Playing Games While Building Savings

Corporate Insights: “Nearly half of all Americans play video games, yet only a third have more than a thousand dollars saved for an emergency. A new fintech startup called Blast hopes to combine the increasingly popular pastime with saving for the future. Unlike other attempts to gamify savings that create entirely new experiences, Blast works alongside existing games with three ways for users to increase their balances when they play: automated micro-deposits, mission rewards and weekly prizes. By linking to games that people already enjoy, Blast avoids the difficult task of creating a hit game to reach a wide audience.

Much like Acorns—co-founded by Blast’s creator, Walter Cruttenden—and other micro-savings apps that make small automatic deposits to users’ savings, Blast automatically moves small amounts into savings whenever users accomplish in-game tasks. These “triggers” are user-controlled and available for popular online games like League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. For example, users can choose to deposit $1.00 every time they win a match or $0.10 every time they defeat an enemy player. The linked savings account provided by Wells Fargo earns 1.00% APY, and Blast can withdraw funds from a linked checking or PayPal account.

Blast partners with game publishers to reward users for playing their games, doling out set amounts to users who engage (or re-engage) with games made by its partners…(More)”. 

Open government – Open for business?

Dieter Zinnbauer at OGP: “Many activities related to opening government have a demonstrated, empirical potential to create business value, foster broader economic opportunities, and promote a business climate for growth and dynamism. What’s more, opening government plays a highly relevant, if not essential, role for economic stewardship and for putting economies on sustainable, inclusive trajectories of good growth. These are the central insights from this scan of the empirical literature on the economic and business dimension of open government. More specifically, opening government is found to have created sizeable business opportunities, innovation impetus, and to a somewhat lesser extent, new jobs—particularly in the area of open data. A growing body of empirical evidence also suggests that opening government has helped countries attract investments and capital, boost trade, reduce red tape, and remove barriers to market entry, all pointing towards an enhanced business and investment climate. At least equally important, there is compelling evidence that opening government supports good growth by enabling the containment of some of the major negative side effects of economic growth, by improving the targeting and efficacy of inclusive economic policies and benefits schemes, and by making it easier for businesses to live up to some of their fundamental societal responsibilities. Overall, the research landscape on opening government and business and economy nexus is still rather fragmented, and there are many promising, feasible, and much-needed avenues for future investigations in this fast-moving area….(More)”.

Why Policymakers Should Care About “Big Data” in Healthcare

David W.Bates et al at Health Policy and Technology: “The term “big data” has gotten increasing popular attention, and there is growing focus on how such data can be used to measure and improve health and healthcare. Analytic techniques for extracting information from these data have grown vastly more powerful, and they are now broadly available. But for these approaches to be most useful, large amounts of data must be available, and barriers to use should be low. We discuss how “smart cities” are beginning to invest in this area to improve the health of their populations; provide examples around model approaches for making large quantities of data available to researchers and clinicians among other stakeholders; discuss the current state of big data approaches to improve clinical care including specific examples, and then discuss some of the policy issues around and examples of successful regulatory approaches, including deidentification and privacy protection….(More)”.

Superminds: The Surprising Power of People and Computers Thinking Together

Book by Thomas W. Malone: “If you’re like most people, you probably believe that humans are the most intelligent animals on our planet. But there’s another kind of entity that can be far smarter: groups of people. In this groundbreaking book, Thomas Malone, the founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, shows how groups of people working together in superminds — like hierarchies, markets, democracies, and communities — have been responsible for almost all human achievements in business, government, science, and beyond. And these collectively intelligent human groups are about to get much smarter.

Using dozens of striking examples and case studies, Malone shows how computers can help create more intelligent superminds not just with artificial intelligence, but perhaps even more importantly with hyperconnectivity:  connecting humans to one another at massive scales and in rich new ways. Together, these changes will have far-reaching implications for everything from the way we buy groceries and plan business strategies to how we respond to climate change, and even for democracy itself. By understanding how these collectively intelligent groups work, we can learn how to harness their genius to achieve our human goals….(More)”.

