OPEN: The Cloud Cooperative

Infrastructure for a New Internet

A new economy has formed in the digital age – data brokerage, the buying and selling of private data, is threatening our right to privacy and autonomy. Envisioned through the actions of a future activist movement, the Cloud Cooperative, the project explores the decentralization of data infrastructure and the creation of a secure, ethical new internet.

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We are on the verge of a Big Data Revolution: all facets of society are beginning to be shaped by data mining and behaviour products. Private corporations and powerful governments hold a monopoly over all flows of information: by owning the infrastructure of the internet they own the data. With our private data sold to the highest bidder and with one person’s yearly email correspondence costing 0.6 tonnes in carbon dioxide – the system, as we know it, requires an overhaul. The commoditization of data has created a fundamental asymmetry in power between institutions and individuals. This project challenges the current data monopoly and explores what it would mean to give people power over their own data.

With this project, I wanted to highlight an urgent, worldwide issue that is both incredibly ingrained in modern day society and the impact of which is purposefully minimalized by governments and corporations. Data brokerage, and the wider economic concept of Surveillance Capitalism, is a risk to society as we know it. The data brokerage industry also has a massive environmental impact – operating through a global network of servers called “the Cloud,” this industry is comprised of energy-intensive data centres and massive, under-water fibre optic cables. The Cloud is a system we use every day and entrust our most sensitive data to – but the general public has no real idea of how it works. The project takes a purposefully provocative angle to the topic of data ethics: What if we started from scratch? Could there be a truly ethical way to move, store, and retrieve private data? I spent the first half of the term creating a manifesto for data ethics, exploring sustainable alternatives for hard-disk data storage and an alternative form of data management called the “the decentralized web.” In a decentralized system, the middlemen of the internet are made obsolete, with devices connecting to each other in a peer-to-peer network and sharing the burden of web hosting. In this project, users can access this new network by becoming members of the Cloud Cooperative, providing them with entirely anonymous web-browsing, free and secure cloud storage, all connected to a renewable network. The design aspect of thesis, a pilot project for a hybrid data complex off the coast of Edinburgh, combines central data storage capacity with a peer-to-peer network. The design aims to create an educational playground, where visitors can increase their data literacy and our awareness of their rights as citizens of the digital age. Introducing four different data typologies, the data complex aims to re-imagine the industrial-scale corporate data centre as a series of sustainable and human-scale installations.