UK’s National Data Strategy


DCMS (UK): “…With the increasing ascendance of data, it has become ever-more important that the government removes the unnecessary barriers that prevent businesses and organisations from accessing such information.

The importance of data sharing was demonstrated during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, when government departments, local authorities, charities and the private sector came together to provide essential services. One notable example is the Vulnerable Person Service, which in a very short space of time enabled secure data-sharing across the public and private sectors to provide millions of food deliveries and access to priority supermarket delivery slots for clinically extremely vulnerable people.

Aggregation of data from different sources can also lead to new insights that otherwise would not have been possible. For example, the Connected Health Cities project anonymises and links data from different health and social care services, providing new insights into the way services are used.

Vitally, data sharing can also fuel growth and innovation.20 For new and innovating organisations, increasing data availability will mean that they, too, will be able to gain better insights from their work and access new markets – from charities able to pool beneficiary data to better evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, to new entrants able to access new markets. Often this happens as part of commercial arrangements; in other instances government has sought to intervene where there are clear consumer benefits, such as in relation to Open Banking and Smart Data. Government has also invested in the research and development of new mechanisms for better data sharing, such as the Office for AI and Innovate UK’s partnership with the Open Data Institute to explore data trusts.21

However, our call for evidence, along with engagement with stakeholders, has identified a range of barriers to data availability, including:

  • a culture of risk aversion
  • issues with current licensing regulations
  • market barriers to greater re-use, including data hoarding and differential market power
  • inconsistent formatting of public sector data
  • issues pertaining to the discoverability of data
  • privacy and security concerns
  • the benefits relating to increased data sharing not always being felt by the organisation incurring the cost of collection and maintenance

This is a complex environment, and heavy-handed intervention may have the unwanted effect of reducing incentives to collect, maintain and share data for the benefit of the UK. It is clear that any way forward must be carefully considered to avoid unintended negative consequences. There is a balance to be struck between maintaining appropriate commercial incentives to collect data, while ensuring that data can be used widely for the benefit of the UK. For personal data, we must also take account of the balance between individual rights and public benefit.

This is a new issue for all digital economies that has come to the fore as data has become a significant modern, economic asset. Our approach will take account of those incentives, and consider how innovation can overcome perceived barriers to availability. For example, it can be limited to users with specific characteristics, by licence or regulator accreditation; it can be shared within a collaborating group of organisations; there may also be value in creating and sharing synthetic data to support research and innovation, as well as other privacy-enhancing technologies and techniques….(More)”.

The Pandemic Is No Excuse to Surveil Students


 Zeynep Tufekci in the Atlantic: “In Michigan, a small liberal-arts college is requiring students to install an app called Aura, which tracks their location in real time, before they come to campus. Oakland University, also in Michigan, announced a mandatory wearable that would track symptoms, but, facing a student-led petition, then said it would be optional. The University of Missouri, too, has an app that tracks when students enter and exit classrooms. This practice is spreading: In an attempt to open during the pandemic, many universities and colleges around the country are forcing students to download location-tracking apps, sometimes as a condition of enrollment. Many of these apps function via Bluetooth sensors or Wi-Fi networks. When students enter a classroom, their phone informs a sensor that’s been installed in the room, or the app checks the Wi-Fi networks nearby to determine the phone’s location.

As a university professor, I’ve seen surveillance like this before. Many of these apps replicate the tracking system sometimes installed on the phones of student athletes, for whom it is often mandatory. That system tells us a lot about what we can expect with these apps.

There is a widespread charade in the United States that university athletes, especially those who play high-profile sports such as football and basketball, are just students who happen to be playing sports as amateurs “in their free time.” The reality is that these college athletes in high-level sports, who are aggressively recruited by schools, bring prestige and financial resources to universities, under a regime that requires them to train like professional athletes despite their lack of salary. However, making the most of one’s college education and training at that level are virtually incompatible, simply because the day is 24 hours long and the body, even that of a young, healthy athlete, can only take so much when training so hard. Worse, many of these athletes are minority students, specifically Black men, who were underserved during their whole K–12 education and faced the same challenge then as they do now: Train hard in hopes of a scholarship and try to study with what little time is left, often despite being enrolled in schools with mediocre resources. Many of them arrive at college with an athletic scholarship but not enough academic preparation compared with their peers who went to better schools and could also concentrate on schooling….(More)”

