user, to public friendly design, for quality public experience. This leads to other choices in design. For example, talking only to people you agree with, which can lead to polarization in the end in society.
There is no universal solution to public space, we do not need one algorithm. It needs to be pluralistic and federated and it is contextualized. What are the critical qualities of a flourishing digital public space? Absence of harm doesn’t indicate presence of goodness.
We did an extensive research in five countries to find out what people feel about these issues. In our findings there are four building blocks: welcome, connect, understand and act. And fourteen signals, where not every space has the same signals.
Welcome is the bottom tier of the Maslow pyramid, it is the basis, people need to feel safe and secure. Connect is about bridging between groups, between local groups and power. Understand concerns coming out with a shared understanding. Act shows that is not only about talking, but doing things together
After these finding we went to talk about this with superusers of several platforms.
Twitter: reliable, information safe, but users gave low rating
Facebook: reliable, information safe, but users gave low rating
Reddit: belonging scored high, on other things they scored low
We need to do more research on what the current platforms do and why, to understand what we should build towards in the public space. We are trying to do this research.
Marleen asks Eli a question: We need to be clear on how we want to build the next generation internet. Can you already give examples where these qualities can be found and are implemented? They’re not found mostly in the current platforms.
Eli answers: It is dangerous to look at this too much only on the technical level. It is a technical-social issue, for which we need to look at the social level as well. We need to include people both on the technical level and on the social level, experts in both fields.
To give one example, Friend Port forum, a heavily moderated one question email forum, with real people that are verified. If you were designing for engagement, you would not design it like that. Less engagement to get a stronger signal.
Paul joins (Katja has internet problems).
Marleen asks: we should put our energy not only at pushing back, but also working on the new. But then we should not replicate what is there already. How to get the design right?
Paul Keller answers: Replicating what is there is not always bad. During the COVID crisis all the universities bought a Zoom license. Wouldn’t be better to replicate it in a public sphere? To keep the money in the system and have the notes and videos of lectures open available. There is a lot that we could and should replicate – video conferencing, email, etc.
Marleen gets question from the audience – do we have enough imagination?
Katja answers: we could do a twitter knock off open source etc. and then start building new things. Are we building for the last generation, replicating, should we look ahead and pre-empt the future developments and build for those alternatives.
Marleen: we did not find a good alternative for Hop-In or Zoom, but we are happy to find matrix and use that to interact with you.
Marleen to Eli: you looked into large private platforms, did you already look in the new alternatives like Matrix and Brave.
Eli answers: There was a limit to the research, because it was polling, where we were asking people questions and there needs to be enough people with experience.
How do we get Facebook to do better? How do we build the public Facebook? This is not how public space works – look at the difference between a bookstore and a library.
Social forces in the past led to a call and need for libraries. We need to find out how we shape these public institutions, on which needs, what is the space that is not filled in by the market.
Marleen asks Paul: how do we connect the digital and physical public space?
Paul answers: We have the public broadcasters in Europe and we need this public space in the ether. For the functioning of democracy, we need it. Around Europe it exists in different ways, but always with the same idea.
When we moved to the digital age and digital space, the broadcasters were pushed out. With the argument that the digital spaces was for the market, for the for profit operators. We need to have the same fight we had before for libraries and for public broadcasters, we need to fight against the private interest in the digital space.
Marleen asks all the speakers: What would you like to come out of the conference?
Eli: There is progress needed om different levels. Policy, protocol, but also creating alternatives. We could create a collective that helps imagine these alternatives.
Katja: It would be great to make a network of institutions that are around the table tonight and tomorrow. It is not a traditional group, but a collective that can get a lot done together.
Paul: We should hold policymakers accountable and make them help us and others to build alternatives.
Event Timeslots (1)
Main track Thursday
An introduction to the European ecosystem of alternative open source initiatives, EU policy and an informed outside look from the US. This session will be moderated by Marleen Stikker.