Re-decentralizing and reclaiming the internet #netcom15

Re-decentralizing and reclaiming the internet #netcom15

On 1 October 2015, the European Green Group, The Commons Network and the Heinrich Böll Foundation arranged a conference about re-decentralizing and reclaiming the internet for all. The conference was called ‘Internet as a Commons: Public Space in the Digital Age’.

The first panel debate was about ‘the big picture’. It featured Renata Avila, Aral Balkan, Jennifer Baker and Nicole Dewandre in the panel. They were discussing whether or not the current model of internet governance was contrary to the “common good”.

Aral talked about how, today, data is people. He drew an analogy with Hollywood, (and capitalism) which is selling everything about people, except their physical parts. Free pricing often means that we pay with our human rights (data). He brought up two examples of similar proprietary companies that have vastly different strategies: Apple sells you product, Google sells you people.

People farming – We sell people. Advertising is a symptom of people farming.

To create alternatives we need to truly understand data and technology. It should not be project based, we need to move more towards making it product based. We need to create alternatives to funding which doesn’t rely on venture capital.

Aral talked a lot about which is a new social media platform that he is working on. It is free and open source. If three people could manage to build it, with most of the coding being done by Aral, then imagine what people could achieve together. One way they manage to achieve scale is through making the cloud part optional, you can “host yourself” with the option of having it on their servers if you pay for it.

“We need to move beyond the clouds […] towards a decentralized topology.” Google (and others) say: “If you want to share a photo to a friend you need to share it first with us”. Centralization is a problem. Rather than sharing a photo directly to a friend we need to share it with a central source.

Nicole brought up data: just traces of yourself left behind. Today we have sticky interaction by default (data is left behind and can be used). Earlier internet was more evanescent. When we all leave this digital shadow then what is “the self”? However, since internet is not a single subject it will manage to reinvent itself.

Avila pointed out that some countries are regulating your right to look for a particular topic on the internet. With a narrow worldview it will be harder to be truly informed. The right to privacy and the right of opinion is important.

Secrecy, privacy and hiding – it’s important to not confuse these terms – Jennifer Barker

Jennifer mentioned that data can be ammunition in the wrong hands. She believed that de-anonymising people online would cause less harassment towards women. Julia Reda brought up a poignant question countering this:

If we do agree that we all live in a patriarchal society then how would disclosing anonymity help women? -@senficon

The second panel debate was about “examples of decentralised infrastructure”. It featured Edmon Chung (.asia), Robbert Mica (Outernet), Olivier Schulbaum (, Leandro Navarro (professor computer networks) and Estelle Masse (Access) in the panel. They discussed examples of local and decentralised projects that we have today and obstacles they face.

Robbert compared internet to a public good. Roads are everywhere, they are public and we expect them to be there. The same should hold true for internet. Edmon brought up a concern about commons: “If I want to run a commons, is it still permissionless?”

Leandro talked about (which is a community network). The community networks are created because some commercial ISP alternatives are not delivering what consumers want and may lack in openness. Consumers want privacy, affordability and a neutral net.

Avila talked about why governments should do things if commercial alternatives manage to do it better.

If you have a great idea you should be able to deliver it across the internet without paying a toll to your ISP -Estelle

The conference ended a bit late but brought together many people that had a strong will to support Internet as a commons.

I’m hugely happy that there are people in the greens and the people in the pirate party that understands these issues – @aral

The full conference was recorded and you can watch it online

Featured image: Screenshot from the stream of the conference