Access My Info (AMI)


About: “What do companies know about you? How do they handle your data? And who do they share it with?

Access My Info (AMI) is a project that can help answer these questions by assisting you in making data access requests to companies. AMI includes a web application that helps users send companies data access requests, and a research methodology designed to understand the responses companies make to these requests. Past AMI projects have shed light on how companies treat user data and contribute to digital privacy reforms around the world.

What are data access requests?

A data access request is a letter you can send to any company with products/services that you use. The request asks that the company disclose all the information it has about you and whether or not it has shared your data with any third-parties. If the place where you live has data protection laws that include the right to data access then companies may be legally obligated to respond…

AMI has made personal data requests in jurisdictions around the world and found common patterns.

  1. There are significant gaps between data access laws on paper and the law in practice;
  2. People have consistently encountered barriers to accessing their data.

Together with our partners in each jurisdiction, we have used Access My Info to set off a dialog between users, civil society, regulators, and companies…(More)”

A New Wave of Deliberative Democracy


Essay by Claudia Chwalisz: “….Deliberative bodies such as citizens’ councils, assemblies, and juries are often called “deliberative mini-publics” in academic literature. They are just one aspect of deliberative democracy and involve randomly selected citizens spending a significant period of time developing informed recommendations for public authorities. Many scholars emphasize two core defining featuresdeliberation (careful and open discussion to weigh the evidence about an issue) and representativeness, achieved through sortition (random selection).

Of course, the principles of deliberation and sortition are not new. Rooted in ancient Athenian democracy, they were used throughout various points of history until around two to three centuries ago. Evoked by the Greek statesman Pericles in 431 BCE, the ideas—that “ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters” and that instead of being a “stumbling block in the way of action . . . [discussion] is an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all”—faded to the background when elections came to dominate the contemporary notion of democracy.

But the belief in the ability of ordinary citizens to deliberate and participate in public decisionmaking has come back into vogue over the past several decades. And it is modern applications of the principles of sortition and deliberation, meaning their adaption in the context of liberal representative democratic institutions, that make them “democratic innovations” today. This is not to say that there are no longer proponents who claim that governance should be the domain of “experts” who are committed to govern for the general good and have superior knowledge to do it. Originally espoused by Plato, the argument in favor of epistocracy—rule by experts—continues to be reiterated, such as in Jason Brennan’s 2016 book Against Democracy. It is a reminder that the battle of ideas for democracy’s future is nothing new and requires constant engagement.

Today’s political context—characterized by political polarization; mistrust in politicians, governments, and fellow citizens; voter apathy; increasing political protests; and a new context of misinformation and disinformation—has prompted politicians, policymakers, civil society organizations, and citizens to reflect on how collective public decisions are being made in the twenty-first century. In particular, political tensions have raised the need for new ways of achieving consensus and taking action on issues that require long-term solutions, such as climate change and technology use. Assembling ordinary citizens from all parts of society to deliberate on a complex political issue has thus become even more appealing.

Some discussions have returned to exploring democracy’s deliberative roots. An ongoing study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is analyzing over 700 cases of deliberative mini-publics commissioned by public authorities to inform their decisionmaking. The forthcoming report assesses the mini-publics’ use, principles of good practice, and routes to institutionalization.3 This new area of work stems from the 2017 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government, which recommends that adherents (OECD members and some nonmembers) grant all stakeholders, including citizens, “equal and fair opportunities to be informed and consulted and actively engage them in all phases of the policy-cycle” and “promote innovative ways to effectively engage with stakeholders to source ideas and co-create solutions.” A better understanding of how public authorities have been using deliberative mini-publics to inform their decisionmaking around the world, not just in OECD countries, should provide a richer understanding of what works and what does not. It should also reveal the design principles needed for mini-publics to effectively function, deliver strong recommendations, increase legitimacy of the decisionmaking process, and possibly even improve public trust….(More)”.

The people, not governments, should exercise digital sovereignty


John Thornhill at the Financial Times: “European politicians who have been complaining recently about the loss of “digital sovereignty” to US technology companies are like children grumbling in the back of a car about where they are heading. …

Sovereign governments used to wield exclusive power over validating identity, running critical infrastructure, regulating information flows and creating money. Several of those functions are being usurped by the latest tech.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, recently told The Economist that Europe had inadvertently abandoned the “grammar” of sovereignty by allowing private companies, rather than public interest, to decide on digital infrastructure. In 10 years’ time, he feared, Europe would no longer be able to guarantee the soundness of its cyber infrastructure or control its citizens’ and companies’ data.

