[governance] <nettime> VW

Michael Gurstein gurstein at gmail.com
Mon Sep 28 16:10:16 EDT 2015


Let's assume for the moment that we agree that the fundamental and overriding objective is the protection of the public interest in the operation and evolution of the Internet (and not for example as seems to be (or at least to have been) the case with some of our colleagues that the fundamental objective is the protection of the integrity of the Internet itself).

The questions then are several:
	1. how is the public interest defined
	2. who is to be involved in making those definitions
	3. what procedures are to be followed in making and implementing those decisions
	4. and so on.

Certainly the private sector and particularly the Internet giants have to have a significant role in advising on this process--as Jeremy pointed out--they have a lot of the knowledge and expertise and already are making a lot of the rules. But should they be involved in actually defining and making the rules?

However much Facebook or Google are attempting to in effect become the Internet -- they are not the Internet, they are private corporations seeking in various ways (sometimes ethical sometimes less so) to pursue their own private interests--and we would not expect anything else.  In fact under certain jurisdictions they are legally obliged to act in this way.

Why VW is pertinent is because it shows the depths to which a major corporation will go in pursuit of those interests.  Fortunately there is a legal regime which was meant to govern their actions and which they fraudulently flouted.  Imagine if they had been in a position to legally and with an enthusiastic welcome participate in the definition and implementation of that legal regime (notably one of the reasons that their actions were undetected for so long is because following the logic of governance in the age of neo-liberalism, funds for enforcement were cut back in the various jurisdictions and the companies were given the responsibility of "self-enforcement"!). 

Do you really believe that these companies would somehow end up pursuing the public interest rather than their own private interests and with their wealth and power (and capacity for political influence) not in the end "do whatever it takes" to skew the outcome in their favour and further closing the circle by structuring the rules and the structures of accountability to support their private interests.

I agree with you about the need for transparency and accountability for the TPP and TISA etc.etc. and quite honestly I think the active promotion of the multistakeholder model by the major proponents of these types of agreements is precisely because they recognize the difficulty they are having in pursuing these given Civil Society (and Labour and other) opposition they are concluding that where there is a multistakeholder approach with a coopted/compromised civil society is a part of the process, it is a lot easier to control and implement the outcome than it is by pursuing the current TPP and TISA model.


-----Original Message-----
From: David Cake [mailto:dave at difference.com.au] 
Sent: September 28, 2015 10:48 AM
To: governance at lists.igcaucus.org; Michael Gurstein <gurstein at gmail.com>
Cc: t byfield <tbyfield at panix.com>
Subject: Re: [governance] <nettime> VW

> On 28 Sep 2015, at 6:16 am, Michael Gurstein <gurstein at gmail.com> wrote:
> Ted and all,
> Far be it from me to second guess the insight (or well-placed cynicism) of Nettimer folks but dare I say that not all folks who should be, are quite as perspicacious.
> The flavour of the day in global governance circles--think managing the Internet (ICANN etc.), the environment, "sustainable development" and on and on is what is being called "multistakeholderism" i.e. where governments, the private sector, civil society and all get together and "find consensus" solutions on to how to manage the world for the rest of us.

> Significant portions of Civil Society have bought into this approach 
> which is firmly premised on the notion that somehow the private sector 
> should be directly involved in making governance decisions because 
> well, they are so public spirited, or that they have the long term 
> interests of everyone at heart ("they are people too aren't they"), or 
> we can trust them much more than those perfidious folks in government, 
> or they are "accountable" to their shareholders and wouldn't do 
> anything completely untoward to risk shareholder value etc.etc. (you 
> know the drill…

	Shocking though it is when policy is determined via open and transparent meetings of government, private sector, civil society, academia etc get together to work out policy, I still find it preferable to the de facto alternatives - which is usually government and the private sector get together secretly and work out a deal. I vastly prefer multistakeholderism to processes like the TPP or TTIP - which seem to be the status quo.

> But if VW can and will commit fraud and what is in effect a crime 
> against humanity for short term financial (and/or ego) gains then what 
> might one expect from lesser lights with perhaps less to lose and who 
> aren't so deeply enmeshed in what should have been (and what 
> purportedly was) a deep web (errr network) of accountability, 
> responsibility, enforced integrity etc. (as per your comments…

	Corruption occurs in the private sector, government, civil society, academia, religious institutions, etc. No sector of society has a monopoly on unethical behaviour. Many of these sectors manage profoundly unethical behaviour despite processes and networks designed to provide accountability and responsibility. And yet they still happen. Transparency and accountability are essential, on that I hope we can agree - but they still won’t stop unethical behaviour in all situations.

> What VW tells us (and why "motivation" is worth looking at) is that when push comes to shove we really really need some structures of accountability that are responsive to "our", the public's needs and not the shareholders and that multistakeholderism as a system of governance is basically giving away the keys to the kingdom.

	Absolutely agree on the need for accountability, but the second doesn’t follow. Multistakeholder processes can still be fully accountable, very much so. Public comment matters. Procedures matter. I’ve just been seeing this in the ICANN Proxy/Privacy Service Accreditation Working Group - corporate lobbyists tried to argue that these vital privacy preserving services should not be available to those using them for commercial services, and a few thousand public comments later, they have had to retreat from that position. I do feel that transparency and responsiveness to public input are vital to make multistakeholderism accountable - but as I’ve actually participated in multistakeholder processes, I recognise that they are usually already there.
	But the VW scandal  has relatively little to do with multistakeholderism as a policy creation system. The VW scandal was not about creating policy, or creating rules, or even about the enforcement of those rules once they were found to be broken - its about a company deliberately attempting to fraudulently bypass those rules, by criminal means, and getting caught. Ethically lacking actively like this can occur in all sectors, regardless of the policy creation process.
	Though I’ll agree that it highlights the need for transparency and accountability. We’ve had discussions many times that make it clear we both believe transparency is essential, but you often criticise multistakeholder processes for a lack of transparency based on no experience. Michael, you’d be far more effective as a lobbyist if you tried to strengthen the accountability mechanisms that exist, rather than insisting that they can’t be possible for dogmatic reasons.


