How Philanthropy Can Help Governments Accelerate a Real Recovery


Essay by Michele Jolin and David Medina: “The cracks and design flaws of our nation’s public systems have been starkly exposed as governments everywhere struggle to respond to health and economic crises that disproportionately devastate Black residents and communities of color. As government leaders respond to the immediate emergencies, they also operate within a legacy of government practices, policies and systems that have played a central role in creating and maintaining racial inequity. 

Philanthropy can play a unique and catalytic role in accelerating a real recovery by helping government leaders make smarter decisions, helping them develop and effectively use the data-and-evidence capacity they need to spotlight and understand root causes of community challenges, especially racial disparities, and increase the impact of government investments that could close racial gaps and accelerate economic opportunity. Philanthropy can uniquely support leaders within government who are best positioned to redesign and reimagine public systems to deliver equity and impact.

We are already seeing that the growing number of governments that have built data-driven “Moneyball” muscles are better positioned both to manage through this crisis and to dismantle racist government practices. While we recognize that data and evidence can sometimes reinforce biases, we also know that government decision-makers who have access to more and better information—and who are trained to navigate the nuance and possible bias in this information—can use data to identify disparate racial outcomes, understand the core problems and target resources to close gaps. Government decision-makers who have the skills to test, learn, and improve government programs can prioritize resource allocation toward programs that both deliver better results and address the complexity of social problems.

Philanthropy can accelerate this public sector transformation by supporting change led by internal government champions who are challenging the status quo. By doing so, philanthropic leaders can increase the impact of the trillions of dollars invested by governments each year. Philanthropies such as Ballmer Group, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Blue Meridian Partners, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Arnold Ventures understand this and are already putting their money where their mouths are. By helping governments make smarter budget and policy decisions, they can ensure that public dollars flow toward solutions that make a meaningful, measurable difference on our biggest challenges, whether it’s increasing economic mobility, reducing racial disparities in health and other outcomes, or addressing racial bias in government systems.

We need other donors to join them in prioritizing this kind of systems change….(More)”.

Why Personal Data Is a National Security Issue


Article by Susan Ariel Aaronson: “…Concerns about the national security threat from personal data held by foreigners first emerged in 2013. Several U.S. entities, including Target, J.P. Morgan, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management were hacked. Many attributed the hacking to Chinese entities. Administration officials concluded that the Chinese government could cross-reference legally obtained and hacked-data sets to reveal information about U.S. objectives and strategy. 

Personal data troves can also be cross-referenced to identify individuals, putting both personal security as well as national security at risk. Even U.S. firms pose a direct and indirect security threat to individuals and the nation because of their failure to adequately protect personal data. For example, Facebook has a disturbing history of sharing personal data without consent and allowing its clients to use that data to manipulate users. Some app designers have enabled functionality unnecessary for their software’s operation, while others, like Anomaly 6, embedded their software in mobile apps without the permission of users or firms. Other companies use personal data without user permission to create new products. Clearview AI scraped billions of images from major web services such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube, and sold these images to law enforcement agencies around the world. 

Firms can also inadvertently aggregate personal data and in so doing threaten national security. Strava, an athletes’ social network, released a heat map of its global users’ activities in 2018. Savvy analysts were able to use the heat map to reveal secret military bases and patrol routes. Chinese-owned data firms could be a threat to national security if they share data with the Chinese government. But the problem lies in the U.S.’s failure to adequately protect personal data and police the misuse of data collected without the permission of users….(More)”.

The EU is launching a market for personal data. Here’s what that means for privacy.


Anna Artyushina at MIT Tech Review: “The European Union has long been a trendsetter in privacy regulation. Its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and stringent antitrust laws have inspired new legislation around the world. For decades, the EU has codified protections on personal data and fought against what it viewed as commercial exploitation of private information, proudly positioning its regulations in contrast to the light-touch privacy policies in the United States.

The new European data governance strategy (pdf) takes a fundamentally different approach. With it, the EU will become an active player in facilitating the use and monetization of its citizens’ personal data. Unveiled by the European Commission in February 2020, the strategy outlines policy measures and investments to be rolled out in the next five years.

This new strategy represents a radical shift in the EU’s focus, from protecting individual privacy to promoting data sharing as a civic duty. Specifically, it will create a pan-European market for personal data through a mechanism called a data trust. A data trust is a steward that manages people’s data on their behalf and has fiduciary duties toward its clients.

The EU’s new plan considers personal data to be a key asset for Europe. However, this approach raises some questions. First, the EU’s intent to profit from the personal data it collects puts European governments in a weak position to regulate the industry. Second, the improper use of data trusts can actually deprive citizens of their rights to their own data.

The Trusts Project, the first initiative put forth by the new EU policies, will be implemented by 2022. With a €7 million budget, it will set up a pan-European pool of personal and nonpersonal information that should become a one-stop shop for businesses and governments looking to access citizens’ information.