The instinctive response of many European politicians is to invest in grand, state-led projects and to regulate the life out of Big Tech. A recent proposal to launch a European cloud computing company, called Gaia-X, reflects the same impulse that lay behind the creation of Quaero, the Franco-German search engine set up in 2008 to challenge Google. That you have to Google “Quaero” rather than Quaero “Quaero” tells you how that fared. The risk of ill-designed regulation is that it can stifle innovation and strengthen the grip of dominant companies.

Rather than just trying to shore up the diminishing sovereignty of European governments and prop up obsolete national industrial champions, leaders may do better to reshape the rules of the data economy to empower users and stimulate a new wave of innovation. True sovereignty, after all, lies in the hands of the people. To this end, Europe should encourage greater efforts to “re-decentralise the web”, as computer scientists say, to accelerate the development of the next generation internet. The principle of privacy by design should be enshrined in the next batch of regulations, following the EU’s landmark General Data Protection Regulation, and written into all public procurement contracts. …(More).

Technology & the Law of Corporate Responsibility – The Impact of Blockchain


Blogpost by Elizabeth Boomer: “Blockchain, a technology regularly associated with digital currency, is increasingly being utilized as a corporate social responsibility tool in major international corporations. This intersection of law, technology, and corporate responsibility was addressed earlier this month at the World Bank Law, Justice, and Development Week 2019, where the theme was Rights, Technology and Development. The law related to corporate responsibility for sustainable development is increasingly visible due in part to several lawsuits against large international corporations, alleging the use of child and forced labor. In addition, the United Nations has been working for some time on a treaty on business and human rights to encourage corporations to avoid “causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities and [to] address such impacts when they occur.”

DeBeersVolvo, and Coca-Cola, among other industry leaders, are using blockchain, a technology that allows digital information to be distributed and analyzed, but not copied or manipulated, to trace the source of materials and better manage their supply chains. These initiatives have come as welcome news in industries where child or forced labor in the supply chain can be hard to detect, e.g. conflict minerals, sugar, tobacco, and cacao. The issue is especially difficult when trying to trace the mining of cobalt for lithium ion batteries, increasingly used in electric cars, because the final product is not directly traceable to a single source.

While non governmental organizations (NGOs) have been advocating for improved corporate performance in supply chains regarding labor and environmental standards for years, blockchain may be a technological tool that could reliably trace information regarding various products – from food to minerals – that go through several layers of suppliers before being certified as slave- or child labor- free.

Child labor and forced labor are still common in some countries. The majority of countries worldwide have ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 182, prohibiting the worst forms of child labor (186 ratifications), as well as the ILO Convention prohibiting forced labor (No. 29, with 178 ratifications), and the abolition of forced labor (Convention No. 105, with 175 ratifications). However, the ILO estimates that approximately 40 million men and women are engaged in modern day slavery and 152 million children are subject to child labor, 38% of whom are working in hazardous conditions. The enduring existence of forced labor and child labor raises difficult ethical questions, because in many contexts, the victim does not have a viable alternative livelihood….(More)”.

Seeing Like a Finite State Machine


Henry Farrell at the Crooked Timber: “…So what might a similar analysis say about the marriage of authoritarianism and machine learning? Something like the following, I think. There are two notable problems with machine learning. One – that while it can do many extraordinary things, it is not nearly as universally effective as the mythology suggests. The other is that it can serve as a magnifier for already existing biases in the data. The patterns that it identifies may be the product of the problematic data that goes in, which is (to the extent that it is accurate) often the product of biased social processes. When this data is then used to make decisions that may plausibly reinforce those processes (by singling e.g. particular groups that are regarded as problematic out for particular police attention, leading them to be more liable to be arrested and so on), the bias may feed upon itself.

This is a substantial problem in democratic societies, but it is a problem where there are at least some counteracting tendencies. The great advantage of democracy is its openness to contrary opinions and divergent perspectives. This opens up democracy to a specific set of destabilizing attacks but it also means that there are countervailing tendencies to self-reinforcing biases. When there are groups that are victimized by such biases, they may mobilize against it (although they will find it harder to mobilize against algorithms than overt discrimination). When there are obvious inefficiencies or social, political or economic problems that result from biases, then there will be ways for people to point out these inefficiencies or problems.

These correction tendencies will be weaker in authoritarian societies; in extreme versions of authoritarianism, they may barely even exist. Groups that are discriminated against will have no obvious recourse. Major mistakes may go uncorrected: they may be nearly invisible to a state whose data is polluted both by the means employed to observe and classify it, and the policies implemented on the basis of this data. A plausible feedback loop would see bias leading to error leading to further bias, and no ready ways to correct it. This of course, will be likely to be reinforced by the ordinary politics of authoritarianism, and the typical reluctance to correct leaders, even when their policies are leading to disaster. The flawed ideology of the leader (We must all study Comrade Xi thought to discover the truth!) and of the algorithm (machine learning is magic!) may reinforce each other in highly unfortunate ways.

