DemocraticCity (I). Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities

Notes from the Network democracy for a better city, organized by the D-CENT project, in Barcelona, Spain, on May 5th, 2015. More notes on this event: DemocraticCity.

Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities
Chairs: Arnau Monterde

Gemma Galdón, Eticas Research & Consulting
Cities: smart vs. democratic?

Different concepts of what a smart city is from 2000 to 2012. If in 2000 the definition is based on efficiency and integration of data, in 2012 the definition includes citizen empowerment. But all of them have a certain degree of technophilia, that technology will solve all of our problems.

The smart city, all in all, is an overdose of sensors that gather data everywhere, all the time.

There is a risk in too much trusting technology: if we do not believe well how technology works, we may incur in making worse decisions, in buying in any kind of technology just because, with no objective reasons to buy it.
Smart cities run on data, smart is surveillance. So we have to aim for a responsible smart city, taht takes into account:

  • Legal issues.
  • Acceptability issues.
  • Responsible innovation.

OECD’s principles:

  • Notice.
  • Purpose.
  • Consent.
  • Security.
  • Dislcosure.
  • Access.
  • Accountability.

Carlo Vercellone, Centre d’économie de la Sorbonne
Welfare systems and social services during the systemic crisis of cognitve capitalism

Can we move from a traditional welfare system into a commons-based welfare system? Can we build a smart city based on this approach?

Social welfare services should not be regarded as a cost whose funding should depend on wealth created by the private sector, but instead be recognised as the driving force behind a development dynamics based on knowledge-intensive production and behind an economy whose main productive force is the intellectual quality of the labour force (or, as it is usually called, using an ambiguous expression, human capital).

We are witnessing the growth of the intangible part of capital. The driving sector of the knowledge based economy correspond most closely to the public services provided by the welfare state. It supports a mode of development based on the production of man for and by man (health, education). The aim of capital is not so much to reduce the absolute amount of Welfare expenses, but to reintegrate them within the financial and mercantile circuits.

There are two opposite models of society and regulation of an economy based on knowledge and its dissemination. A rentier model of ‘accumulation through expropriation’ of the commons, and a model of common-fare organized around the priority to investment in non-mercantile collective service and in the production of man for man, and the establishment of an unconditional Social Basic Income (SBI) independent from employment.

Francesca Bria, NESTA
Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities

The making of the Internet of Things and Smart Cities implies the industrialization of the Internet and the convergence of energy, logistics, communications, IP network as a service platform, data-intensive welfare and money and payments systems.

What are the problems?

  • City infrastructure lock-in: the black box city, vendor lock-in, proprietary and non interoperable technologies, public and user data lock-in.
  • Digital panopticon, algorithmic governance based on deep personalization, behavioural profiling, pervasive surveillance.
  • Financialization that comes with smart city: project financing, debt financing, smart bonds, etc.
  • Austerity policy: financialisation of welfare, outsourcing of public services, etc.

Building democratic alternatives:

  • Technological sovereignty and alternatives to platform capitalism.
  • Network democracy and infrastructures for citizen participation.
  • Data politics: data ownership, data portability, encryption, standardises identity management, citizen control, regulate identity marketplace.
  • Anti corruption measures.

Evgeny Morozov, Author & Editorialist

Why all these issues matter in the context of the city?

It seems that the smart city could be an answer to many problems that we found as society. But it is an answer with a very strong baseline: the city is a place for consumption and entertainment. And smart cities are specifically addressed to answer all problems by improving consumption and entertainment.

For instance, personalization may sound appealing, but overindividualization makes it more difficult to think about the city as something that is a common project with your neighbours. Individualization makes it more difficult to think in public terms, but in term of how easy it is now for me to consume or be entertained.

Another issue is data and infrastructure ownership: smart city companies are not city companies. Companies own the infrastructure and the data, not cities. And most companies have nothing to do with the city. Thus, most cities have not the ability to harness technology. Citizens have to contest the fact that data will be privatized and ceased to be theirs.

Most services that companies provide to smart cities are not free, despite the fact that they do say so. These companies are not the new welfare state.

Xabier Barandiaran, Floksociety
Wisdom of crowds and free knowledge open commons against the ‘smart ass’ city

Cognitive capitalism is the set of processes where the private accumulation of capital is made by means of control (production, accumulation, restriction, privatization) of the signs: exploitation of immaterial goods that act upon the mind, attention, imagination and social psique, and including nature and machines. Cognitive capitalism exploits the intellect of the citizen, social communication to extract value, exploits popular knowledge and culture, controls the wisdom of crowds, sets up artificial barriers where there were none (because goods and assets were immaterial), etc.

