How ethical and regenerative are we online?


The core mission of the Ecovillage movement is to strive towards a more regenerative lifestyle. We live in communities where we pay attention to the materials we use to build our homes, the food we grow and consume, the clothes we wear, the way we make decisions together, the traditions we uphold, etc.

However there is at least one aspect that is often neglected. Maybe it is because the topic is too abstract, or maybe it is because there are too many open fronts. It is very easy to make a google search, to use free services such as Gmail or Google Drive, to communicate using Whatsapp or to get that thing you really needed through Amazon.

But have we really wondered what happens with our data when we upload it using our phone or computer? Where is it stored? How can it be that these amazing services are for free?

Most of the online services we are used to have for free in our daily lives are hosted and owned by either Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple or Facebook. Most of their revenue actually comes from big data collection and analysis. Out of our daily interactions with these tools they’re able to perform a behavioral analysis that can be used e.g. to influence the US election process.

Furthermore, services such as Facebook or Google have implemented ranking algorithms to select what news or search hits you see and in which order, creating filter bubbles and echo chambers. These algorithms favor the things we want to see, because that will make us more likely to continue using that tool, but at the same time they limit the nature of things that we read and watch, thus polarizing society more and more.

Nick Sirotich

If that was not enough, the fact of using those services creates a user lock-in effect, making people increasingly dependent on them and reducing the overall variability (less resilience) of our online interactions.

And more people using their services equals more revenue for the aforementioned Companies, that also actively engage in lobbying and advocating to ensure they influence the passing of laws that will benefit them (remeber, these companies are all profit oriented) and to ensure they can also have an impact in the education of future generations (that will be more likely to continue using their products).

Thankfully there are alternatives to all this. Many people have been working for years in order to keep Internet Ethical and unbiased. Free Open Source Sofware (FOSS) gives everybody the rights to use, understand, adapt, and share software. These rights help support other fundamental rights like freedom of speech, freedom of press, and privacy.

Additionally, FOSS can also be hosted anywhere (hosting means where the data and the actual code is located and executed).

At GEN Europe’s Secretariat, we’ve been researching for years which online tools does our Network need and how could we provide an ethical, big-tech-free alternative to them. We’re very happy to have reached a point where we can offer a comprehensive set of tools for our members called the IT Toolbox. It contains FOSS tools that include messaging, data storing and sharing, working in projects, and more!

At GEN Europe’s Secretariat, we’ve been researching for years which online tools does our Network need and how could we provide an ethical, big-tech-free alternative to them

Last but not least, I also want to acknowledge, that the adoption of these tools can be sometimes a slow and frustrating process. In comparison, many more people are using Big Tech tools and many more developers are contributing to their development. So when adopting an alternative FOSS tool, in some situations it might feel as a downgrade. I hope however, that you keep in mind some of what was written above and that helps your adoption process.

As of today, the state of the art of many FOSS tools is very impressive and at the GEN EU Secretariat we are in the process of becoming 100% independent of Big Tech. We have been using our IT Toolbox for almost a year now and we can proudly say that we have advanced one more step towards a regenerative and ethical lifestyle.

Would you like to take the step with us? You can get in touch with us here.

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