Blockchain and public service delivery: a lifetime cross-referenced model for e-government

Paper by Maxat Kassen: “The article presents the results of field studies, analysing the perspectives of blockchain developers on decentralised service delivery and elaborating on unique algorithms for lifetime ledgers to reliably and safely record e-government transactions in an intrinsically cross-referenced manner. New interesting technological niches of service delivery and emerging models of related data management in the industry were proposed and further elaborated such as the generation of unique lifetime personal data profiles, blockchain-driven cross-referencing of e-government metadata, parallel maintenance of serviceable ledgers for data identifiers and phenomena of blockchain ‘black holes’ to ensure reliable protection of important public, corporate and civic information…(More)”.

How Mental Health Apps Are Handling Personal Information

Article by Erika Solis: “…Before diving into the privacy policies of mental health apps, it’s necessary to distinguish between “personal information” and “sensitive information,” which are both collected by such apps. Personal information can be defined as information that is “used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity.” Sensitive information, however, can be any data that, if lost, misused, or illegally modified, may negatively affect an individual’s privacy rights. While health information not under HIPAA has previously been treated as general personal information, states like Washington are implementing strong legislation that will cover a wide range of health data as sensitive, and have attendant stricter guidelines.

Legislation addressing the treatment of personal information and sensitive information varies around the world. Regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU, for example, require all types of personal information to be treated as being of equal importance, with certain special categories, including health data having slightly elevated levels of protection. Meanwhile, U.S. federal laws are limited in addressing applicable protections of information provided to a third party, so mental health app companies based in the United States can approach personal information in all sorts of ways. For instance, Mindspa, an app with chatbots that are only intended to be used when a user is experiencing an emergency, and Elomia, a mental health app that’s meant to be used at any time, don’t make distinctions between these contexts in their privacy policies. They also don’t distinguish between the potentially different levels of sensitivity associated with ordinary and crisis use.

Wysa, on the other hand, clearly indicates how it protects personal information. Making a distinction between personal and sensitive data, its privacy policy notes that all health-based information receives additional protection. Similarly, Limbic labels everything as personal information but notes that data, including health, genetic, and biometric, fall within a “special category” that requires more explicit consent than other personal information collected to be used…(More)”.

How Big Tech let down Navalny

Article by Ellery Roberts Biddle: “As if the world needed another reminder of the brutality of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, last Friday we learned of the untimely death of Alexei Navalny. I don’t know if he ever used the term, but Navalny was what Chinese bloggers might have called a true “netizen” — a person who used the internet to live out democratic values and systems that didn’t exist in their country.

Navalny’s work with the Anti-Corruption Foundation reached millions using major platforms like YouTube and LiveJournal. But they built plenty of their own technology too. One of their most famous innovations was “Smart Voting,” a system that could estimate which opposition candidates were most likely to beat out the ruling party in a given election. The strategy wasn’t to support a specific opposition party or candidate — it was simply to unseat members of the ruling party, United Russia. In regional races in 2020, it was credited with causing United Russia to lose its majority in state legislatures in Novosibirsk, Tambov and Tomsk.

The Smart Voting system was pretty simple — just before casting a ballot, any voter could check the website or the app to decide where to throw their support. But on the eve of national parliamentary elections in September 2021, Smart Voting suddenly vanished from the app stores for both Google and Apple. 

After a Moscow court banned Navalny’s organization for being “extremist,” Russia’s internet regulator demanded that both Apple and Google remove Smart Voting from their app stores. The companies bowed to the Kremlin and complied. YouTube blocked select Navalny videos in Russia and Google, its parent company, even blocked some public Google Docs that the Navalny team published to promote names of alternative candidates in the election. 

We will never know whether or not Navalny’s innovative use of technology to stand up to the dictator would have worked. But Silicon Valley’s decision to side with Putin was an important part of why Navalny’s plan failed…(More)”.

The US Is Jeopardizing the Open Internet

Article by Natalie Dunleavy Campbell & Stan Adams: “Last October, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) abandoned its longstanding demand for World Trade Organization provisions to protect cross-border data flows, prevent forced data localization, safeguard source codes, and prohibit countries from discriminating against digital products based on nationality. It was a shocking shift: one that jeopardizes the very survival of the open internet, with all the knowledge-sharing, global collaboration, and cross-border commerce that it enables.

The USTR says that the change was necessary because of a mistaken belief that trade provisions could hinder the ability of US Congress to respond to calls for regulation of Big Tech firms and artificial intelligence. But trade agreements already include exceptions for legitimate public-policy concerns, and Congress itself has produced research showing that trade deals cannot impede its policy aspirations. Simply put, the US – as with other countries involved in WTO deals – can regulate its digital sector without abandoning its critical role as a champion of the open internet.