There is the risk that some supposedly initiatives of the collaborative economy are not genuine: AirBnB, BlaBlaCar or Uber are not really open or transparent, nor collaborative, etc. but just another approach of cognitive capitalism.


Q: What is the transition like towards a new kind of smart city? Gemma Galdon: by getting rid of automatisms when it comes to using personal data, by being critical, by looking for real alternatives to automatization and data collection.

Q: Any model of open data alternative to the ones used in mainstream smart cities projects? Gemma Galdón: yes, there are alternatives but the more radical alternative is whether we can do things without using personal data. Not using personal data in different ways, but with no data at all. Indeed, the vulneralibilization of data is a collective thing: if I make public my data, I am also making available data from my family, friends and acquaintances.

Q: How can you measure the value of Wikipedia?

Q: How do you explain the success of initiatives like AirBnB, BlaBlaCar or Uber? Francesca Bria: they are not only technological platforms, but they are markets, they act as marketplaces where the rules of the game are set by their owners. They are successful because the work well upon network effects, including a certain “social lock-in”: “everyone is in there” or “everyone is using it”. Evgeny Morozov:

Network democracy for a better city (2015)

Evgeny Morozov: How to control new digital intermediaries?

Notes from the Breakfast with Evgeny Morozov, organized by the Consulate General of the United States Barcelona and held at the Consulate in Barcelona, Spain, in December 5, 2012.

Evgeny Morozov is visiting Barcelona to promote the Spanish translation of The Net Delusion. The Dark Side of Internet Freedom and to introduce his upcoming book To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. The US Consulate in Barcelona offered a breakfast with the press and scholars which I happily attended.

The event began with a short keynote by Evgeny Morozov followed by a brief discussion with the attendants.

Evgeny Morozov: How to control new digital intermediaries?

The story that is pictured in The Net Delusion. The Dark Side of Internet Freedom begins in 2006 and the use that advocacy organizations do of social networking sites. Despite some minor effects, it is due acknowledging that online work had not much of an impact. The power was using the same tools of activists to counter-fight protests and protesters. And, indeed, social networking sites (SNS) were being used to haunt, find and punish activists in a sort of a cat & mouse game.

With this side-effect in mind, it is quite surprising that so many people in the “West” are so enthusiastic about ICTs and SNS in particular for advocacy or dissidence if it does not seem to be working. Maybe, people are too confident on the power of media. But he Internet works differently from the Fourth Estate. More access to information, more tools to diffuse a message should work, as it did in the past. But it does not.

Besides, people on the Internet are not engaging, but increasingly getting distracted. How can the online be linked with the offline? How can the online be linked to the on-the-ground activism and protesting? Because the thing is that online protests or demonstrations are not harmful, while offline are. Non-representative or extra-institutional politics simply do not work.

With the Internet one can circumvent political parties, but who cares? How can one translate that into impact? It is just escaping politics. People should move into politics, now being smarter, more resilient, instead of escaping from them.

All the aforementioned especially applies to Eastern regions. What would happen if the Internet could be applied to solving problems in western liberal democracies?

The problem is that new intermediaries know too much about someone that they can affect or tamper one’s process of getting informed, of deliberating, engaging, etc. (e.g. Google Now). Google builds the present almost anywhere (e.g. Google Glass). What Silicon Valley is trying to fix that is actually a feature and not a bug. Silicon Valley is fixing a problem or is developing a solution looking for a problem?


Albert Montagut: Isn’t there a need for new intermediaries? Evgeny Morozov: Predictive policing can work with big data and the appropriate algorithm. But how is this algorithm working or being designed? We do not know. Thus, we need access to code. We need to democratize the process, introducing accountability in the design without hampering private interests. And with the Internet of Things, it will not any more be about the Internet, but about the real world. Offline and online does not apply any more.

Jorge Salcedo: What about the economies of network? What about the change of values (e.g. privacy) that is taking place? Evgeny Morozov: Let us take the example of self-tracking and the quantified-self. There are reasons to use these technologies for personal usage but, at the same time, there can be interests in e.g. car or health insurance companies to access the collected data and be able to calculate probabilities on accidents or diseases. Then, we find there are incentives so that people forget about privacy. Indeed, there are times where the user cannot avoid doing “bad” things, e.g. eating junk food because you cannot afford better food. Should these people be penalized twice, for being poor and for eating what they can afford to eat? The problem with most these things is that one is not free to opt out, so people end up into adverse decisions or moral hazard.

Josep Ibáñez: The lack of awareness of people, can we include that in education? On the other hand, Silicon Valley goes faster than governments, boosted by the smell of profit. How can we gain that power back? Evgeny Morozov: To educate we need a coherent position on some topics, which we do not have. We need to make aware the consequences of technology use during use itself. We must not hide the consequences of the use of technology.