Gender is personal – not computational

Foad Hamidi, Morgan Scheuerman and Stacy Branham in the Conversation: “Efforts at automatic gender recognition – using algorithms to guess a person’s gender based on images, video or audio – raise significant social and ethical concerns that are not yet fully explored. Most current research on automatic gender recognition technologies focuses instead on technological details.

Our recent research found that people with diverse gender identities, including those identifying as transgender or gender nonbinary, are particularly concerned that these systems could miscategorize them. People who express their gender differently from stereotypical male and female norms already experience discrimination and harm as a result of being miscategorized or misunderstood. Ideally, technology designers should develop systems to make these problems less common, not more so.

As digital technologies become more powerful and sophisticated, their designers are trying to use them to identify and categorize complex human characteristics, such as sexual orientation, gender and ethnicity. The idea is that with enough training on abundant user data, algorithms can learn to analyze people’s appearance and behavior – and perhaps one day characterize people as well as, or even better than, other humans do.

Gender is a hard topic for people to handle. It’s a complex concept with important roles both as a cultural construct and a core aspect of an individual’s identity. Researchers, scholars and activists are increasingly revealing the diverse, fluid and multifaceted aspects of gender. In the process, they find that ignoring this diversity can lead to both harmful experiences and social injustice. For example, according to the 2016 National Transgender Survey, 47 percent of transgender participants stated that they had experienced some form of discrimination at their workplace due to their gender identity. More than half of transgender people who were harassed, assaulted or expelled because of their gender identity had attempted suicide….(More)”.

Introducing Sourcelist: Promoting diversity in technology policy

Susan Hennessey at Brookings: “…delighted to announce the launch of Sourcelist, a database of experts in technology policy from diverse backgrounds.

Here at Brookings, we built Sourcelist on the principle that technology policymaking stands to benefit from the inclusion of the voices of a broader diversity of people. It aims to help journalists, conference planners, and others to identify and connect with experts outside of their usual sources and panelists. Sourcelist’s purpose is to facilitate more diverse representation by leveraging technology to create a user-friendly resource for people whose decisions can make a difference. We hope that Sourcelist will take away the excuse that diverse experts couldn’t be found to comment on a story or participate on a panel.

Our first database is devoted to Women+. Countless organizations now recognize the institutional barriers that women and underrepresented gender identities face in tech policy. Sourcelist is a resource for those hoping to put recognition into practice.

I want to take the opportunity to personally thank the incredible team at Objectively that took an idea and turned it into the remarkable resource we’re launching today….(More)”.

Networked publics: multi-disciplinary perspectives on big policy issues

Special issue of Internet Policy Review edited by William Dutton: “…is the first to bring together the best policy-oriented papers presented at the annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). This issue is anchored in the 2017 conference in Tartu, Estonia, which was organised around the theme of networked publics. The seven papers span issues concerning whether and how technology and policy are reshaping access to information, perspectives on privacy and security online, and social and legal perspectives on informed consent of internet users. As explained in the editorial to this issue, taken together, the contributions to this issue reflect the rise of new policy, regulatory and governance issues around the internet and social media, an ascendance of disciplinary perspectives in what is arguably an interdisciplinary field, and the value that theoretical perspectives from cultural studies, law and the social sciences can bring to internet policy research.

Editorial: Networked publics: multi-disciplinary perspectives on big policy issues
William H. Dutton, Michigan State University

Political topic-communities and their framing practices in the Dutch Twittersphere
Maranke Wieringa, Daniela van Geenen, Mirko Tobias Schäfer, & Ludo Gorzeman

Big crisis data: generality-singularity tensions
Karolin Eva Kappler

Cryptographic imaginaries and the networked public
Sarah Myers West

Not just one, but many ‘Rights to be Forgotten’
Geert Van Calster, Alejandro Gonzalez Arreaza, & Elsemiek Apers

What kind of cyber security? Theorising cyber security and mapping approaches
Laura Fichtner