The potential consequences of America’s policy shift are as far-reaching as they are dangerous. Fear of damaging trade ties with the US has long deterred other actors from imposing national borders on the internet. Now, those who have heard the siren song of supposed “digital sovereignty” as a means to ensure their laws are obeyed in the digital realm have less reason to resist it. The more digital walls come up, the less the walled-off portions resemble the internet.

Several countries are already trying to replicate China’s heavy-handed approach to data governance. Rwanda’s data-protection law, for instance, forces companies to store data within its border unless otherwise permitted by its cybersecurity regulator – making personal data vulnerable to authorities known to use data from private messages to prosecute dissidents. At the same time, a growing number of democratic countries are considering regulations that, without strong safeguards for cross-border data flows, could have a similar effect of disrupting access to a truly open internet…(More)”.

Data as a catalyst for philanthropy

Article by Stefaan Verhulst: “…In what follows, we offer five thoughts on how to advance Data Driven Philanthropy. These are operational strategies, specific steps that philanthropic organisations can take in order to harness the potential of data for the public good. At its broadest level, then, this article is about data stewardship in the 21st century. We seek to define how philanthropic organisations can be responsible custodians of data assets, both theirs and those of society at large. Fulfilling this role of data stewardship is a critical mission for the philanthropic sector and one of the most important roles it can play in helping to ensure that our ongoing process of digital transformation is more fair, inclusive, and aligned with the broader public interest…(More)”.

Unlocking Technology for Peacebuilding: The Munich Security Conference’s Role in Empowering a Peacetech Movement

Article by Stefaan Verhulst and Artur Kluz: “This week’s annual Munich Security Conference is taking place amid a turbulent backdrop. The so-called “peace dividend” that followed the end of the Cold War has long since faded. From Ukraine to Sudan to the Middle East, we are living in an era marked by increasingly unstable geopolitics and renewed–and new forms of–violent conflict. Recently, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, measuring war since 1945, identified 2023 as the worst on record since the Cold War. As the Foreword to the Munich Security Report, issued alongside the Conference, notes: “Unfortunately, this year’s report reflects a downward trend in world politics, marked by an increase in geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainty.”

As we enter deeper into this violent era, it is worth considering the role of technology. It is perhaps no coincidence that a moment of growing peril and division coincides with the increasing penetration of technologies such as smartphones and social media, or with the emergence of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality. In addition, the actions of satellite operators and cross-border digital payment networks have been thrust into the limelight, with their roles in enabling or precipitating conflict attracting increasing scrutiny. Today, it appears increasingly clear that transnational tech actors–and technology itself–are playing a more significant role in geopolitical conflict than ever before. As the Munich Security Report notes, “Technology has gone from being a driver of global prosperity to being a central means of geopolitical competition.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. While much attention is paid to technology’s negative capabilities, this article argues that technology can also play a more positive role, through the contributions of what is sometimes referred to as Peacetech. Peacetech is an emerging field, encompassing technologies as varied as early warning systemsAI driven predictions, and citizen journalism platforms. Broadly, its aims can be described as preventing conflict, mediating disputes, mitigating human suffering, and protecting human dignity and universal human rights. In the words of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), “Peacetech aims to leverage technology to drive peace while also developing strategies to prevent technology from being used to enable violence.”This article is intended as a call to those attending the Munich Security Conference to prioritize Peacetech — at a global geopolitical forum for peacebuilding. Highlighting recent concerns over the role of technology in conflict–with a particular emphasis on the destructive potential of AI and satellite systems–we argue for technology’s positive potential instead, by promoting peace and mitigating conflict. In particular, we suggest the need for a realignment in how policy and other stakeholders approach and fund technology, to foster its peaceful rather than destructive potential. This realignment would bring out the best in technology; it would harness technology toward the greater public good at a time of rising geopolitical uncertainty and instability…(More)”.

How tracking animal movement may save the planet

Article by Matthew Ponsford: “Researchers have been dreaming of an Internet of Animals. They’re getting closer to monitoring 100,000 creatures—and revealing hidden facets of our shared world….There was something strange about the way the sharks were moving between the islands of the Bahamas.

Tiger sharks tend to hug the shoreline, explains marine biologist Austin Gallagher, but when he began tagging the 1,000-pound animals with satellite transmitters in 2016, he discovered that these predators turned away from it, toward two ancient underwater hills made of sand and coral fragments that stretch out 300 miles toward Cuba. They were spending a lot of time “crisscrossing, making highly tortuous, convoluted movements” to be near them, Gallagher says. 

It wasn’t immediately clear what attracted sharks to the area: while satellite images clearly showed the subsea terrain, they didn’t pick up anything out of the ordinary. It was only when Gallagher and his colleagues attached 360-degree cameras to the animals that they were able to confirm what they were so drawn to: vast, previously unseen seagrass meadows—a biodiverse habitat that offered a smorgasbord of prey.   

