Open Technology: Values, Compromises, and Ownership

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Media Outlet: New America Weekly

OTI's technologists wrote about the importance of open technology, and understanding the trade-offs between ease and ownership when deciding where, and how, to store your data.

Technology has impacted everything from how we understand and interact with the world around us to how we manage our own personal data. For years, we stored our family photos in shoeboxes. We kept our phone numbers in black books and rolodexes. Then as technology advanced, we stored these important items on computers, then floppy disks, then CDs. Finally, we just put it in “the cloud.”
When the “cloud” was introduced to store that data, it seemed to solve a multitude of problems—it took up less space, could be accessed anywhere, and would be safe from unforeseen disasters like fire, flooding, or robberies. This ease and seeming security of centralized solutions are often too good to resist, but we very rarely stop to ask if it was the best solution. Maybe we should.  Frequently, we focus on the “open source” side of “open technology,” meaning the software from which the technology is made is licensed openly. But open technology is not limited to software. It applies to where emails live; who owns your personal data; where that data is hosted; how it’s secured; how much control and authority you have over managing your data; and your relationship with the technology. All of these raise questions, and if we don’t even consider what we should be asking, we will never get the answers we need.


Brynne Morris was an Operations Coordinator/Communications Associate at New America's Open Technology Institute. She has a special interest in the intersection of mass communication, technology, and human rights.

Georgia Bullen is the technology projects director with New America's Open Technology Institute. Bullen provides data visualization, human-centered design, planning and geospatial analytical support to the OTI team and its community partnerships.

Steph Alarcon is an M-Lab Technologist with experience in Systems Administration, Geek Feminism, and tech sustainability.

Fernanda Lavalle was an associate technologist in the M-Lab project. 

Nat Meysenburg is a technologist at the Open Technology Institute who works on building and maintaining systems with privacy, security and freedom in mind. 

Chris Ritzo is a senior technologist with the Open Technology Institute at New America. Ritzo provides technical support, web development, information architecture, research, partner engagement, and project management to OTI for Measurement Lab and other initiatives.