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Public spaces, working towards a truly public internet

The National Library of the Netherlands, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB), is part of a coalition called public spaces. I notice that the work and goals of the coalition are getting more traction lately. Therefore I am informing you via this blog.

In 2018 — almost thirty years after the invention of the World Wide Web — many essential applications on the internet, while being indispensable tools in our lives as economic and social citizens, have turned into vehicles for political control and economic profit. In these essential applications, citizens are no longer subjects, but objects.

We share a common view that an alternative is necessary and are reimagining the internet as a public space. Just as public libraries are in the physical world.

Therefore we formed a coalition to design a new platform for social interaction, where users are not viewed as exploitable assets or data sources, but as equal partners that share a common public interest.

This coalition is called PublicSpaces.

PublicSpaces is committed to providing an alternative software ecosystem that serves the common interest and does not seek profit.

Basically, Public Spaces tries to create an alternative for Big Tech applications because these Big Tech applications use people’s online behaviour to make money. This does not match the principles we have and this also leads to problems for many organisations and citizens we work for.

In this video, there is a good explanation of public spaces and the problems.

What does the KB do?

Currently, the KB mainly works around two public spaces related projects

First, the power wash. Public spaces have developed a methodology where the values of the public space (which can be found at Manifesto – PublicSpaces) are transformed into questions. These questions help to score a tool an organisation uses in the interaction with its audience. So, for instance, you can score the website tool this way and get a sense of how this tool relates to the values of the public space. This provides good insight into what tools an organization actually uses. The KB uses the power wash for itself and at the same time, we encourage public libraries to use the power wash as well. We also publish our scores/findings on De PublicSpaces Spoelkeuken. The other partners that use the power wash also publish their findings here, so this is the site where you can see what tools we use, we have scored and find out if there are alternatives for one of your own tools that have higher scores.

More information: The PublicSpaces Digital Powerwash – PublicSpaces

Second. We are phasing out Google Analytics. At the beginning of 2022, several European Privacy Authorities banned the use of Google Analytics (GA). This was the case for the Austrian, the French and the Authority in Lichtenstein. In the Netherlands, the Privacy Authority has warned for the use of GA but has not yet banned the tool. The KB decided not to wait for a ban and we made an analysis of several more privacy-friendly alternatives. They found that a tool called Matomo (Matomo Analytics – The Google Analytics alternative that protects your data) better serves needs and it used by the Dutch Government for the same reason. We did a pilot for the new site of of Matomo and that turned out with good results.

Our next step was to create a memo and put the matter before our board. They decided in July 2022 we should phase out Google Analytics. We started with phasing out GA for several websites and have communicated to the public libraries of our website infrastructure (more than 60% of the public libraries in the Netherlands use our infrastructure for their website) we will no longer support the use of GA per 1-1-23.

As you can see it takes many small steps to provide an alternative software ecosystem that serves the common interest and does not seek profit, but we are taking the first steps.

Sander van Kempen is as Senior adviseur at Landelijke digitale openbare bibliotheek Stafafdeling Bibliotheekstelsel, National Library of the Netherlands.

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