The discovery did more than solve a minor mystery of animal behavior. Using the data they gathered from the sharks, the researchers were able to map an expanse of seagrass stretching across 93,000 square kilometers of Caribbean seabed—extending the total known global seagrass coverage by more than 40%, according to a study Gallagher’s team published in 2022. This revelation could have huge implications for efforts to protect threatened marine ecosystems—seagrass meadows are a nursery for one-fifth of key fish stocks and habitats for endangered marine species—and also for all of us above the waves, as seagrasses can capture carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests. 

Animals have long been able to offer unique insights about the natural world around us, acting as organic sensors picking up phenomena that remain invisible to humans. More than 100 years ago, leeches signaled storms ahead by slithering out of the water; canaries warned of looming catastrophe in coal mines until the 1980s; and mollusks that close when exposed to toxic substances are still used to trigger alarms in municipal water systems in Minneapolis and Poland…(More)”.

Situating Data Sets: Making Public Data Actionable for Housing Justice

Paper by Anh-Ton Tran et al: “Activists, governments and academics regularly advocate for more open data. But how is data made open, and for whom is it made useful and usable? In this paper, we investigate and describe the work of making eviction data open to tenant organizers. We do this through an ethnographic description of ongoing work with a local housing activist organization. This work combines observation, direct participation in data work, and creating media artifacts, specifically digital maps. Our interpretation is grounded in D’Ignazio and Klein’s Data Feminism, emphasizing standpoint theory. Through our analysis and discussion, we highlight how shifting positionalities from data intermediaries to data accomplices affects the design of data sets and maps. We provide HCI scholars with three design implications when situating data for grassroots organizers: becoming a domain beginner, striving for data actionability, and evaluating our design artifacts by the social relations they sustain rather than just their technical efficacy…(More)”.

Air Canada chatbot promised a discount. Now the airline has to pay it

Article by Kyle Melnick: “After his grandmother died in Ontario a few years ago, British Columbia resident Jake Moffatt visited Air Canada’s website to book a flight for the funeral. He received assistance from a chatbot, which told him the airline offered reduced rates for passengers booking last-minute travel due to tragedies.

Moffatt bought a nearly $600 ticket for a next-day flight after the chatbot said he would get some of his money back under the airline’s bereavement policy as long as he applied within 90 days, according to a recent civil-resolutions tribunal decision.

But when Moffatt later attempted to receive the discount, he learned that the chatbot had been wrong. Air Canada only awarded bereavement fees if the request had been submitted before a flight. The airline later argued the chatbot wasa separate legal entity “responsible for its own actions,” the decision said.

Moffatt filed a claim with the Canadian tribunal, which ruled Wednesday that Air Canada owed Moffatt more than $600 in damages and tribunal fees after failing to provide “reasonable care.”

As companies have added artificial intelligence-powered chatbots to their websites in hopes of providing faster service, the Air Canada dispute sheds light on issues associated with the growing technology and how courts could approach questions of accountability. The Canadian tribunal in this case came down on the side of the customer, ruling that Air Canada did not ensure its chatbot was accurate…(More)”

Community views on the secondary use of general practice data: Findings from a mixed-methods study

Paper by Annette J. Braunack-Mayer et al: “General practice data, particularly when combined with hospital and other health service data through data linkage, are increasingly being used for quality assurance, evaluation, health service planning and research.Using general practice data is particularly important in countries where general practitioners (GPs) are the first and principal source of health care for most people.

Although there is broad public support for the secondary use of health data, there are good reasons to question whether this support extends to general practice settings. GP–patient relationships may be very personal and longstanding and the general practice health record can capture a large amount of information about patients. There is also the potential for multiple angles on patients’ lives: GPs often care for, or at least record information about, more than one generation of a family. These factors combine to amplify patients’ and GPs’ concerns about sharing patient data….

Adams et al. have developed a model of social licence, specifically in the context of sharing administrative data for health research, based on an analysis of the social licence literature and founded on two principal elements: trust and legitimacy.In this model, trust is founded on research enterprises being perceived as reliable and responsive, including in relation to privacy and security of information, and having regard to the community’s interests and well-being.

Transparency and accountability measures may be used to demonstrate trustworthiness and, as a consequence, to generate trust. Transparency involves a level of openness about the way data are handled and used as well as about the nature and outcomes of the research. Adams et al. note that lack of transparency can undermine trust. They also note that the quality of public engagement is important and that simply providing information is not sufficient. While this is one element of transparency, other elements such as accountability and collaboration are also part of the trusting, reflexive relationship necessary to establish and support social licence.

The second principal element, legitimacy, is founded on research enterprises conforming to the legal, cultural and social norms of society and, again, acting in the best interests of the community. In diverse communities with a range of views and interests, it is necessary to develop a broad consensus on what amounts to the common good through deliberative and collaborative processes.

Social licence cannot be assumed. It must be built through public discussion and engagement to avoid undermining the relationship of trust with health care providers and confidence in the confidentiality of health information…(More)”