In short, there is a very plausible set of mechanisms under which machine learning and related techniques may turn out to be a disaster for authoritarianism, reinforcing its weaknesses rather than its strengths, by increasing its tendency to bad decision making, and reducing further the possibility of negative feedback that could help correct against errors. This disaster would unfold in two ways. The first will involve enormous human costs: self-reinforcing bias will likely increase discrimination against out-groups, of the sort that we are seeing against the Uighur today. The second will involve more ordinary self-ramifying errors, that may lead to widespread planning disasters, which will differ from those described in Scott’s account of High Modernism in that they are not as immediately visible, but that may also be more pernicious, and more damaging to the political health and viability of the regime for just that reason….(More)”

How Data Can Help in the Fight Against the Opioid Epidemic in the United States


Report by Joshua New: “The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic 20 years in the making….

One of the most pernicious obstacles in the fight against the opioid epidemic is that, until relatively recently, it was difficult to measure the epidemic in any comprehensive capacity beyond such high-level statistics. A lack of granular data and authorities’ inability to use data to inform response efforts allowed the epidemic to grow to devastating proportions. The maxim “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” has never been so relevant, and this failure to effectively leverage data has undoubtedly cost many lives and caused severe social and economic damage to communities ravaged by opioid addiction, with authorities limited in their ability to fight back.

Many factors contributed to the opioid epidemic, including healthcare providers not fully understanding the potential ramifications of prescribing opioids, socioeconomic conditions that make addiction more likely, and drug distributors turning a blind eye to likely criminal behavior, such as pharmacy workers illegally selling opioids on the black market. Data will not be able to solve these problems, but it can make public health officials and other stakeholders more effective at responding to them. Fortunately, recent efforts to better leverage data in the fight against the opioid epidemic have demonstrated the potential for data to be an invaluable and effective tool to inform decision-making and guide response efforts. Policymakers should aggressively pursue more data-driven strategies to combat the opioid epidemic while learning from past mistakes that helped contribute to the epidemic to prevent similar situations in the future.

The scope of this paper is limited to opportunities to better leverage data to help address problems primarily related to the abuse of prescription opioids, rather than the abuse of illicitly manufactured opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. While these issues may overlap, such as when a person develops an opioid use disorder from prescribed opioids and then seeks heroin when they are unable to obtain more from their doctor, the opportunities to address the abuse of prescription opioids are more clear-cut….(More)”.

Is Plagiarism Wrong?


Agnes Callard at The Point: “…Academia has confused a convention with a moral rule, and this confusion is not unmotivated. We academics cannot make much money off the papers and books in which we express our ideas, and ideas cannot be copyrighted, so we have invented a moral law that offers us the “property rights” the legal system denies us.

Here is an analogy. Suppose that I legally own a tree on the edge of my property, but not the apples that fall into the road. I might create a set of norms that shame people who take those apples: if you want one of “my” road-apples, you must first bow down to me or kiss my ring. Otherwise I will call you a “thief,” and if you insist that the apple you have just picked up is your own, I will compound the charge with “liar.”

The academic’s problem is that all of their apples fall into the road. Academia is an honor-culture, in which recognition—in the form of citations—serves as a kind of ersatz currency. In ancient Greek, there is a word “pleonexia,” which means “grasping after more than your share.” Plagiarism norms encourage pleonectic overreach. One can see such overreach in the fact that those with perfect job-security—famous, tenured faculty—do not seem less given to touchiness about having “their” ideas surface in the work of another, unattributed. Quite the contrary. The higher one rises, the louder the call for obeisance: kiss my ring! Stigmatizing plagiarism serves those at the top.

But isn’t there some form of reward—respect, gratitude, admiration, eternal life in historical memory—that people are entitled to on the basis of their intellectual work?

No. If you are an academic and you want to feel waves upon waves of gratitude, I have a simple recommendation for you: do a half-decent job teaching undergraduates. You don’t need to—and probably shouldn’t—teach them “your” ideas; if you help them furnish their minds with some of the great ideas of the past few millennia, they will thank you in ways no citation can: gushing notes of heartfelt appreciation, trinkets to fill your office, email messages of remembrance a decade later. They will come to your funeral. They will tell their children about you.