How Competition Impacts Data Privacy


Paper by Aline Blankertz: “A small number of large digital platforms increasingly shape the space for most online interactions around the globe and they often act with hardly any constraint from competing services. The lack of competition puts those platforms in a powerful position that may allow them to exploit consumers and offer them limited choice. Privacy is increasingly considered one area in which the lack of competition may create harm. Because of these concerns, governments and other institutions are developing proposals to expand the scope for competition authorities to intervene to limit the power of the large platforms and to revive competition.  


The first case that has explicitly addressed anticompetitive harm to privacy is the German Bundeskartellamt’s case against Facebook in which the authority argues that imposing bad privacy terms can amount to an abuse of dominance. Since that case started in 2016, more cases deal with the link between competition and privacy. For example, the proposed Google/Fitbit merger has raised concerns about sensitive health data being merged with existing Google profiles and Apple is under scrutiny for not sharing certain personal data while using it for its own services.

However, addressing bad privacy outcomes through competition policy is effective only if those outcomes are caused, at least partly, by a lack of competition. Six distinct mechanisms can be distinguished through which competition may affect privacy, as summarized in Table 1. These mechanisms constitute different hypotheses through which less competition may influence privacy outcomes and lead either to worse privacy in different ways (mechanisms 1-5) or even better privacy (mechanism 6). The table also summarizes the available evidence on whether and to what extent the hypothesized effects are present in actual markets….(More)”.

Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Policy


Book edited by Maggie WalterTahu KukutaiStephanie Russo Carroll and Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear: “This book examines how Indigenous Peoples around the world are demanding greater data sovereignty, and challenging the ways in which governments have historically used Indigenous data to develop policies and programs.

In the digital age, governments are increasingly dependent on data and data analytics to inform their policies and decision-making. However, Indigenous Peoples have often been the unwilling targets of policy interventions and have had little say over the collection, use and application of data about them, their lands and cultures. At the heart of Indigenous Peoples’ demands for change are the enduring aspirations of self-determination over their institutions, resources, knowledge and information systems.

With contributors from Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, North and South America and Europe, this book offers a rich account of the potential for Indigenous data sovereignty to support human flourishing and to protect against the ever-growing threats of data-related risks and harms….(More)”.

The Good Drone: How Social Movements Democratize Surveillance


Book by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick: “Drones are famous for doing bad things: weaponized, they implement remote-control war; used for surveillance, they threaten civil liberties and violate privacy. In The Good Drone, Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick examines a different range of uses: the deployment of drones for the greater good. Choi-Fitzpatrick analyzes the way small-scale drones—as well as satellites, kites, and balloons—are used for a great many things, including documenting human rights abuses, estimating demonstration crowd size, supporting anti-poaching advocacy, and advancing climate change research. In fact, he finds, small drones are used disproportionately for good; nonviolent prosocial uses predominate.

Choi-Fitzpatrick’s broader point is that the use of technology by social movements goes beyond social media—and began before social media. From the barricades in Les Misérables to hacking attacks on corporate servers to the spread of #MeToo on Twitter, technology is used to raise awareness, but is also crucial in raising the cost of the status quo.

New technology in the air changes politics on the ground, and raises provocative questions along the way. What is the nature and future of the camera, when it is taken out of human hands? How will our ideas about privacy evolve when the altitude of a penthouse suite no longer guarantees it? Working at the leading edge of an emerging technology, Choi-Fitzpatrick takes a broad view, suggesting social change efforts rely on technology in new and unexpected ways…(More)”.

International Public Participation Models 1969-2020


Sally Hussey at BangTheTable: “Last year, Sherry R. Arnstein’s  “A Ladder of Citizen Participation” celebrated its 50th anniversary. Originally published in the Journal of American Planning Association (JAPA) and one of its most cited articles to date, the longevity and impact of Arnstein’s Ladder can be recognised in the emergence of 60 public participation models since its inception. 

