July 26, 2022

Geneva, the Edgelands Conversation has begun!

Laura Garcia Vargas

On June 22, the Edgelands Geneva team officially launched the Edgelands conversation in Geneva at Maison Rousseau.

Parc des Bastions, Geneva

Parc des Bastions, Geneva

Between February and April 2022, the Edgelands Team conducted over 40 interviews where we asked different people in Geneva—from members of government, academia, civil society, and regular citizens—How is the digitization of security transforming the social contract of the city?

The report Geneva: A City of Paradoxes and Dualities is the result of those interviews. This report has the intention to serve as a diagnostic report of the several trends in urban and digital security within Geneva and the corresponding potential risks associated with security measures, particularly digital surveillance technologies, and it is also meant to be a conversation starter.

After compiling the initial finding in the report, we officially launched the Edgelands conversation in Geneva on June 22 at Maison Rousseau, where we hosted three conversations. The day began with a small breakfast with young politicians and members of the public administration of Geneva, it continued with a participatory discussion with young people, and finished with an inter-city conversation with Professor Frédéric Bernard (University of Geneva), Beatriz Botero (Co-Founder Edgelands Institute), and Juanita Gómez (Fundación Mi Sangre, Colombia).

Using the finding of the diagnostic report as a starting point, each of these conversations aimed to explore, from different angles, a central theme: In an issue such as the surveillance society, where solutions are often imagined at the supra-regional level, what can be done at the Geneva level?”

Throughout the day, participants agreed that there is a lack of awareness from the general public on the ongoing digitalization of society, and the impacts these might have on their lives. For instance, some of the youth highlighted that although the majority of their friends rely on digital technologies, they are largely unaware of associated risks such as echo chambers, targeted advertising, and possible data security breaches.

In order to address this lack of awareness, it is essential to increase the information available to everyone, and to have more public debates around the benefits and risks of a surveillance society. This means not only to explain how digital technologies work and how private and public actors are using them for surveillance purposes, but also to explain why this matters for each of the residents of Geneva and for society more generally. We were also reminded that it is important to avoid framing this conversation on dichotomies (i.e., surveillance is either good or bad). On the contrary, it is key for it to be around informed debates that understand that in certain cases surveillance is necessary and useful to provide security.

One recurring topic across conversations was the surveillance practices by big tech (i.e., Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon), and the importance of more privacy friendly alternatives to these services. However, it was often pointed out that although most of the participants of the events were aware of the existence of other alternatives, the majority of their own professional or social circle were not, or did not want to use other products—making the use of these alternatives less realistic and practical. Additionally, we heard that the increasing surveillance practices by big-tech can only be tackled politically if politicians work together across party lines and agree on a coherent vision for a safe and inclusive digital future.

This was the beginning of a series of activities that Edgelands will be hosting in Geneva. During the next months we will host various spaces where resident of Geneva can explore, think, and discuss about the benefits and risks of the use of digital technologies to provide public security in Geneva and on the going digitalization of our daily lives.

The first of these spaces is an online participatory survey during the summer. For this we are partnering with OPPi to provide a platform to hear from all the residents of Geneva about their perceptions and thoughts around the topic of (in)security in Geneva. The results of this survey will serve as one of the discussion basis for the political, academic, and other participatory discussions that Edgelands will host in the next months.

As a participatory survey, OPPi has great advantages:

• It allows participants to see how other residents of Geneva think about these topics. It shows the issues where like-minded people agree with them or where those with differing perspectives disagree or think differently from them.

• The survey will evolve from the ground-up. This means that some of the comments and suggestions that the participants provide could become statements that everyone votes on.

We invite you to fill out this emergent survey, leave your comments, and come back to it later on in the summer to check the new questions we add !

Also, please share it with your friends, family, and networks. We want to hear from as many people as possible !!