A panel discussion on an open letter calling for digital European public spaces. We want to discuss what constitutes a European public digital infrastructure, what values should be built upon, what its governance should look like and how this can promote democracy and dialogue within European society.

Moderator Alek Tarkowski of Open Future will moderate a panel debate on the need for a Shared Digital European Public Spaces between:

Alexander Baratsits of the Cultural Broadcasting Archive and one of the co-authors of an open letter to European policy makers. Prof. Dr. Barbara Thomaß of the institute of mediascience at the Ruhr University Bochum. Danny O’Brien director of strategy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Ariadna Matas policy advisor for the Europeana foundation. Paul Tang MEP, initiator of the AdsZuck campaign of the Socialist and Democrats in the European Parliament aimed at ending the abuse of citizens’ personal data by Big Tech companies.

Followed by a Q&A with the participants and panellists.

Speakers

Recap

Alek Tarkowski (Open Future) introduces the panel

I am a fan of the Public Spaces coalition, because it is for a big part the broadcasters that stepped up to fix the internet. Which is an interesting turn of events. We do not want to make the new google and facebook, what do we want?

Alek introduces: Barbara Thomas, Ariadna Matas, Paul Tang, Danny O’Brien, Alexander Baratsits  

Alexander Baratsits sets the scene

We have in Europe cultural and language diversity. Personal profiles are marketed, algorithms are based on maximize business, polarization as a consequence, there is a shift of advertising from the traditional media to the new media, which leads to financial dependency. Content moderation will not counter the dependency. The media concentration is increasing and public media is under pressure.

Alek asks: Good that PublicSpaces is going away from the two main ideas for solutions, to regulate and break them up. This coalition with different names, who all share public in some sense, want to go beyond. What does it mean to go beyond?

Alexander answers: We need digital infrastructure, public, based on rule of law. Using open standards, open source and interoperatebility, decentralized manner. We do not need a Eurotube. There are alternatives that need to be connected. On hosting level there is an initiative coming of the ground for infrastructure.

It all needs to be under democratic control. Some rules in broadcasting are still there in reaction to propaganda media under fascism in the 20th century. We need to have rules in place to allow for pluralistic media when there is a populistic government. There needs to be European intervention when media pluralism is under threat. We need to set up a governance system is in the arkatek paper, recommend to read. We need to invest in Digital Public Spaces.

For the European Cultural Backbone, which has a link to civil platforms, has funding under way for the speech recognition, and search engine. Shared Digital Public Sphere – a coalition coming together – European infrastructure – on the 9th of April a follow up on this conference.

Barbara Thomas

Happy to hear all the alternatives tonight and that public service media was mentioned. Now the digital space is all commercial, who can change this? We are in a hurry, because the platforms are almost destroying democracy, as seen in the US.

Public broadcasters can do this, they have a role to provide not only consumer interest. They are shielded from the market. They have certain rules and certain values to adhere to. They are checked by the democratic processes. There are a lot of elements of civil society in the boards of the public broadcasters to balance the different interests.

Public broadcasters are also in a good position, because they know they need to renew their legitimation. They still have a large reach and they can still do something for the broader public.

On top of that there is pressure from some regimes in several member states, that will not be fixed with a public space on the internet. It will always be in the societal context that determines the impact. They will be built in relation to their society.

Alek asks the question ‘Who can build this?’

Barbara answers: The public broadcasters are in a strong position, but the discussion between them and developers will still be a challenge. The geeks and the broadcasters need to come together to work on this.

Alek introduces Ariadna Matas of Europeana.

Ariadna Matas

There is much discussion at Europeana about the digital public space. Europeana was born 10 years ago in reaction to the shared digital heritage that was being monopolized by Google. It was also a progressive view on what we see as our shared European heritage. Until today this push by private institutions is still there. Europeana is funded by the European Commission, which shows that they see it as an important issue, the shared heritage.

Evaluation is needed on how the concept could be implemented broader. Openess and giving the heritage back to the public. There is a lot of discussion about copyrights. Ethics of AI and open access, sustainability. It is all about how we want our digital public spaces to develop. Interaction with the public cultural heritage sector and the cultural sector in general is needed, to show that they are an important part of the public sphere. Not every institution wants to share their heritage, because they are under pressure on funding, but it is their public role to share it.

Alek repsonds: Europeana is a meta data collector, in that sense it is an example an important institution for the public spaces.

