Sustainable collaborative economy

Data and privacy

Under current models of internet access, users pay a monthly subscription to infrastructure providers – their Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – while the accessed services and content, mostly controlled by the web 2.0 giants, are available for free. These companies do not generate but host or index content and other web applications, as well as provide communication channels for users. In this setup, end-users, unconsciously or willingly, often even simply out of convenience, pay with their data for obtaining access: end-users generate a huge amount of data that is the raw material under those companies business model. These companies’ end goals, however, are cloaked by a rhetoric of efficacy and connectivity.

An enlightening take on this topic is presented by Shoshana Zuboff in a VPRO Documentary about surveillance capitalism. In the remainder of this section, we will cover some of the important ideas explained by Zuboff. While on the internet, users not only generate “primary” data (e.g. textual communication content or photos of family vacations) but also, and sometimes more importantly, metadata such as behaviour and communication patterns or the abstract traits that are generated and mobilized by facial recognition models. This not only allows for targeted ads but also predictive analytics that can be used in a number of problematic ways. The creation of these second-order data products allows companies to claim they do not breach privacy nor they sell personal data.

Some of all this sea of data is not used to improve the service but to train dynamic and self-adaptive models – patterns in behaviour over time. Behaviour models can consequently predict what each individual may desire, with that prediction then being auctioned to businesses in the form of ads. While all of this is sub-perceptual but it deals with our infinitesimal traces (e.g. beliefs, orientations, cognitive and also bodily features). Predictive signals, abstracted from published personal content, even physiological signs to train models, sell predictions to businesses and military (even to authoritarian regimes and surveillance contractors).  Facebook contagion study through subliminal queues and language manipulation – real-world manipulation through online methods while bypassing user awareness

Learn more about surveillance capitalism by listening to Shoshana Zuboff

Sharing economy

Providing an ecosystem that serves as a connectivity and sociability platform, structured around communication and the exchange of freely generated content, is a strategy that achieves hyper-scalability (fast growth): by siloing their ecosystems and using a model with low associated barriers and costs, these companies effectively capture the benefits of network effect (the increase in value of a product or service resulting from higher numbers of other people using it) and of social incentivization mechanisms. Thus, these companies harness user activity and engagement which in turn contributes to strengthening their closed ecosystems. As such, they position themselves as gateways to everything that is connected to the internet and they become the de facto (even if not de jure) rulers of that network of networks. 

Increasingly, a significant number of citizens understand that ‘free is never free’, and are not interested in renouncing control over their own data and confidential information. Right now, parallel realities of sustainable business models exist and, while most of them keep putting profit over people, a growing number of cases demonstrate an opposite interest. The promise of ‘convenience’ gives place to the desire for ‘safe’ ,‘effective’ , ‘reliable’  and ‘controllable’ digital environments, where citizens feel their needs for ‘safety’, ‘effectiveness’, ‘reliability’, ‘transparency’ and ‘controllability’ are being met.

Compared to previous interpretations, when sustainability of growth was considered primordial, by now sustainability of living comes to the foreground. The broad concept of sustainability therefore includes the economic, social and ecological aspects, striking a balance between these 3 important areas. Sustainability implies leaving more to the next generation than what our generation has lived up until now. A broad interpretation needs to be adapted to the management of resources as well. A sustainable collaborative environment implies innovative and rational use of resources. Establishing collaborative micro-ecosystems fosters sustainable economic and social exchanges.

A broader interpretation of sustainability should integrate the management of resources – a sustainable and collaborative environment implies distributed governance structures. A true XXI century rationality for resource use and management must thus integrate ideas of both conscious participation and the possibilities created by algorithmic automation and infinitesimal operations that, while maintaining transparency, escape full conscious awareness. Striking a balance in this regard is central for an up-to-date notion of platform governance and a friendly environment for citizens to collaborate and prosper.

By using blockchain technology, ARTICONF assures traceability and transparency, allowing to reliably ascertain the origin and the trajectory of intangible goods (i.e. digital content and other forms of intellectual property)  as well as physical goods in production, supply chains, trade and consumption processes. Mapping of the complete supply chain, incentivisation, recognition of sustainability imperatives, and the automated verification of data could contribute to bettering of lives across the globe.

It also provides both an immutable and distributed record of information – multiple copies held by different nodes in the network make it harder to tamper with – as well as formalized “smart” contracts that can be audited and triggered automatically – thus allowing a more transparent governance of the ecosystem. Accountability does matter to the conscious citizen, and verified information on the blockchain can consequently serve as proof of statements and of relationships. In addition, using a digest blockchain ledger that indexes encrypted content makes auditability possible while preserving privacy and anonymity.

ARTICONF is a project that cares about supporting a fair and inclusive sharing economy. For that purpose, the following elements will be explored:

  • Interactivity
  • Incentives and gamification
  • Analytics
  • Open data
  • Economic, social and environmental sustainability
  • Mobility

This Knowledge Base Resource was developed by The University of Edinburgh and Vialog Ltd’s team. Our goal was to raise awareness of the differences between the current model of sharing economy platforms and their open, decentralized alternatives.

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