Disclosive Ethics and the Platform Economy: Making the Ethics and Politics of Platform Cooperatives Visible

Shaked Spier

When discussing digital ethics, ethics by design, etc., some fundamental questions come up: what does it mean to build values into a technology’s design? Where and how do we find them? Do technologies actually have politics?
I present an approach to reconstruct digital platforms' values and make them visible using case studies of platform co-ops.
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Lightning Talk

Digital ethics, ethics by design, etc. are gaining increasing attention from companies, legislators, researchers, and activists. But what does it mean to build values into a technology’s design? Where and how do we find them? Do technologies actually have politics (as argued by Langdon Winner)?

In the platform and sharing economy, a lot is at stake: advocates emphasize the positive environmental and economic potentials. Whereas critics point out mainstream platforms’ controversial practices in terms of working conditions, impact on local communities, and neoliberal ideology. Responding to this, platform companies often claim they are merely intermediaries and therefore not responsible for the platforms’ social and political consequences. An argument with a striking similarity to the old “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument (aka the “neutrality thesis”). There are, however, alternatives to mainstream platforms, notably platform co-ops. Platform co-ops and their mainstream counterparts may have similar applications (e.g., food delivery, short-term rentals), but they differ in a wide range of ways: business models, ownership, institutional structures, and arguably their ethical and political values. These fundamental differences have a variety of ethical and political implications for the platforms’ design.

In my research, I applied the disclosive computer ethics (DCE) approach to reconstruct the ethical and political values of platform co-ops based on two case studies: CoopCycle (food delivery) and Fairbnb (short-term rentals). DCE focuses on identifying and evaluating embedded values, moral and political issues, and normativity in IT, applications, and practices; especially when these are morally opaque.

In the session, I will present my research findings and discuss the implications for how we design, understand, use, and regulate digital technologies.

The research was done as part of my PhD (University of Twente) and fellowship at the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy (The New School, NYC) and the Platform Cooperativism Consortium. Publication link: https://t.co/6D9O20F3lJ