More generally, if I may indulge in some moralism myself, I would insist that no one can be entitled to gratitude or remembrance or appreciation. Write something worth reading. Put your ideas out there, and hope that someone will make something of them. Give with an open hand, and stop thinking about the tokens with which you will be repaid. Be happy to be worth stealing from. The future owes you nothing….(More)”.

Fixing Democracy Demands the Building and Aligning of People’s Motivation and Authority to Act


Hahrie Han at SSIR: “Power operates in every domain of human life: in families and communities; in social, civic, and economic organizations; and in political states and regimes. Reclaiming democracy means contending with power.

Yet reformers are often reluctant to confront problems of power. Revealing underlying power dynamics can be complex and uncomfortable. It is often tempting to try to solve problems by instead looking for policy fixes, new technologies, and informational solutions.

In fact, some problems can be solved through policy, technology, and information. For instance, when doctors wanted to reduce the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the early 1990s, they launched a campaign to teach parents to put babies to sleep on their backs instead of on their stomachs. Once parents had the knowledge that babies who sleep on their backs are less likely to suffocate, they made the necessary change and the SIDS rates dramatically declined. When scientists used technology to create the polio vaccine, they were able to basically eradicate polio. In these examples, there is an alignment, broadly speaking, between the motivation to act and the authority to act. Because parents have both the motivation to protect their children and the authority to determine how they sleep, when they had the information they needed, they adjusted their behaviors.

Problems of power, however, are different because there is usually a misalignment between motivation and authority. Either those who have the motivation to make change lack the authority or capacity to act, or those who have the authority lack the motivation. Solving problems of power, then, requires bringing motivation and authority into alignment.

Recasting challenges of democracy as problems of power makes visible a distinct set of solutions. Considered in this frame, the embrace of antidemocratic authoritarian ideologies around the world is not just a rejection of particular candidates, parties, or policies. Instead, it is a reflection of the profound mismatch between the motivations or interests of the public and the actions of those with authority to act. If people are left feeling powerless, they might believe they have no choice but to blow up the system.

But giving up on democracy is not the only solution. Reformers can also seek to strengthen the capacity of people to exercise their voices in the democratic process—and instantiate the authority they have to hold economic and political leaders accountable within institutions. Realizing democracy must be about building the motivation, capacity, and authority that people of all kinds need to act as a source of countervailing power to institutions of the economy and the state. That is realizing the promise of democracy….(More)”.

Civic Power: Rebuilding American Democracy in an Era of Crisis


Demos Press Release: “American democracy is in crisis. In their new book, Civic Power, political scientists K. Sabeel Rahman and Hollie Russon Gilman argue that the daily political turmoil of the Trump era actually masks a larger ailment. The current threat to U.S. democracy is rooted not just in the outcome of one election or the ascent of one leader, but in deeper systemic forms of inequality that concentrate political and economic power in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. 

Drawing on historical and social science research, as well as case studies of contemporary democratic innovations across the country, Civic Power calls for a broader approach to democratic reform, offering a critical framework and concrete suggestions to support those reforms that meaningfully redistribute power to citizens.

This original, timely effort offering fresh thinking about how best to pursue civic engagement and democracy reform. It offers concrete suggests to revive grassroots civil society and calls for novel approaches to governance, policymaking, civic technology, and institutional design. With these tools, readers can aim to address structural disparities to build a more inclusive, empowered, bottom-up democracy where communities and people have greater agency, voice, and civic power….(Excerpt)”.

Manual of Digital Earth


Book by Huadong Guo, Michael F. Goodchild and Alessandro Annoni: “This open access book offers a summary of the development of Digital Earth over the past twenty years. By reviewing the initial vision of Digital Earth, the evolution of that vision, the relevant key technologies, and the role of Digital Earth in helping people respond to global challenges, this publication reveals how and why Digital Earth is becoming vital for acquiring, processing, analysing and mining the rapidly growing volume of global data sets about the Earth.

The main aspects of Digital Earth covered here include: Digital Earth platforms, remote sensing and navigation satellites, processing and visualizing geospatial information, geospatial information infrastructures, big data and cloud computing, transformation and zooming, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and social media. Moreover, the book covers in detail the multi-layered/multi-faceted roles of Digital Earth in response to sustainable development goals, climate changes, and mitigating disasters, the applications of Digital Earth (such as digital city and digital heritage), the citizen science in support of Digital Earth, the economic value of Digital Earth, and so on. This book also reviews the regional and national development of Digital Earth around the world, and discusses the role and effect of education and ethics. Lastly, it concludes with a summary of the challenges and forecasts the future trends of Digital Earth.By sharing case studies and a broad range of general and scientific insights into the science and technology of Digital Earth, this book offers an essential introduction for an ever-growing international audience….(More)”.