Global technology companies will not be allowed to store or move Europeans’ data. Instead, they will be required to access it via the trusts. Citizens will collect “data dividends,” which haven’t been clearly defined but could include monetary or nonmonetary payments from companies that use their personal data. With the EU’s roughly 500 million citizens poised to become data sources, the trusts will create the world’s largest data market.

For citizens, this means the data created by them and about them will be held in public servers and managed by data trusts. The European Commission envisions the trusts as a way to help European businesses and governments reuse and extract value from the massive amounts of data produced across the region, and to help European citizens benefit from their information. The project documentation, however, does not specify how individuals will be compensated.

Data trusts were first proposed by internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners Lee in 2018, and the concept has drawn considerable interest since then. Just like the trusts used to manage one’s property, data trusts may serve different purposes: they can be for-profit enterprises, or they can be set up for data storage and protection, or to work for a charitable cause.

IBM and Mastercard have built a data trust to manage the financial information of their European clients in Ireland; the UK and Canada have employed data trusts to stimulate the growth of the AI industries there; and recently, India announced plans to establish its own public data trust to spur the growth of technology companies.

The new EU project is modeled on Austria’s digital system, which keeps track of information produced by and about its citizens by assigning them unique identifiers and storing the data in public repositories.

Unfortunately, data trusts do not guarantee more transparency. The trust is governed by a charter created by the trust’s settlor, and its rules can be made to prioritize someone’s interests. The trust is run by a board of directors, which means a party that has more seats gains significant control.

The Trusts Project is bound to face some governance issues of its own. Public and private actors often do not see eye to eye when it comes to running critical infrastructure or managing valuable assets. Technology companies tend to favor policies that create opportunity for their own products and services. Caught in a conflict of interest, Europe may overlook the question of privacy….(More)”.

From Desert Battlefields To Coral Reefs, Private Satellites Revolutionize The View


NPR Story: “As the U.S. military and its allies attacked the last Islamic State holdouts last year, it wasn’t clear how many civilians were still in the besieged desert town of Baghouz, Syria.

So Human Rights Watch asked a private satellite company, Planet, for its regular daily photos and also made a special request for video.

“That live video actually was instrumental in convincing us that there were thousands of civilians trapped in this pocket,” said Josh Lyons of Human Rights Watch. “Therefore, the coalition forces absolutely had an obligation to stop and to avoid bombardment of that pocket at that time.”

Which they did until the civilians fled.

Lyons, who’s based in Geneva, has a job title you wouldn’t expect at a human rights group: director of geospatial analysis. He says satellite imagery is increasingly a crucial component of human rights investigations, bolstering traditional eyewitness accounts, especially in areas where it’s too dangerous to send researchers.

“Then we have this magical sort of fusion of data between open-source, eyewitness testimony and data from space. And that becomes essentially a new gold standard for investigations,” he said.

‘A string of pearls’

Satellite photos used to be restricted to the U.S. government and a handful of other nations. Now such imagery is available to everyone, creating a new world of possibilities for human rights groups, environmentalists and researchers who monitor nuclear programs.

They get those images from a handful of private, commercial satellite companies, like Planet and Maxar….(More)”.

When Mini-Publics and Maxi-Publics Coincide: Ireland’s National Debate on Abortion


Paper by David Farrell et al: “Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly (CA) of 2016–18 was tasked with making recommendations on abortion. This paper shows that from the outset its members were in large part in favour of the liberalisation of abortion (though a fair proportion were undecided), that over the course of its deliberations the CA as a whole moved in a more liberal direction on the issue, but that its position was largely reflected in the subsequent referendum vote by the population as a whole….(More)”

Building and maintaining trust in research


Daniel Nunan at the International Journal of Market Research: “One of the many indirect consequences of the COVID pandemic for the research sector may be the impact upon consumers’ willingness to share data. This is reflected in concerns that government mandated “apps” designed to facilitate COVID testing and tracking schemes will undermine trust in the commercial collection of personal data (WARC, 2020). For example, uncertainty over the consequences of handing over data and the ways in which it might be used could reduce consumers’ willingness to share data with organizations, and reverse a trend that has seen growing levels of consumer confidence in Data Protection Regulations (Data & Direct Marketing Association [DMA], 2020). This highlights how central the role of trust has become in contemporary research practice, and how fragile the process of building trust can be due to the ever competing demands of public and private data collectors.