> Mike
> -----Original Message-----
> From: nettime-l-bounces at mail.kein.org 
> [mailto:nettime-l-bounces at mail.kein.org] On Behalf Of t byfield
> Sent: September 27, 2015 12:08 PM
> To: nettime-l at kein.org
> Subject: Re: <nettime> VW
> On 25 Sep 2015, at 20:59, Michael Gurstein wrote:
>> Thanks Ted, very useful.
>> I guess what I'm curious about is the motivations, individual and/or 
>> corporate thought processes/incentives etc. that underlie the initial 
>> decision to go down this path and then the multitude of decisions at 
>> various levels up and down the organization to continue on this path.
> <...>
> Michael, your line of questions seems to be a high priority for the
> media: today's NYT top story is "As Volkswagen Pushed to Be No. 1, 
> Ambitions Fueled a Scandal." Personally, I don't think there's been 
> much innovation in the motivation dept since, say, Sophocles, so the 
> human-interest angle isn't very interesting, IMO. If anything, it's 
> the primary mechanism in diverting attention from the real problem, 
> namely, how to address malfeasance on this scale. Corporations are 
> treated as 'people' when it comes to privatizing profit, but when it 
> comes to liabilities they're become treated as amorphous, networky 
> constructs, and punishing them becomes an exercise in trying to catch 
> smoke with your hands. Imagine for a moment that by some improbable 
> chain of events VW ended up facing a 'corporate death penalty,' there 
> remain all kinds of questions about what restrictions would be imposed 
> on the most culpable officers, how its assets would be disposed of, 
> and what would happen to its intellectual property. (It'd be funny if 
> the the VW logo was banned, eh? I'm not suggesting anything like that 
> could actually happen, of course.) The peculiar details of this 
> scandal could spark a systemic crisis of a different kind, one that 
> makes evading guilt more difficult. The 'too complex for mere mortals' 
> line won't work in this
> case: VWs have come a long way since the Deutsche Arbeitsfront or R.
> Crumb-like illustrated manuals about _How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive_, but not so far that people will blindly accept that they can't understand them. Popular understanding of negative externalities in environmentalism is decades ahead of its equivalent in finance. And it doesn't hurt that Germany, which has done so much to bend the EU to its will, looks like it'll be the lender of last resort.
> On 26 Sep 2015, at 10:22, Florian Cramer wrote:
>> The implication for "our" field are much more immediate than one 
>> would  expect, given that the Centre of Digital Cultures of Leuphana 
>> University Lüneburg has been funded from a grant by Volkswagen 
>> Stiftung (Volkswagen Endowment) a few years ago. Look at who's 
>> working there - a who's who of European media studies including many Nettimers:
>> http://cdc.leuphana.com/people/
> It'll be very interesting indeed to hear what the stars of ~German media theory have to say about this. Maybe about as much as most US academics have to say about their role in imposing indentured servitude on subsequent generations...
> On 27 Sep 2015, at 5:02, Jaromil wrote:
>> to debate this thing as if it would be just about Volkswagen is so 
>> naive! srsly. There is nothing to be learned there.
> Jaromil, I think it's a bit premature to counter claims that this is 'just about Volkswagen,' because no one said anything like that.
> Obviously there are many ways in which this is symptomatic of broader structures. But Lehman Brothers and Fukushima were symptomatic as well, and would you really argue that 'there was nothing to be learned there'
> either? *And* hold hold up Android's OEMs cheating on benchmarks as a 
> more illuminating example? I don't think so. Relying on open-source 
> metaphor-mantras ('Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?') to 
> analyze peculiar dynamics of the car industry is like relying on 
> Godwin's Law to understand neo-nazis. :^)
> As to whether there's anything to be learned about the car industry, a friend sent me this offlist (forwarded with permission):
>> Just wanted to say that many many auto dealerships within much of the 
>> USA -- and I certainly don't know if this is the case in Europe or 
>> the northern coastal (blue state or /we/ US) -- are strange franchise 
>> ops in which a single owner has bought into multiple auto brands -- 
>> eg [where I live] the VW dealer is also the Audi, Infiniti, Maserati, 
>> Acura, Jaguar, Fiat dealer. While the bylaws of these franchises 
>> typically require separate showrooms they do not always require 
>> separate facilities for other operations. So, for example, the 
>> service department, where one expects hypothetical but impossible 
>> repairs to "ramdoubler" VW emissions tech would occur might be shared 
>> by multiple auto brands. Some of those might be tiered brands 
>> fabricated by the same financial interests (e.g. VW and Audi) but 
>> that will not always be true. As such, we will not have the results 
>> of the capitalist competition we may expect -- that is if VW and 
>> competing brands are collocated and share infrastructure and 
>> personnel in terms of auto dealerships, the falling VW dominos will 
>> knock over the dominos of other automobile sellers and maintainers 
>> and servicers (and thus
>> manufacturers?) as opposed to a scenario in which VW "loses" so 
>> 'other brand' "wins."
> There's much to be learned, but not about 'motivations' or 'corporations,' IMO. And you gotta love the Ramdoubler ref.
> Cheers,
> T
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