Algorithmic governance and the need for consumer empowerment in data-driven markets
Stefan Larsson

Standard form contracts and a smart contract future
Kristin B. Cornelius


International Data Flows and Privacy: The Conflict and its Resolution

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper by Aaditya Mattoo and Joshua P Meltzer: “The free flow of data across borders underpins today’s globalized economy. But the flow of personal dataoutside the jurisdiction of national regulators also raises concerns about the protection of privacy. Addressing these legitimate concerns without undermining international integration is a challenge. This paper describes and assesses three types of responses to this challenge: unilateral development of national or regional regulation, such as the European Union’s Data Protection Directive and forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation; international negotiation of trade disciplines, most recently in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP); and international cooperation involving regulators, most significantly in the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Agreement.

The paper argues that unilateral restrictions on data flows are costly and can hurt exports, especially of data-processing and other data-based services; international trade rules that limit only the importers’ freedom to regulate cannot address the challenge posed by privacy; and regulatory cooperation that aims at harmonization and mutual recognition is not likely to succeed, given the desirable divergence in national privacy regulation. The way forward is to design trade rules (as the CPTPP seeks to do) that reflect the bargain central to successful international cooperation (as in the EU-US Privacy Shield): regulators in data destination countries would assume legal obligations to protect the privacy of foreign citizens in return for obligations on data source countries not to restrict the flow of data. Existing multilateral rules can help ensure that any such arrangements do not discriminate against and are open to participation by other countries….(More)”.

Open Standards for Data

Guidebook by the Open Data Institute: “Standards for data are often seen as a technical topic that is only relevant to developers and other technologists.

Using this guidebook we hope to highlight that standards are an important tool that are worthy of wider attention.

Standards have an important role in helping us to consistently and repeatably share data. But they are also a tool to help implement policy, create and shape markets and drive social change.

The guidebook isn’t intended to be read from start to finish. Instead we’ve focused on curating a variety of guidance, tools and resources that will be relevant no matter your experience.

On top of providing useful background and case studies, we’ve also provided pointers to help you find existing standards.

Other parts of the guidebook will be most relevant when you’re engaged in the process of scoping and designing new standards….(More)”.

If, When and How Blockchain Technologies Can Provide Civic Change

By Stefaan G. Verhulst and Andrew Young

The hype surrounding the potential of blockchain technologies– the distributed ledger technology (DLT) undergirding cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin – to transform the way industries and sectors operate and exchange records is reaching a fever pitch.

Gartner Hype Cycle

Source: Top Trends in the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2017

Governments and civil society have now also joined the quest and are actively exploring the potential of DLTs to create transformative social change. Experiments are underway to leverage blockchain technologies to address major societal challenges – from homelessness in New York City to the Rohyingya crisis in Myanmar to government corruption around the world. At the same time, a growing backlash to the newest ‘shiny object’ in the technology for good space is gaining ground.   

At this year’s The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC), organized by mySociety in Lisbon, the GovLab’s Stefaan Verhulst and Andrew Young joined the Engine Room’s Nicole Anand, the Natural Resource Governance Institute’s Anders Pedersen, and ITS-Rio’s Marco Konopacki to consider whether or not Blockchain can truly deliver on its promise for creating civic change.

For the GovLab’s contribution to the panel, we shared early findings from our Blockchange: Blockchain for Social Change initiative. Blockchange, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, seeks to develop a deeper understanding of the promise and practice of DLTs tin addressing public problems – with a particular focus on the lack, the role and the establishment of trusted identities – through a set of detailed case-studies. Such insights may help us develop operational guidelines on when blockchain technology may be appropriate and what design principles should guide the future use of DLTs for good.

