The location for the event {Technological Sovereignty} – Doing Tech the democratic way couldn’t have been more appropriate. Located in Berlin-Mitte, the renowned hackerspace c-Base was the perfect scenery for the presentation of DiEM25s Green Paper. Around 70 people joined the 8 hour event in which lightning talks, panels and fishbowl discussions shed light on the different topics of Technological Sovereignty.

From Platform Monopolies to a Digital Commonwealth

Surrounded by modular synthesizers, 8bit-arcade-consoles and spaceship-chunks, the paper coordinators gave a brief overview of the making-of and the contents of the paper, followed by an in-depth discussion of the second chapter: “A Digital Commonwealth for the 21st Century” by Kate McCurdy and David Schwertgen.
This chapter is dedicated to the first steps DiEM25s tech policy identified to democratise the development of digital technology. It addresses the so-called Platform Monopolies, an ecosystem of companies like Alphabet (aka Google), Facebook, Apple and their numerous clones and off shoots, and claims we need to limit their power and re-open the playing field for fair competition, as well as go beyond with a positive vision for the “digital commonwealth,” a democratic alternative to monopolistic control. The paper proposes:

  • stronger and more versatile anti-trust enforcement,
  • stronger ePrivacy Regulation,
  • mandatory platform interoperability, and
  • collective representation of data producers, i.e. data unions;

and to create an infrastructure for a digital commonwealth through

  • de-commodification of data through a public data commons,
  • support of democratic economic structures for data-driven innovation, and
  • creation of a digital rights framework for citizens.

An example for democratic innovative structures are e.g. platform cooperatives, which were covered in depth during the second panel of the event.

The theoretical groundwork of the second chapter was then fleshed out by two lightning talks of dedicated experts: Claudio Agosti from tracking.exposed and Lorenz Matzat from AlgorithmWatch.

Claudio, a software developer, researcher and DiEM25 member, presented his project eu19.tracking.exposed, an attempt to understand the manipulation processes of information inside digital platforms.

Lorenz informed us about the various fields in which his non-profit organisation is doing research. One of these projects, the “Atlas of Automation,” aims to map the state-of-the-art of automated decision-making systems in Germany. As a dystopian non-German example, Lorenz mentioned the job dismissal algorithm of Amazon, which automatically fires workers that don’t meet Amazon’s benchmarks.

Automation of Work and Platform Cooperatives

The second part of the event was dedicated to scrutinizing corporate control of the digitization and automation of work, and exploring a possible antidote: Platform Cooperatives, which refers to cooperative ownership models of digital platforms. Before we dove into this, the paper coordinators Christoph Schneider and Joren de Wachter framed the debate with highlights of the third and fourth chapter of DiEM25s Green Paper.

Joren posed the provocative question: is intellectual property, in fact, property? In his analysis, copyrights don’t help anyone to build upon protected immaterial goods and instead only prevent other people from using them. Given the fact that huge parts of research and innovation are funded by public money, Joren presented an intuitive demand – “Public Money, Public Code”. His takeaway: Innovation that is funded by public money should remain accessible to all, by default under the most permissive license systems.

Christoph Schneider focused on one core proposal: A Participatory Budgeting Platform for Research and Innovation. In a nutshell, this proposed crowd funding system would allow European citizens to allocate public money through voting on the platform. At the same time, this platform would also enable citizens to identify pressing problems to be addressed through research and innovation.

As a reality check of current platform/worker relationships, DEMOKRATIE IN EUROPA candidate and researcher Joanna Bronowicka gave some examples of how workers’ conditions have worsened with the rise of apps like Foodora, Deliveroo and Uber. For her the solution to this problem is twofold: investment in platform cooperatives that push common ownership, and regulation of existing companies and their business models.

To elaborate best practices and identify possible pitfalls, the following panel discussion hosted platform cooperative practitioners like Peter Harris, co-founder of the music streaming platform resonate.is; Ela Kagel, a curator, adviser and consultant for platform co-ops; and Felix Weth, who runs the cooperatively owned online marketplace fairmondo.de. While the daily grind of platform cooperatives is much more complex than a theoretical framework like the DiEM25 policy paper could possibly incorporate, the panelists largely embraced the core ideas that the policy coordinators came up with.

Final Takes: Democracy is the Technology We Need

As a wrap-up, the evening concluded with some big-picture outlooks on why we need not just technical solutions, but inclusive social and political approaches, to the challenges posed by technology. Mathana Stender, a Berlin-based tech ethicist, presented their CIVIL framework for democracy, envisioning how social and political actors can change the balance of power to restore human-centric decision-making in the age of monopolized machines. Bianca Praetorius, Startup-Coach and also a candidate for DEMOKRATIE IN EUROPA, talked about the Universal Citizens Divided that DiEM25 proposes as a means for European citizens to participate in e.g. productivity boosts achieved by automation.

The evening concluded at length with cold beers and the screening of the interactive documentary Codonaut (available online at codonaut.de), that explores risks, prospects and outlooks in the field of artificial intelligence.

The Technological Sovereignty Green Paper coordinators are very grateful to everyone who contributed to the development of the paper and/or participated in the barcamp event – it was a terrific example of democracy in action!

DiEM25s 3rd Green Paper on Technological Sovereignty

[Image: CC BY-SA 2.0 by JérémY]