Luis Ángel Fernández Hermana: The Internet is not one single thing, but several things together, and still evolving. We have to learn to operate in a new and evolving territory that is the Internet. Can this be done or the sequences of transitions are impossible to track/learn? Can we create “knowledge networks” that allow people to act online and offline too? Evgeny Morozov: The “Internet” as an entity I believe it not. One thing is the physical network, and another one is the different “Internets” that we use as concepts to explain different things. Many things are beyond the mere “Internet” (e.g. 3D printing) but are systematically attached to this catch-all concept. We have to go beyond this stage of believing that “everything” is the “Internet” and that there is an online world in opposition to the offline world.

Ismael Peña-López: I think there is great consensus that the Internet has brought empowerment to the citizenry. But maybe we forgot a little bit about governance. Indeed, what the 15M Spanish Indignados movement seemed to show was that we were really behind in terms of governance, that the globalization and ICTs had put it up and away from the common citizen. In a sense, we could speak of a trade-off between empowerment and governance the more digital is a society. How can we balance this? How can we regain access to governance with the tools of empowerment? Evgeny Morozov: this is “the” question: how to improve governance with ICTs. But it is different to overarch technology from an improved government because technology works very different and one cannot regulate everything. We have to get empirical, not “macro-theoretical”.

6th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (VIII). Citizen Participation in the Cloud

Notes from the 6th Internet, Law and Politics Conference: Cloud Computing: Law and Politics in the Cloud, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on July 7th and 8th, 2010. More notes on this event: idp2010.

Citizen Participation in the Cloud
Chairs: Ismael Peña-López

Citizen participation in the Cloud: risk of storm
Albert Batlle, Open University of Catalonia.

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The situation we are in is a context of crisis of political legitimacy. This means much less political participation in general and, more specifically, protest voting, young people voting less, decreasing levels of affiliation to parties or other civic organizations, etc.

On the other hand, we see the explosion of the Information Society and of the Web 2.0, “participative” by definition. ICTs are adopted by political organizations in the fields of eGovernment — to provide public services for the citizen — and eDemocracy — to enhance and foster participation.

Two different perspectives in the crossroads between political disaffection and the Information Society:

  • Cyberoptimism: ICTs will lead to a mobilization effect. More people will participate because participation costs are lower, there is much more information than before, etc.
  • Cyberpessimism: ICTs will lead to new elites because of the digital divide. The existing differences between the ones that participated and the ones that didn’t are broadened.
  • Realists: we need more empirical studies (and to avoid technological determinism).

We have new technologies for citizen participation but, what tools for what uses? A research for the Barcelona county council.

After a survey within the Barcelona municipalities, we can state:

  • There are different participation activities depending on whether the communication is horizontal or vertical.
  • There are topics more prone to intensively use ICTs: urban planning, youngsters, education and equality, elder people, sustainability.
  • Not organized citizens, resources, transversal coordination are variables that are usually identified as barriers not overcome; while training, innovation, agenda, associations or political agreement are usually identified as goals reached through ICT-enhanced participation.

The study then goes on to analyze tools and applications and how they fit in the participation process:

  • Directionality, qualitative: unidirectional, bidirectional, hybrid
  • Directionality, quantitative: one-to-one, one-to-many, many to many.
  • Competences: basic, advanced, expert.
  • Applications: type of tool, cost, hosting, “mashability”.

Participation moments:

  • Mobilization: information about the participation process and the goals to be achieved.
  • Development: putting into practice the participation project.
  • Closing: stating the decision being made.
  • Follow up: monitoring and assessment of the decision reached.

A first analysis of 19 international cases, we see that most tools have a one-to-many directionality, are bidirectional, and are mainly used in the mobilization moment. User registration and the data they have to provide is an important issue and must be decided in advance, as happens with deciding the goals and functioning of the process, which includes defining and identifying the role of the online facilitator. Free software is usually the option chosen, and accessibility (in a broad sense) is normally taken into account.

We find two different models. Even if models are not “pure”, we can see opposite approaches: Initiatives aimed at community building, characterized by being open, relational, fostering engagement, using free tools and aiming at a networked participation, with a facilitator that engages in a bidirectional conversation. And policy oriented initiatives, characterized by being more formal (or formalized), focussing at decision-taking and representation, using own platforms and more “traditional” participation means, with a facilitator that guides and information that flows asymmetrically and unidirectionally.