Alek introduces Paul Tang and mentions his Adszuck campaign against personalized ads on social media. Not only regulating platforms but also going beyond, is it part of the political discussion in Brussels?

Paul Tang MEP

We need to do both; regulate the platforms and work on alternatives. As an economist I do not underestimate the market power of the big tech. Also, their lobby power. That is why we came up with the AdsZuck campaign, to get the public on our side in this fight for regulating the big platforms. Much money on advertising is going to the platforms, also political advertising. And advertising in traditional media has gone down.

Besides Adszuck we are working on a tracker free coalition, to convince the advertisers of the alternatives. They need convincing to see the alternatives.

Alek mentions the initiative of the Dutch STER public broadcaster ads to stop using trackers.

Paul reacts: The STER, public broadcaster ads, turned off the trackers and was fine. This example helps us enormously.

This discussion is not only taking place in Europe, but also in the US. Everyone sees there is a problem. We are all trying to deal with it. Also, on the other side of the Atlantic.

Danny O’Brien of the EFF

EU and US have different set up and different position towards the big tech. The US model of providing goods is different. The public sector was developed in a decentralized manner and less top down. The public sector in the US is existing separate of the government / the state. If you look globally there are differences between continents and countries, when it comes to their institutions, but they are all affected by the big platforms and the internet.

Europe shows that ideas can be formed and shared over the internal borders.

Alek mentions the GDPR as an export product.

Danny reacts: the GDPR gave a language a name to the issues as stake. US regulators wanted their own GDPR afterwards. By regulating Big Tech we risk locking them in and build a golden cage for them, which prevents new entrants and innovation from taking place.

Alek opens the floor for other speakers.

Barbara Thomas reacts on Paul Tang: The old and the new need to go together, the private and public. Some German regulations allow only private broadcasting if there is public broadcasting available. We need to invest in the public alternatives next to the private ones. The regulators so far shied away form regulating, but need to step up their game now.

Paul Tang reacts: From the advertising money a lot disappears. The Guardian showed that from one pound of advertising they got only 30%. 70% disappeared of the advertisement investment. The large successful media are losing their trademark on the platforms. Their brand is eroding with long term effects.

Alek: Network discussions and interoperability very fast becomes a technical disucssion. That is where Europeana is an interesting example. About the use of data.

Danny: The fact is that a tracker was made possible by a mistake in a protocol that is now being used, being exploited. It is a bug in the system. We need to fix the bugs. That is why the EFF built a ads blocker to stop tracking.

Barbara: It is not all technical. The issues are techno – social cultural. The broadcasters are being pushed to personalize, by the experience with Netflix, which is good. But we need to do it in a democratic way.

Alek takes two questions from the chat and puts them to the panel: What about working with the global south? With the internet we are everywhere, Europe is a border on itself. Alek asks Ariadna if Europeana can be a global institution.

Ariadna: There is a certain limit when it comes to our focus on European heritage. It is publicly available for users. But we have our mission with a focus on Europe.

Danny: Gives the example of the BBC discussion, about making the content available outside of the UK. Even though it is a national resource, the internet makes it international. But what about the license fees people pay to watch the BBC. This discussion will come back.

Alek asks a philosophical question from the chat: Was the internet ever public and invaded by private companies, or are we trying to build the public space on a private internet?

Ariadna answers that we need to go back to the basis, to the source to reimagine the internet and come up with alternatives.

Paul Tang gives a final comment: We need to stay away from technical issues. Deliberately make it less technical. We need to write a common story that people can relate to and can understand. What we share is a common understanding of the problems. What we need to build is a common story about the solution.

Alek invites Alexander for a final comment:

Alexander: There are some prediction that in Austria the largest newspaper will stop to be printed in 2028, which is relatively soon. Young people are not listening to radio. The change is already there. We need to make sure that GDPR is taken seriously. The rules are being broken, but there is no enforcement of the rules. There is litigation, but not yet with tangible results. This needs to change.

Event Timeslots (1)

Main track Thursday
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Alexander Baratsits of the Cultural Broadcasting Archive and one of the co-authors of an open letter to European policy makers. Prof. Dr. Barbara Thomaß of the institute of mediascience at the Ruhr University Bochum. Danny O’Brien director of strategy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Ariadna Matas policy advisor for the Europeana foundation. And Paul Tang MEP. Followed by a Q&A with the participants and panelists.