Characterizing Disinformation Risk to Open Data in the Post-Truth Era

Paper by Adrienne Colborne and Michael Smit: “Curated, labeled, high-quality data is a valuable commodity for tasks such as business analytics and machine learning. Open data is a common source of such data—for example, retail analytics draws on open demographic data, and weather forecast systems draw on open atmospheric and ocean data. Open data is released openly by governments to achieve various objectives, such as transparency, informing citizen engagement, or supporting private enterprise.

Critical examination of ongoing social changes, including the post-truth phenomenon, suggests the quality, integrity, and authenticity of open data may be at risk. We introduce this risk through various lenses, describe some of the types of risk we expect using a threat model approach, identify approaches to mitigate each risk, and present real-world examples of cases where the risk has already caused harm. As an initial assessment of awareness of this disinformation risk, we compare our analysis to perspectives captured during open data stakeholder consultations in Canada…(More)”.

Democracies contain epidemics most effectively

The Economist: “Many people would look at the covid-19 pandemic and conclude that democracies are bad at tackling infectious diseases. America and the eu had months to prepare after China sounded the alarm in January. Both have subsequently suffered more than 300 confirmed deaths per 1m people. China’s Communist Party reports an official death rate that is 99% lower, and has trumpeted its apparent success in containing the outbreak domestically.

Yet most data suggest that political freedom can be a tonic against disease. The Economist has analysed epidemics from 1960 to 2019. Though these outbreaks varied in contagiousness and lethality, a clear correlation emerged. Among countries with similar wealth, the lowest death rates tend to be in places where most people can vote in free and fair elections. Other definitions of democracy give similar results.

We cannot replicate this analysis for covid-19 yet, as it is still spreading at different rates around the world. Western democracies were hit early, in big cities with large flows of people from abroad. Daily deaths are now declining in these places but rising in developing countries, which tend to be less connected and more autocratic….

One consistent measure that is available in most countries, but not China, is Google’s index of mobility via smartphone apps. Researchers at Oxford University reckon that, after adjusting for a country’s wealth and other characteristics, democracies saw a 35% larger reduction in movement in response to lockdown policies. The drop in New Zealand, for example, was twice that in autocratic Bahrain.

People who praise China for its handling of covid-19 would do better to look at Taiwan, a neighbouring democracy. China wasted valuable time in December by intimidating doctors who warned of a lethal virus. Taiwan swiftly launched tracing measures in January—and has suffered only seven deaths…(More)”.

Global collaboration on human migration launches digital hub

Press Release: “The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission joined forces with The Governance Lab (The GovLab) at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering to launch an online home for the Big Data for Migration (BD4M) Alliance, the first-ever global network dedicated to facilitating responsible data innovation and collaboration for informed decision making on migration and human mobility.

We live in a fast-moving world where a huge amount of data is being generated by the private sector but public-private data partnerships still remain limited. The BD4M, convened in 2018 by the European Commission’s Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography (KCMD) and the IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), seeks to foster more cooperation in this area by connecting stakeholders and leveraging non-traditional data sources to improve understanding.

The new BD4M web page,, hosted by the GovLab, serves as a hub for the Alliance’s activities. It aims to inform stakeholders about the BD4M members, its objectives, ongoing projects, upcoming events and opportunities for collaboration.

To facilitate access to knowledge about how data innovation has contributed to informing migration policy and programs, for example, the BD4M recently launched the Data Innovation Directory, which features examples of applications of new data sources and methodologies in the field of migration and human mobility.

The BD4M is open to members of international organizations, NGOs, the private sector, researchers and individual experts. In its partnership with The GovLab, the BD4M has helped identify a set of priority questions on migration that new data sources could contribute to answering. These questions were formulated by experts and validated through a public voting campaign as part of The 100 Questions Initiative….(More)”.

Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code

Book by Ruha Benjamin: “From everyday apps to complex algorithms, Ruha Benjamin cuts through tech-industry hype to understand how emerging technologies can reinforce White supremacy and deepen social inequity.