Yet, Arnstein’s vision from 50 years ago bridges decades in more ways than one. Not only through its dynamic iteration in the history of public engagement frameworks and practices. Indeed, it provides a foundation for many of the central concepts that shape public engagement research and practice today. For just as current public participation spectrums continue to engender the work of shifting power in public decision-making – central to Arnstein’s vision – they also open out onto theories, methods and ideas that exist between the spectra.   

But the inception of Arnstein’s Ladder in 1969 coincided with a shift in focus of the role of ‘citizens’, or public, and the conception of ‘participation’. Published at a “major inflection point” in the United States, with the Civil Rights Revolution, Vietnam war protests, the devastation of urban renewal, urban riots (Watts Riots and Newark Riots, for instance) and the increasing awareness of global environmental and ecological disasters, it demarcates the shift in the activation of citizens. Outgoing JAPA editor, Professor of Community and Regional Planning, University of Texas, Austin, Sandra Rosenbloom recently notes: “One result of the tumultuous events and major societal changes challenging the country at that time was a greater focus on the role of citizens in determining their own destiny and that of the neighborhoods and communities in which they lived. Citizen participation became both a duty and a rallying cry, but one that Arnstein viewed with great scepticism.” 

While, in some countries, terminology has evolved to address exclusivity and divisive categorisation in the shift to from ‘citizen participation’ to ‘public engagement’, the link to contemporaneous challenges is evident in the need for people to determine their own destiny – to have their say – cutting across major changes posed by Black Lives Matter, climate chaos and increasing inequity resulting from population densification and urbanisation – not to mention the coronavirus pandemic that, in forcing a reset, prioritises equity considerations for marginalised and other equity-seeking groups and renewed efforts at fortifying community resilience. With democracy in crisis, public participation, it can be argued, has again become a “rallying cry” as governments scramble to connect to a disconnected public and, in a wake-up call to correct the balance of widespread mistrust, strive towards transparency, increased trust and legitimisation of public decisions.

As democratic societies across the globe increasingly commit to collaborative governance, public participation has thereby emerged as a rich arena. This includes the “deliberative wave” that has gained ground since 2010 that seeks ongoing, continuous and open dialogue and engagement between the public and public decision-makers. The recent focus on democratic innovations as a result of increased digitisation, too, emphasises a concern for the deepening of public participation in decision-making, where inclusive online engagement is one of the ways in which governments can engage communities. For benefits of online public engagement include improved governance, greater social cohesion, informed decision-making, community ownership, better responsiveness and transparency as well as increasing legitimacy of public decision-making. 

Grounded in the democratic notion that public decisions should be shaped by people and communities affected by those decisions, public participation models have emerged not only to better map engagement in practice and theory but to ensure that people can shape decisions that affect their everyday lives….(More)”.

Designing Nudges for Success in Health Care


Joseph D. Harrison at AMA Journal of Ethics: “Nudges are subtle changes to the design of the environment or the framing of information that can influence our behaviors. There is significant potential to use nudges in health care to improve patient outcomes and transform health care delivery. However, these interventions must be tested and implemented using a systematic approach. In this article, we describe several ways to design nudges for success by focusing on optimizing and fitting them into the clinical workflow, engaging the right stakeholders, and rapid experimentation….(More)”.

Privacy-Preserving Record Linkage in the context of a National Statistics Institute


Guidance by Rainer Schnell: “Linking existing administrative data sets on the same units is used increasingly as a research strategy in many different fields. Depending on the academic field, this kind of operation has been given different names, but in application areas, this approach is mostly denoted as record linkage. Although linking data on organisations or economic entities is common, the most interesting applications of record linkage concern data on persons. Starting in medicine, this approach is now also being used in the social sciences and official statistics. Furthermore, the joint use of survey data with administrative data is now standard practice. For example, victimisation surveys are linked to police records, labour force surveys are linked to social security databases, and censuses are linked to surveys.

Merging different databases containing information on the same unit is technically trivial if all involved databases have a common identification number, such as a social security number or, as in the Scandinavian countries, a permanent personal identification number. Most of the modern identification numbers contain checksum mechanisms so that errors in these identifiers can be easily detected and corrected. Due to the many advantages of permanent personal identification numbers, similar systems have been introduced or discussed in some European countries outside Scandinavia.

