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Redecentralize Digest — August 2020
Don’t shoot the messenger
The Google Play app store decided that several
Subway Tooter, Fedilab, Husky, MastoPane) will be removed from the store
because they ‘promote violence or incite hatred’; thereby blaming the
app for the forums (typically
instances) people _could_ connect to by knowingly entering such a
forum’s address. Mastodon-developer Eugen/Gargron
“A Mastodon app does not host or promote any content. The user types the
address to connect to. The responsibility of moderating resides with
that server. So unless Google is going to drop Chrome, Firefox and Opera
from its platform, this is completely out of line.”
You could just as well start blaming camera apps for the photos people
make with them, or QR code scanners for the content of the codes they
read, or even blame keyboards for the text typed on them.
On the other hand: with social media clients, it seems relatively easy
to add a list of forums it could refuse connecting to, so for the
clear-cut cases of objectionable places it understandably becomes
tempting to impose the duty of blocking access to those. But going this
route opens a can of worms: who determines what counts as problematic?
What about all the cases that are not so clear-cut? What about chat apps
that do not block known hateful groups? And, again, web browsers?
Note that this matter was also debated in the community of the
a year ago
; although much of that debate was rather about the inverse: whether to
reject apps that _do_ block any servers. The F-Droid policy became to
leave app developers free to choose whether to block specific forums;
but require them not to _promote_ a problematic forum — which I
increasingly consider a wise solution.
Suggesting a specific provider is a decision for which an app could be
held responsible. However, it seems untenable to hold provider-neutral
client apps responsible for the service providers their users
intentionally connect to. Or, likewise, to hold content-neutral tools
responsible for the content their users might end up consuming or
Quite likely Google will revert these decisions again in a second review
after sufficient outcry, perhaps with an apology (as
with a podcast app earlier this year). But either way, incidents like
this remind of the deeper problem, which is not the unjustified and
unexplained decisions, nor the opaque and mediocre appeal process, but
people’s dependence on this single gatekeeper platform that makes their
decisions too impactful. Some lessons to draw:
- …for Android users*: Do not rely on Google Play as the only means to
find and install apps — get at least
, or download apps directly from their creator’s website if possible
(and poke them if not).
- …for app developers: Do not rely on Google Play to publish your app —
publish it on your website (ideally not a
domain) and other channels; a nice incentive structure is to charge
money for the app on Google Play, while offering it for free on F-Droid.
- …for legislators: Regulate platforms to prevent network lock-in — do
not presume that some invisible hand will come and fix things.
DWeb meetup on community networks
In July, the DWeb
“Community Views Around the Globe” gave the floor to several people from
around the world involved in community network projects.
Unlike the typical economic development goal of ‘connecting people to
the Internet’, community networks aim for people to _be connecting_
instead of _being connected_; for a community to be in control of the
technology it adopts. Besides (or instead of) connecting to the outside
world, focus is often on local connectivity, and on the specific ways
this can create value for and with the people — for example, to provide
localised information about the epidemic.
Have a look at the event’s
for the recording and for summaries of the participants’ projects and
Note that DWeb meetups are often planned on short notice, so to hear of
them do not rely on the events listed below, but subscribe to e.g. the
DWeb mailing list
The Internet is for End Users
documents from the
specify internet protocols and practices in technical detail. Valuable
exceptions however are the more reflective RFCs, such as the just
with the clear title _“The Internet is for End Users”_. In this RFC, the
IETF’s Internet Architecture Board acknowledges the political impact of
creating technical standards, and stresses the importance of
prioritising end users’ interests over those of other stakeholders.
The document cites for its inspiration the “priority of constituencies”
defined in the
HTML design principles
“In case of conflict, consider users over authors over implementors over
specifiers over theoretical purity.”
To me that reads like poetry.
In theory, people should not need an account on some platform to follow
the news, blogs or other posts. Nearly every website also provides its
posts as an RSS feed, and there is a large ecosystem of apps to read
them with. Nevertheless, RSS is underappreciated and people having been
‘RSS is dead’
for years now.
A big disadvantage of RSS is that it is not self-explanatory. Whereas a
“follow us on Instagram/Twitter/…” kind of button leads visitors to a
web page that helps (& pushes) them to get set up, a “Follow our feed”
button that links to the RSS feed would likely result in people’s screen
being flooded with XML code. As blogger Matt Webb
“If you don’t know what RSS is, it’s really hard to start using it. This
is because, unlike a social media platform, it doesn’t have a homepage.
Nobody owns it. It’s nobody’s job to explain it.”
Hence he created
to try solve this. A simple web page that explains how feeds work, why
you’d want it, and suggests a few reader apps (without being partial to
any of them).
The effort is simple but laudable, and perhaps worth imitating. For
various underappreciated protocols and practices, rather than inventing
yet another app or protocol, it may be more helpful to create
(app- & vendor-neutral!) explainer pages and instruction videos. Or to
undertake an especially thankless but heroic effort: improve the
relevant Wikipedia articles.
“How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism”
Cory Doctorow wrote a long and long-awaited
(see also his
) to critique the narrative of “surveillance capitalism”, as popularised
last year in Shoshana Zuboff’s
. In Cory’s view, _“Zuboff puts enormous and undue weight on the
persuasive power of surveillance-based influence techniques”_, whereas
the problem of big tech is rather rooted in their unrestrained monopoly:
“Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism a “rogue capitalism” whose
data-hoarding and machine-learning techniques rob us of our free will.
But influence campaigns that seek to displace existing, correct beliefs
with false ones have an effect that is small and temporary while
monopolistic dominance over informational systems has massive, enduring
effects. Controlling the results to the world’s search queries means
controlling access both to arguments and their rebuttals and, thus,
control over much of the world’s beliefs. If our concern is how
corporations are foreclosing on our ability to make up our own minds and
determine our own futures, the impact of dominance far exceeds the
impact of manipulation and should be central to our analysis and any
remedies we seek.”
Decentralized Identity Foundation
overview of introductory resources
(videos, organisations, government iniatives, and other publications)
about self-sovereign identity. Also, the
about the privacy and equity implications of such identity systems.
is a coalition of public broadcasters, museums and other publishers,
mostly from the Netherlands, that work on a software ecosystem serving
the common interest. Now that it exists two years, it
on its mission, goals, and non-goals.
- Each day of August, Louis-Olivier Brassard
a reason to leave Facebook, finishing with 10
to replace it.
call for proposals
for “digital infrastructure research”, with $1.3M USD to hand out; but
be quick as it closes this week (5 Sept).
All are online, unless noted otherwise.
; monthly presentations related to the Solid project
Open Tech Will Save Us
; monthly presentations hosted by the Matrix project
; “a conference about the past, present, and future of building our own
; “a technology and culture conference around the broad subjects of
post-capitalist desire, utopian exploration, ecology and alternative
DOTS design workshops
; developing and systematising design patterns for user experience in
1st International Workshop on Distributed Infrastructure for Common Good
, Delft, Netherlands (or online)
- …and see also the various
About this digest
is a monthly publication about internet (re)decentralisation. It covers
progress and thoughts relating technology and politics, without ties to
a particular project nor to one definition of decentralisation —
figuring out its meanings and relations is part of the mission.
This edition was written by Gerben.
The digest’s format and content are not set in stone. Feedback,
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