Benjamin argues that automation, far from being a sinister story of racist programmers scheming on the dark web, has the potential to hide, speed up, and deepen discrimination while appearing neutral and even benevolent when compared to the racism of a previous era. Presenting the concept of the “New Jim Code,” she shows how a range of discriminatory designs encode inequity by explicitly amplifying racial hierarchies; by ignoring but thereby replicating social divisions; or by aiming to fix racial bias but ultimately doing quite the opposite. Moreover, she makes a compelling case for race itself as a kind of technology, designed to stratify and sanctify social injustice in the architecture of everyday life.

This illuminating guide provides conceptual tools for decoding tech promises with sociologically informed skepticism. In doing so, it challenges us to question not only the technologies we are sold but also the ones we ourselves manufacture….(More)”.

The technology of witnessing brutality

Axios: “The ways Americans capture and share records of racist violence and police misconduct keep changing, but the pain of the underlying injustices they chronicle remains a stubborn constant.

Driving the news: After George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked wide protests, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said, “Thank God a young person had a camera to video it.”

Why it matters: From news photography to TV broadcasts to camcorders to smartphones, improvements in the technology of witness over the past century mean we’re more instantly and viscerally aware of each new injustice.

  • But unless our growing power to collect and distribute evidence of injustice can drive actual social change, the awareness these technologies provide just ends up fueling frustration and despair.

For decades, still news photography was the primary channel through which the public became aware of incidents of racial injustice.

  • horrific 1930 photo of the lynching of J. Thomas Shipp and Abraham S. Smith, two black men in Marion, Indiana, brought the incident to national attention and inspired the song “Strange Fruit.” But the killers were never brought to justice.
  • Photos of the mutilated body of Emmett Till catalyzed a nationwide reaction to his 1955 lynching in Mississippi.

In the 1960s, television news footage brought scenes of police turning dogs and water cannons on peaceful civil rights protesters in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama into viewers’ living rooms.

  • The TV coverage was moving in both senses of the word.

In 1991, a camcorder tape shot by a Los Angeles plumber named George Holliday captured images of cops brutally beating Rodney King.

  • In the pre-internet era, it was only after the King tape was broadcast on TV that Americans could see it for themselves.

Over the past decade, smartphones have enabled witnesses and protesters to capture and distribute photos and videos of injustice quickly — sometimes, as it’s happening.

  • This power helped catalyze the Black Lives Matter movement beginning in 2013 and has played a growing role in broader public awareness of police brutality.

Between the lines: For a brief moment mid-decade, some hoped that the combination of a public well-supplied with video recording devices and requirements that police wear bodycams would introduce a new level of accountability to law enforcement.

The bottom line: Smartphones and social media deliver direct accounts of grief- and rage-inducing stories…(More)”.

Centering Racial Equity Throughout Data Integration

Toolkit by AISP: “Societal “progress” is often marked by the construction of new infrastructure that fuels change and innovation. Just as railroads and interstate highways were the defining infrastructure projects of the 1800 and 1900s, the development of data infrastructure is a critical innovation of our century. Railroads and highways were drivers of development and prosperity for some investors and sites. Yet other individuals and communities were harmed, displaced, bypassed, ignored, and forgotten by
those efforts.

At this moment in our history, we can co-create data infrastructure to promote racial equity and the public good, or we can invest in data infrastructure that disregards the historical, social, and political context—reinforcing racial inequity that continues to harm communities. Building data infrastructure without a racial equity lens and understanding of historical context will exacerbate existing inequalities along the lines of race, gender, class, and ability. Instead, we commit to contextualize our work in the historical and structural oppression that shapes it, and organize stakeholders across geography, sector, and experience to center racial equity throughout data integration….(More)”.

How Crowdsourcing Aided a Push to Preserve the Histories of Nazi Victims

Andrew Curry at the New York Times: “With people around the globe sheltering at home amid the pandemic, an archive of records documenting Nazi atrocities asked for help indexing them. Thousands joined the effort….

As the virus prompted lockdowns across Europe, the director of the Arolsen Archives — the world’s largest devoted to the victims of Nazi persecution — joined millions of others working remotely from home and spending lots more time in front of her computer.

“We thought, ‘Here’s an opportunity,’” said the director, Floriane Azoulay.

Two months later, the archive’s “Every Name Counts” project has attracted thousands of online volunteers to work as amateur archivists, indexing names from the archive’s enormous collection of papers. To date, they have added over 120,000 names, birth dates and prisoner numbers in the database.

