Open Data, Open Content, Open Source Software
and the Theology of St. Augustine

Sharing is an important aspect of the Internet economy. However,
multinational companies ask for their users’ data and contributions
to advance their own business interests, to improve their products or
to enhance their services. However, they regard their users’
contribution as their property without any obligation to share these
contributions under an open license.

Android, the world’s leading mobile operating system, is Free
Software; however, Google integrates its own non-free features so
deeply into Android that ordinary users cannot use Android as Free
Software and they are tied up with Google, using Google services and
thus contributing with their data to enhance Google’s business
interest.

There
are different world views and anthropological and socio-economic
concepts behind the idea of sharing.

Augustine
of Hippo makes sharing a virtue: „Omnis enim res, quae dando non
deficit, dum habetur et non datur, nondum habetur, quomodo habenda
est”, („For if a thing is not diminished by being shared with
others, it is not rightly owned if it is only owned and not shared”)

According
to Augustine, man – by the grace of God – is capable of doing good
and contribute to the well-being of society.

A
similar anthropology is also found within Pietism and Puritanism,
according to the American Sociologist Robert Merton, „communalism”
– a concept favoring communal ownership and the common good – being
a basis for the scientific progress as scientific discoveries are
shared and not kept exclusively to oneself. In the history of ideas,
this mindset resembles the principles of Open Access and Open Data.
Open Source Software or Free Software can also be based on the same
principles, following the underlying anthropological concepts.

In contrast, Thomas Hobbes’s assumption – as laid out in the
claim „homo
homini lupus” („man is wolf to man.”) – assumes that egotism is
a driving force, „bellum omnium contra omnes” („the war of all
against all”) is a constant in human society. Adam Smith – in
„The Wealth of Nations” makes man’s self-interest the basis for
his socio-economic concept: „By pursuing his own interest he [=man]
frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he
really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by
those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an
affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few
words need be employed in dissuading them from it.” While everybody
is pursuing their own interest, an „invisible hand” – so Smith’s
assumption –  leads all self-driven interests to ultimately promoting
the common good, thus making Liberalism (and Capitalism) the best
economic models for society.

If
egotism is the driving anthropological force and Capitalism is the
socio-economic model for society, then hiding code from others,
accumulating data and keeping databases locked up, producing software
whose data cannot be exported, is the logical consequence. Google,
Facebook, Microsoft are symbols of this concept, advancing the
company’s profits with their users’ contributions.

However,
there are other models of shating. In the New Testament (Acts 20:35)
is says “and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said,
It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

If
sharing is understood in the way of  communalism, Open Content, Open
Access, Open Data and Open Source Software, can be the foundation of
a socio-economic model for the Information Society that correlates
with a Christian anthropology and challenges economic patterns from a
theological perspective.

Let
us discover what theology can mean for the Information society.

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