Our presentation covered four key areas (Full presentation here):

  1. The evolving package of attributes present in Blockchain technologies: on-going experimentation, development and investment has lead to the realization that there is no one blockchain technology. Rather there are several variations of attributes that provide for different technological scenarios. Some of these attributes remain foundational -– such as immutability, (guaranteed) integrity, and distributed resilience – while others have evolved as optional including disintermediation, transparency, and accessibility. By focusing on the attributes we can transcend the noise that is emerging from having too many well funded start-ups that seek to pitch their package of attributes as the solution;Attributes of DLT
  2. The three varieties of Blockchain for social change use cases: Most of the pilots and use cases where DLTs are being used to improve society and people’s lives can be categorized along three varieties of applications:
    • Track and Trace applications. For instance: 
      1. Versiart creates verifiable, digital certificates for art and collectibles which helps buyers ensure each piece’s provenance.
      2. Grassroots Cooperative along with Heifer USA created a blockchain-powered app that allows every package of chicken marketed and sold by Grassroots to be traced on the Ethereum blockchain.
      3. Everledger works with stakeholders across the diamond supply chain to track diamonds from mine to store.
      4. Ripe is working with Sweetgreen to use blockchain and IoT sensors to track crop growth, yielding higher-quality produce and providing better information for farmers, food distributors, restaurants, and consumers.    
    • Smart Contracting applications. For instance:
      1. In Indonesia, Carbon Conservation and Dappbase have created smart contracts that will distribute rewards to villages that can prove the successful reduction of incidences of forest fires.
      2. Alice has built Ethereum-based smart contracts for a donation project that supports 15 homeless people in London. The smart contracts ensure donations are released only when pre-determined project goals are met.
      3. Bext360 utilizes smart contracts to pay coffee farmers fairly and immediately based on a price determined through weighing and analyzing beans by the Bext360 machine at the source.  
    • Identity applications. For instance:
      1. The State of Illinois is working with Evernym to digitize birth certificates, thus giving individuals a digital identity from birth.
      2. BanQu creates an economic passport for previously unbanked populations by using blockchain to record economic and financial transactions, purchase goods, and prove their existence in global supply chains.
      3. In 2015, AID:Tech piloted a project working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon to distribute over 500 donor aid cards that were tied to non-forgeable identities.
      4. uPort provides digital identities for residents of Zug, Switzerland to use for governmental services.

Three Blockchange applications

  1. The promise of trusted Identity: the potential to establish a trusted identity turns out to be foundational for using blockchain technologies for social change. At the same time identity emerges from a process (involving, for instance, provisioning, authentication, administration, authorization and auditing) and it is key to assess at what stage of the ID lifecycle DLTs provide an advantage vis-a-vis other ID technologies; and how the maturity of the blockchain technology toward addressing the ID challenge. 

ID Lifecycle and DLT

  1. Finally, we seek to translate current findings into
    • Operational conditions that can enable the public and civic sector at-large to determine when “to blockchain” including:
      • The need for a clear problem definition (as opposed to certain situations where DLT solutions are in search of a problem);
      • The presence of information asymmetries and high transaction costs incentivize change. (“The Market of Lemons” problem);
      • The availability of (high quality) digital records;
      • The lack of availability of credible and alternative disclosure technologies;
      • Deficiency (or efficiency) of (trusted) intermediaries in the space.
    • Design principles that can increase the likelihood of societal benefit when using Blockchain for identity projects (see picture) .

Design Principles

In the coming months, we will continue to share our findings from the Blockchange project in a number of forms – including a series of case studies, additional presentations and infographics, and an operational field guide for designing and implementing Blockchain projects to address challenges across the identity lifecycle.

The GovLab, in collaboration with the National Resource Governance Institute, is also delighted to announce a new initiative aimed at taking stock of the promise, practice and challenge of the use of Blockchain in the extractives sector. The project is focused in particular on DLTs as they relate to beneficial ownership, licensing and contracting transparency, and commodity trading transparency. This fall, we will share a collection of Blockchain for extractives case studies, as well as a report summarizing if, when, and how Blockchain can provide value across the extractives decision chain.

If you are interested in collaborating on our work to increase our understanding of Blockchain’s real potential for social change, or if you have any feedback on this presentation of early findings, please contact