Cloud computing is both an opportunity and a challenge. On the one hand, there are legal hazards that need being solved, but that also disclose some interesting spaces. Indeed, the new a-institutional logic is disruptive but also provides new ways of learning, as the public and private spheres intersect one to each other and get confused (want it or not) one with each other. It is a response to the de-legitimation of political institutions, but it is also a reassurance that citizens do care about public affairs: the crisis is in the institutions, not in participation itself.

Bernard Woolley: “Well, yes, Sir…I mean, it [open government] is the Minister’s policy after all.”
Sir Arnold: “My dear boy, it is a contradiction in terms: you can be open or you can have government.”

(from Yes Minister, 1980)

Evgeny Morozov, Georgetown University’s E. A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

If you cannot see the video, please visit <a href=""></a>

Decisions made at the technological level in Western economies/businesses will affect how cyberactivism takes place… all over the world. What Google, Twitter or Facebook decides impacts citizen action everywhere.

There is much effort on building social capital online, uploading content, gathering people in a group, and this effort relies on a potential arbitrary decision by the owner of the online platform, who serves who knows whose will. Groups in social networking sites disappear every day without previous notice and most times without an explicit and clear reason for it.

But regulating these corporations is often seen as a barrier to democratize more quickly less democratic countries. You don’t want to “spoil” a Web 2.0 application if it is seldom used to raise protests against non-democratic regimes, or used on human emergencies, etc.

But outside of Western countries, most applications are owned and run by local companies that have less freedom of choice than in other places of the World. If the Chinese or Russian or Iranian governments ask for user personal data to these companies, they have little chances not to deliver them. This makes datamining by governments very easy and very effective to locate and identify dissidents.

Besides direct extortion to companies, governments can directly monitor and put up several kinds of citizen surveillance, including entering an individual’s computer because the government infiltrated the computer with a trojan or any other kind of spy-software. Of all, the major problem is not even being aware of that manipulation. Same applies to web servers, of course.

On the legal side, governments or several lobbies have the power to manipulate content online, by crowding out conversations. If this is a trivial debate, then the influence of the strong part has no major impact. But if that is a pre-election debate, it can lead to indirect tampering and not-really-legitimate democratic participation.

And doing all that is not very difficult: custom police can (actually do) google people and see what comes up in the search results, scan their Facebook profiles, see who a specific person is related to and, according to that, decide to decline a visa request.

Besides governments, authors that we would not consider very “democratic” (e.g. fascist movements) are doing impressive things online in social networking sites, mashups, etc. So, Web 2.0 and cloud computing tools are double-edged swords and both serve noble and evil purposes and goals, like e.g. mapping where ethnics minorities are mashing up rich public data with map applications either to avoid or to attack them.

There is a dynamic that the Internet brings and that might makes us stop and think whether we like it or not: is a shift towards full openness a good thing? is a shift towards direct democracy a good thing too?


Ana Sofía Cardenal: can you provide more information about the survey you talked about? Batlle: the survey was made in 112 cities (more than 10,000h less Barcelona). 81% answered the survey explaining use of ICT in participation initiatives.

Ana Sofía Cardenal: why nationalist movements are more present online than liberal ones? Morozov: the short answer is that hate travels more faster than hope online. But it might be more about phobia rather than nationalism. On the other hand, the Internet has no borders and allows for birds of the same flock to cluster around online spaces rather than having to stick to their artificial national myths.

Ismael Peña-López: data havens yes or no? protection or impunity? Morozov: One the one hand, governments should not support law circumvention tools (like TOR), basically because they are massively used by criminals, or by people whose purpose is not very clear and its justification varies depends on your approach. Regarding Wikileaks, the problem is that once a hot file is out, it is difficult to block, and the more you try to block it, the more it is disseminated (the Streisand effect). Something should be done, yes, but it is not clear what.

Ronald Leenes: It is also true that governments also use tools that activists use for security reasons, so they should at least allow for these tools to develop and even be funded. Morozov: right, but you cannot be pushing for the rule of law and with the other hand allowing the proliferation of tools that are clearly used to break the rule of law. Leenes: this apply to many technologies!

Jordi Vilanova: We’re talking about social networking sites as being run by corporations, but it is likely that in the future we find SNS being ruled by foundations or non-governmental organizations. So, there still is some room for Web 2.0 applications being “safely” used by individuals. A second comment is that we are looking at non-democratic regimes but, in the meanwhile, so-called liberal democracies are trimming citizen rights with the excuse of security and so. So we should be more concerned about these hypocrite countries. Morozov: it is true that foundations can run their own SNS, but the thing is that most times is not about the tool, but about audience and critical mass, and this audience is in private corporations’ platforms, and this will be difficult to change. And regarding transparency, transparency has to come with footnotes to avoid misleads.

See also

6th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2010)