The Ethics and Politics of Platform Cooperatives
This report examines the ethics and politics of cooperatively owned digital platforms. It compares the technical components, operations, and institutional conditions of two such platforms – CoopCycle and Fairbnb – to those of mainstream platforms in their respective industries, and analyzes the moral and political values embedded in them.
First, the paper outlines the theoretical discussion around the morality and politics of technologies and describing its Disclosive Computer Ethics methodology. Second, it discusses how CoopCycle and Fairbnb are structured to distribute power to local co-ops/couriers and communities at travel destinations respectively. CoopCycle strengthens courier autonomy, dignity, and wellbeing through decentralized server infrastructure and minimization of algorithmic management through technical features such as a manual dispatch process and limited courier geo-tracking. CoopCycle also minimizes the information asymmetry between the platform and local co-ops/couriers by providing access to their code, technical manuals, demo system, and gig information. Finally, CoopCycle balances values such as environmentalism and diversity through democracy. Fairbnb gives local communities sovereignty over the platform’s local operations, its model abstains from mass tourism and the commodification of space through technological design features that allow one guest per host and shape both parties’ overall user journey, and it mitigates the negative impact of travel and home-sharing through community co-determination and donations to local projects. Fairbnb thereby makes its values and ethical operations explicit, re-politicizing travel and home sharing. Finally, the paper concludes by comparing the case studies and drawing a generalized notion of platform cooperatives’ ethical operations and politics, as well as some challenges they face due to their values.