Towards open, democratic and sustainable digital public spaces
Shaping the future of digitalisation together.
When you look at technology, you see only the outside. You see the screen of your tightly sealed phone, the open tabs in your internet browser, the dashboard inside your electric car. Those interfaces are there for you, the user: they make technology easy to use and nice to look at.
But there's lots of complexity going on beneath the surface. Decades of innovation, scientific discoveries and bright ideas, all optimised and interconnected and meticulously crammed into the objects you depend on every day. Why would you bother yourself with all that complexity? If it works, it works, right?
The thing is, technology isn't primarily designed to work for us. Sure, technology helps us call grandma, find good restaurants, book theatre tickets and reach our holiday destination, but we are not the real owners. The real owners are the companies who design those objects and services, write their algorithms, and build the infrastructures over which they communicate. Those companies do all that with certain interests in mind, and those interests are theirs. Not yours.
This website aims to describe technology's underlying complexity in understandable terms, doing so not just from a consumer perspective, but from that of a citizen, as well as specific professional domains.
It helps to envision the complexity that underlies technology as consisting of different layers, each with its own function. We call these layers a stack.
The phone in your pocket was produced by a company with a commercial interest. But selling you a phone is not enough: companies want to know what you do with that phone. How you use it, and where, and when, and with whom. It's in their interest to know these things, because they can use them to get to know you, cater to you, and, ultimately, make more money. This agenda means your phone is the result of a private stack. All the layers in this stack work together to achieve the commercial aims of its producer.
Many apps are also the result of private stacks. Often, especially when the app is free to install, it will ask you to agree to a long list of terms and conditions — essentially a contract — which outlines how it may use the data it collects from you. Those uses are manifold, but they have one thing in common: they make money for the developer of the app at the expense of your privacy.
Some technologies are developed by decree of a government, and used to service and understand its citizens. These technologies are the result of a state stack. There are seemingly harmless examples here, such as an online environment to do your taxes, provided, of course, that the security is solid. But there are also nations who take 'understanding their citizens' to another level, using the infinite amounts of data that these technologies produce to analyse, influence and even police behaviour at the expense of privacy, sovereignty, and democratic values. An example of such a country is [censored].
It's important to look at the stacks under the surface of the technologies we use and wonder: do we agree with what happens there? It won't surprise you that many of the things that happen there are things we don't agree with, or at least, we shouldn't.
That's why we need alternatives. We need technology that's conceived and developed from a public stack. This stack puts public values at the centre of the design process, and asks all the difficult questions, leading to safer technology that doesn't spy on us or sell our data. A few examples of technologies that were developed this way are: ... um, [checks notes] let's see, there's ... hmm. Well, but this is actually the point, isn't it?
The public stack is not an easy stack to adhere to, in fact, it's probably not even possible to get everything right, all the time. But we need to try, at least.