“There’s been much more interest than we expected,” Ms. Azoulay said. “The fact that people were locked at home and so many cultural offerings have moved online has played a big role.”

It’s a big job: The Arolsen Archives are the largest collection of their kind in the world, with more than 30 million original documents. They contain information on the wartime experiences of as many as 40 million people, including Jews executed in extermination camps and forced laborers conscripted from across Nazi-occupied Europe.

The documents, which take up 16 miles of shelving, include things like train manifests, delousing records, work detail assignments and execution records…(More)”.

An Introduction to Ethics in Robotics and AI

Book by Christoph Bartneck, Christoph Lütge, Alan Wagner and Sean Welsh: “This open access book introduces the reader to the foundations of AI and ethics. It discusses issues of trust, responsibility, liability, privacy and risk. It focuses on the interaction between people and the AI systems and Robotics they use. Designed to be accessible for a broad audience, reading this book does not require prerequisite technical, legal or philosophical expertise. Throughout, the authors use examples to illustrate the issues at hand and conclude the book with a discussion on the application areas of AI and Robotics, in particular autonomous vehicles, automatic weapon systems and biased algorithms. A list of questions and further readings is also included for students willing to explore the topic further….(More)”.

Sharing Health Data and Biospecimens with Industry — A Principle-Driven, Practical Approach

Kayte Spector-Bagdady et al at the New England Journal of Medicine: “The advent of standardized electronic health records, sustainable biobanks, consumer-wellness applications, and advanced diagnostics has resulted in new health information repositories. As highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, these repositories create an opportunity for advancing health research by means of secondary use of data and biospecimens. Current regulations in this space give substantial discretion to individual organizations when it comes to sharing deidentified data and specimens. But some recent examples of health care institutions sharing individual-level data and specimens with companies have generated controversy. Academic medical centers are therefore both practically and ethically compelled to establish best practices for governing the sharing of such contributions with outside entities.1 We believe that the approach we have taken at Michigan Medicine could help inform the national conversation on this issue.

The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects offers some safeguards for research participants from whom data and specimens have been collected. For example, researchers must notify participants if commercial use of their specimens is a possibility. These regulations generally cover only federally funded work, however, and they don’t apply to deidentified data or specimens. Because participants value transparency regarding industry access to their data and biospecimens, our institution set out to create standards that would better reflect participants’ expectations and honor their trust. Using a principlist approach that balances beneficence and nonmaleficence, respect for persons, and justice, buttressed by recent analyses and findings regarding contributors’ preferences, Michigan Medicine established a formal process to guide our approach….(More)”.

Digital contact tracing and surveillance during COVID-19

Report on General and Child-specific Ethical Issues by Gabrielle Berman, Karen Carter, Manuel García-Herranz and Vedran Sekara: “The last few years have seen a proliferation of means and approaches being used to collect sensitive or identifiable data on children. Technologies such as facial recognition and other biometrics, increased processing capacity for ‘big data’ analysis and data linkage, and the roll-out of mobile and internet services and access have substantially changed the nature of data collection, analysis, and use.

Real-time data are essential to support decision-makers in government, development and humanitarian agencies such as UNICEF to better understand the issues facing children, plan appropriate action, monitor progress and ensure that no one is left behind. But the collation and use of personally identifiable data may also pose significant risks to children’s rights.

UNICEF has undertaken substantial work to provide a foundation to understand and balance the potential benefits and risks to children of data collection. This work includes the Industry Toolkit on Children’s Online Privacy and Freedom of Expression and a partnership with GovLab on Responsible Data for Children (RD4C) – which promotes good practice principles and has developed practical tools to assist field offices, partners and governments to make responsible data management decisions.

Balancing the need to collect data to support good decision-making versus the need to protect children from harm created through the collection of the data has never been more challenging than in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The response to the pandemic has seen an unprecedented rapid scaling up of technologies to support digital contact tracing and surveillance. The initial approach has included:

  • tracking using mobile phones and other digital devices (tablet computers, the Internet of Things, etc.)
  • surveillance to support movement restrictions, including through the use of location monitoring and facial recognition
  • a shift from in-person service provision and routine data collection to the use of remote or online platforms (including new processes for identity verification)
  • an increased focus on big data analysis and predictive modelling to fill data gaps…(More)”.