In many jurisdictions, no permanent personal identification number is available for linkage. Examples are New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and Germany. Here, the linkage is most often based on alphanumeric identifiers such as surname, first name, address, and place of birth. In the literature, such identifiers are most often denoted as indirect or quasi-identifiers. Such identifiers are prone to error, for example, due to typographical errors, memory faults (previous addresses), different recordings of the same identifier (for example, swapping of substrings: reversal of first name and last name), deliberately false information (for example, year of birth) or changes of values over time (for example name changes due to marriages). Linking on exact matching information, therefore, yields only a non-randomly selected subset of records.

Furthermore, the quality of identifying information in databases containing only indirect identifiers is much lower than usually expected. Error rates in excess of 20% and more records containing incomplete or erroneous identifiers are encountered in practice….(More)”.

Behavioral Contagion Could Spread the Benefits of a Carbon Tax


Robert H. Frank at the New York Times: “…Why, then, hasn’t the United States adopted a carbon tax? One hurdle is the fear that emissions would fall too slowly in response to a carbon tax, that more direct measures are needed. Another difficulty is that political leaders have reason to fear voter opposition to taxation of any kind. But there are persuasive rejoinders to both objections.

Regarding the first, critics are correct that a carbon tax alone won’t parry the climate threat. It is also true that as creatures of habit, humans tend to change their behavior only slowly, even in the face of significant financial incentives. But even small changes in behavior are greatly amplified by behavioral contagion — the social scientist’s term for how ideas and behaviors spread from person to person like infectious diseases. And if a carbon tax were to shift the behavior of some individuals now, those changes would quickly spread more widely.

Smoking rates, for example, changed little in the short run even as cigarette taxes rose sharply, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The most powerful predictor of whether someone will smoke is the percentage of her friends who smoke. Most smokers stick with their habit in the face of higher taxes, but a small minority quit, and still others refrain from starting.

Every peer group that includes those people thus contains a smaller proportion of smokers, which influences still others to quit or refrain, and so on. This contagion process explains why the percentage of American adults who smoke has fallen by two-thirds since the mid-1960s.

Behavioral contagion would similarly amplify the effects of a carbon tax. By making solar power cheaper in comparison with fossil fuels, for example, the tax would initially encourage a small number of families to install solar panels on their rooftops. But as with cigarette taxes, it’s the indirect effects that really matter….(More)”.

The Broken Algorithm That Poisoned American Transportation


Aaron Gordon at Vice: “…The Louisville highway project is hardly the first time travel demand models have missed the mark. Despite them being a legally required portion of any transportation infrastructure project that gets federal dollars, it is one of urban planning’s worst kept secrets that these models are error-prone at best and fundamentally flawed at worst.

Recently, I asked Renn how important those initial, rosy traffic forecasts of double-digit growth were to the boondoggle actually getting built.

“I think it was very important,” Renn said. “Because I don’t believe they could have gotten approval to build the project if they had not had traffic forecasts that said traffic across the river is going to increase substantially. If there isn’t going to be an increase in traffic, how do you justify building two bridges?”

ravel demand models come in different shapes and sizes. They can cover entire metro regions spanning across state lines or tackle a small stretch of a suburban roadway. And they have gotten more complicated over time. But they are rooted in what’s called the Four Step process, a rough approximation of how humans make decisions about getting from A to B. At the end, the model spits out numbers estimating how many trips there will be along certain routes.

As befits its name, the model goes through four steps in order to arrive at that number. First, it generates a kind of algorithmic map based on expected land use patterns (businesses will generate more trips than homes) and socio-economic factors (for example, high rates of employment will generate more trips than lower ones). Then it will estimate where people will generally be coming from and going to. The third step is to guess how they will get there, and the fourth is to then plot their actual routes, based mostly on travel time. The end result is a number of how many trips there will be in the project area and how long it will take to get around. Engineers and planners will then add a new highway, transit line, bridge, or other travel infrastructure to the model and see how things change. Or they will change the numbers in the first step to account for expected population or employment growth into the future. Often, these numbers are then used by policymakers to justify a given project, whether it’s a highway expansion or a light rail line…(More)”.