Learn from the crisis: strengthen digital civil society

A group of prominent NGO’s and social movement organizations in the digital sphere have banded together in an initiative to advocate for independent digital infrastructure and free access to knowledge during this crisis! Nextcloud fully supports their goal, telling government especially that:

Building a digital ecosystem that is oriented towards the common good must finally become a political priority!

This crisis, among health consequences, has had and will have a big economic impact. Individuals, organizations and companies have moved towards digital infrastructure in order to conduct their everyday tasks, resulting in major growth at the large technology corporations over the past weeks. The crisis has given these companies a quickly growing market penetration and, often, the winners are few and large, consolidating power further in the hands of a small number of mostly Silicon Valley based corporations.

The pressure has forced many organizations to forego the usual analysis of costs and risks and the near-absolute control a few companies now have over the data and productivity of much of the world and the way they monetize this position is worrisome. Just a few weeks of scrutiny on some of the suddenly-big players like Zoom has already resulted in an impressive and even more worrying list of problematic behaviors, some of which have been corrected but certainly many more still have to be found out.

There are a LOT of reasons to make an active digital ecosystem that offers real options a requirement, we can not be dependent on monopolies during hard times.

The ideal alternative that would stop these companies from being a monopoly and to allow the public and businesses to have a real choice. It would be a digital infrastructure made by software, decentralized platforms and voluntary or open source organizations. Luckily, the technology actually already exist and dozens of groups and organizations have been working together on decentralized and resilient digital infrastructures. These people and organizations have been fighting for everyone’s digital rights, now they are working on free access to the Internet. There are initiatives for free radio networks, the provision of secure communication channels, offers for free knowledge, and open data and free software applications. Long story short, there are many groups that fight for the common good, often relying on voluntary work and citizen donations, expecting only public support in return.

The German “Digitale Zivil Gesellschaft” or Digital civil society publicly demands that

Building a digital ecosystem that is oriented towards the common good must finally be given political priority!

Politics should ACT, RE PRIORITIZE, approach, acknowledge and SUPPORT these organizations and the good they’re trying to achieve! That is why, indeed, you can find our logo there.

What needs to be done is:

  • Politicians should open up even further to suggestions from society and include them in policy making
  • Targeted funding – new funding mechanisms are needed that support the establishment of sustainable structures and not only focus on innovation, but also on the maintenance and further development of existing technologies.
  • Public money, public good – legal foundations are required to make it compulsory for content developed with public funds to be made accessible and reusable. Data protection must always be guaranteed.
  • Development of public digital infrastructure – continuous government investment in developing and maintaining digital infrastructure and building resilient networks is recommended

We at Nextcloud, as open source software developers and supporters, strongly believe in knowledge freedom, we believe that in times of crisis everyone should have choices and we fully support the goal of this initiative.

As a security concerned and privacy respecting company, it is our job to spread awareness on digital sovereignty.

Find some great blogs (in German) from fellow signatories below, and read on for more thoughts and analysis from us.

https://netzpolitik.org/2020/digitale-zivilgesellschaft-staerken/ https://www.ccc.de/de/updates/2020/zivilgesellschaft

How this crisis affects business, governments and individuals

Moving digital, in the last couple of (yes!) years, has been the ultimate choice of businesses in order to be future ready in terms of growth, besides the benefits that online work offers on facilitating work and making everything easier in real time. These are benefits which governments as well, have started to admit.

Moving digital, though very beneficial, was not a necessity to every business or institution, until some weeks ago! The crisis our world is now facing brings every single team in front of a choice: move digital or (slowly) stop existing. Not only business, but also crucial governmental institutions have the need to move to an online infrastructure, if they haven’t yet.

While many can make assumptions, nobody really knows for sure how long this crisis will last, and in an unfortunate way, this crisis favours enterprises operating in the digital sphere as companies will aim to “survive and/or evolve” and governmental institutions should fulfill their own mission. Larger market share for digital businesses is the result and more citizen data will be available on servers than ever before.

And here comes the question: who owns those servers?

In the online world, security and data privacy are a huge concern for companies, governments and individuals whose data might be part of these organization’s jobs.

  • First, there are the many ‘free’ tools you can use. You don’t know what do they do with the data you feed their servers with. You just know that, given you are not paying, you’re not the customer – you’re the product being sold, to advertisers for example.
  • Then there are the paid proprietary software solutions, where you equally don’t know what happens in the code or how and what they do with the data you hand out to their servers, but perhaps you trust them more as you pay for the service. Of course, they can earn far more from you if they simply ALSO do what the first category does, so there are no guarantees.
  • Last, there are open source solutions which you can run on your own servers or at a hosting provider you choose and trust, either with full control by you and your system administrators or managed by a trusted party. You’ll always have full transparency in who has access to the server or its data!

This is a call for every organization or individual new to this “online world”. If you are an individual who’s just trying to get around, you still don’t want your data sold. It is a risk!

Risks for businesses

If you are a company that deals with employee and customer data, you don’t want this data handed to other parties as that exposes you to legal risks and can result in your competitors gaining a big advantage over you.

Just think of how, for a small business selling their products over Amazon gives Amazon complete knowledge of their products and customer demand. Amazon has made it its business to analyze that data and then simply replace the most popular of these products with a cheaper, better promoted, Amazon branded version – killing those businesses’ most profitable products in a single, completely legal ad within the terms-of-service, stroke of a pen.

And just because you don’t sell products on Amazon does not mean this can’t happen to you! Your data can always be ‘anonymized’ and sold to a competitor by your cloud provider – after all, if it can’t be traced to you, how could you ever prove (or know) they did find a way to earn a little extra on you?

Learn more

If you’re German speaking, check out Digitale Zivil Gesellschaft, if you’re not – here are some articles to help you learn more about security, privacy and how self-hosting open source technology can help.






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