For researchers, there are two sides to trust. One relates to building sufficient trust with research participants to be facilitate data collection, and the second is building trust with the users of research. Trust has long been understood as a key factor in effective research relationships, with trust between researchers and users of research the key factor in determining the extent to which research is actually used (Moorman et al., 1993). In other words, a trusted messenger is just as important as the contents of the message. In recent years, there has been growing concern over declining trust in research from research participants and the general public, manifested in declining response rates and challenges in gaining participation. Understanding how to build consumer trust is more important than ever, as the shift of communication and commercial activity to digital platforms alter the mechanisms through which trust is built. Trust is therefore essential both for ensuring that accurate data can be collected, and that insights from research have necessary legitimacy to be acted upon. The two research notes in this issue provide an insight into new areas where the issue of trust needs to be considered within research practice….(More)”.

Journalists’ guide to COVID data


Guide by RTDNA: “Watch a press conference, turn on a newscast, or overhear just about any phone conversation these days and you’ll hear mayors discussing R values, reporters announcing new fatalities and separated families comparing COVID case rolling averages in their counties. As coronavirus resurges across the country, medical data is no longer just the purview of epidemiologists (though a quick glance at any social media comments section shows an unlikely simultaneous surge in the number of virology experts and statisticians).

Journalists reporting on COVID, however, have a particular obligation to understand the data, to add context and to acknowledge uncertainty when reporting the numbers.

“Journalism requires more than merely reporting remarks, claims or comments. Journalism verifies, provides relevant context, tells the rest of the story and acknowledges the absence of important additional information.” – RTDNA Code of Ethics

This guide to common COVID metrics is designed to help journalists know how each data point is calculated, what it means and, importantly, what it doesn’t mean….(More)”.

The Risks and Rewards of Data Sharing for Smart Cities


Study by Massimo Russo and Tian Feng: “…To develop innovative solutions to problems old and new, many cities are aggregating and sharing more and more data, establishing platforms to facilitate private-sector participation, and holding “hackathons” and other digital events to invite public help. But digital solutions carry their own complications. Technology-led innovation often depends on access to data from a wide variety of sources to derive correlations and insights. Questions regarding data ownership, amalgamation, compensation, and privacy can be flashing red lights.

Smart cities are on the leading edge of the trend toward greater data sharing. They are also complex generators and users of data. Companies, industries, governments, and others are following in their wake, sharing more data in order to foster innovation and address such macro-level challenges as public health and welfare and climate change. Smart cities thus provide a constructive laboratory for studying the challenges and benefits of data sharing.

WHY CITIES SHARE DATA

BCG examined some 75 smart-city applications that use data from a variety of sources, including connected equipment (that is, the Internet of Things, or IoT). Nearly half the applications require data sourced from multiple industries or platforms. (See Exhibit 1.) For example, a parking reservation app assembles garage occupancy data, historical traffic data, current weather data, and information on upcoming public events to determine real-time parking costs. We also looked at a broader set of potential future applications and found that an additional 40% will likewise require cross-industry data aggregation.

Because today’s smart solutions are often sponsored by individual municipal departments, many IoT-enabled applications rely on limited, siloed data. But given the potential value of applications that require aggregation across sources, it’s no surprise that many cities are pursuing partnerships with tech providers to develop platforms and other initiatives that integrate data from multiple sources….(More)”.

Genomic Epidemiology Data Infrastructure Needs for SARS-CoV-2


Report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: “In December 2019, new cases of severe pneumonia were first detected in Wuhan, China, and the cause was determined to be a novel beta coronavirus related to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus that emerged from a bat reservoir in 2002. Within six months, this new virus—SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)—has spread worldwide, infecting at least 10 million people with an estimated 500,000 deaths. COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, was declared a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and a pandemic on March 11, 2020. To date, there is no approved effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, and it continues to spread in many countries.

Genomic Epidemiology Data Infrastructure Needs for SARS-CoV-2: Modernizing Pandemic Response Strategies lays out a framework to define and describe the data needs for a system to track and correlate viral genome sequences with clinical and epidemiological data. Such a system would help ensure the integration of data on viral evolution with detection, diagnostic, and countermeasure efforts. This report also explores data collection mechanisms to ensure a representative global sample set of all relevant extant sequences and considers challenges and opportunities for coordination across existing domestic, global, and regional data sources….(More)”.

Going Beyond the Smart City? Implementing Technopolitical Platforms for Urban Democracy in Madrid and Barcelona


Paper by Adrian Smith & Pedro Prieto Martín: “Digital platforms for urban democracy are analyzed in Madrid and Barcelona. These platforms permit citizens to debate urban issues with other citizens; to propose developments, plans, and policies for city authorities; and to influence how city budgets are spent. Contrasting with neoliberal assumptions about Smart Citizenship, the technopolitics discourse underpinning these developments recognizes that the technologies facilitating participation have themselves to be developed democratically. That is, technopolitical platforms are built and operate as open, commons-based processes for learning, reflection, and adaptation. These features prove vital to platform implementation consistent with aspirations for citizen engagement and activism….(More)”.