This has increased the precariousness of work and the unequal distribution of rewards, and led people to look for different ways of organising themselves economically.
In the previous era, individuals had little bargaining power with their data, and were forced to accept binary terms that required them to surrender information in return for online services. Now, people now have the tools to share and pool their specific data as a collective, and to create permissions over its use for specific purposes. This has given communities and groups the potential to wield much greater economic power in the online economy, setting terms by which data is used and by whom.
‘Platform cooperatives’ exist across all sectors of the economy, and reach into other more community-driven aims too. Local cooperatives exist in energy production and use, the work and gig economy, sharing of tools and equipment, short-term rentals, car sharing, child care, elderly care, local currencies, finance and banking. This has shifted the balance of power in the economy towards individuals and communities, and away from global companies. For instance, cleaners can work together in a cooperative without a middleman to provide services, and control the distribution of profits amongst themselves, supporting fair working conditions, while delivering accountability and quality to customers.
While in the past, ‘democratising the internet’ could be used simply to mean access to a service, this now implies that people have a genuine say in how the platforms they use are run. This makes them self-managing. Cooperatives also have specialist technical boards which handle complex decisions about changes to the technology which underpins the platforms.
A part-time science teacher and stay-at-home dad.
David is involved in a neighbourhood energy cooperative which runs completely on renewable energy. It was formed after residents, discussing neighbourhood issues on an online deliberation platform, identified extortionate energy prices and a lack of focus on renewables from national government as a shared concern.
David had not previously been involved in community action but had been personally interested in climate change since his days as a student. He and his partner had been making environmentally conscious choices throughout their adult lives and saw this as a further chance to make an effort where they could.
The energy cooperative was formed and each member granted permission to access their energy consumption and production data to other members. This provided a picture of the total energy requirements of the neighbourhood, how much energy was produced by solar panels and mini wind turbines, and the profile of demand and supply.
The cooperative members were conscious that the supply and demand of energy did not always match up - people wanted to use energy in the evening but solar panels typically produced most energy during the day. They spoke to another cooperative in a neighbouring town, who shared an app they had built that uses data from the cooperative and other open data to make predictions about periods of high demand and high supply. It then creates prompts for people to encourage them to use appliances outside of peak hours to reduce the strain on the local grid.
Over time, the neighbourhood has become more invested in the scheme and people have committed to producing more renewable energy. Eventually the cooperative reached a point where it could run entirely using the local renewable energy production. A retribution scheme was put in place, so excess energy of some neighbors was used by others with a level of compensation offered.