Distributed, privacy-enhancing technologies in the 2017 Catalan referendum on independence: New tactics and models of participatory democracy


M. Poblet at First Monday: “This paper examines new civic engagement practices unfolding during the 2017 referendum on independence in Catalonia. These practices constitute one of the first signs of some emerging trends in the use of the Internet for civic and political action: the adoption of horizontal, distributed, and privacy-enhancing technologies that rely on P2P networks and advanced cryptographic tools. In this regard, the case of the 2017 Catalan referendum, framed within conflicting political dynamics, can be considered a first-of-its kind in participatory democracy. The case also offers an opportunity to reflect on an interesting paradox that twenty-first century activism will face: the more it will rely on private-friendly, secured, and encrypted networks, the more open, inclusive, ethical, and transparent it will need to be….(More)”.

Waze-fed AI platform helps Las Vegas cut car crashes by almost 20%


Liam Tung at ZDNet: “An AI-led, road-safety pilot program between analytics firm Waycare and Nevada transportation agencies has helped reduce crashes along the busy I-15 in Las Vegas.

The Silicon Valley Waycare system uses data from connected cars, road cameras and apps like Waze to build an overview of a city’s roads and then shares that data with local authorities to improve road safety.

Waycare struck a deal with Google-owned Waze earlier this year to “enable cities to communicate back with drivers and warn of dangerous roads, hazards, and incidents ahead”. Waze’s crowdsourced data also feeds into Waycare’s traffic management system, offering more data for cities to manage traffic.

Waycare has now wrapped up a year-long pilot with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC), Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP), and the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT).

RTC reports that Waycare helped the city reduce the number of primary crashes by 17 percent along the Interstate 15 Las Vegas.

Waycare’s data, as well as its predictive analytics, gave the city’s safety and traffic management agencies the ability to take preventative measures in high risk areas….(More)”.

Using Data to Raise the Voices of Working Americans


Ida Rademacher at the Aspen Institute: “…At the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, we sense a growing need to ground these numbers in what people experience day-to-day. We’re inspired by projects like the Financial Diaries that helped create empathy for what the statistics mean. …the Diaries was a time-delimited project, and the insights we can gain from major banking institutions are somewhat limited in their ability to show the challenges of economically marginalized populations. That’s why we’ve recently launched a consumer insights initiative to develop and translate a more broadly sourced set of data that lifts the curtain on the financial lives of low- and moderate-income US consumers. What does it really mean to lack $400 when you need it? How do people cope? What are the aspirations and anxieties that fuel choices? Which strategies work and which fall flat? Our work exists to focus the dialogue about financial insecurity by keeping an ear to the ground and amplifying what we hear. Our ultimate goal: Inspire new solutions that react to reality, ones that can genuinely improve the financial well-being of many.

Our consumer insights initiative sees power in partnerships and collaboration. We’re building a big tent for a range of actors to query and share what their data says: private sector companies, public programs, and others who see unique angles into the financial lives of low- and moderate-income households. We are creating a new forum to lift up these firms serving consumers – and in doing so, we’re raising the voices of consumers themselves.

One example of this work is our Consumer Insights Collaborative (CIC), a group of nine leading non-profits from across the country. Each has a strong sense of challenges and opportunities on the ground because every day their work brings them face-to-face with a wide array of consumers, many of whom are low- and moderate-income families. And most already work independently to learn from their data. Take EARN and its Big Data on Small Savings project; the Financial Clinic’s insights series called Change Matters; Mission Asset Fund’s R&D Lab focused on human-centered design; and FII which uses data collection as part of its main service.

Through the CIC, they join forces to see more than any one nonprofit can on their own. Together CIC members articulate common questions and synthesize collective answers. In the coming months we will publish a first-of-its-kind report on a jointly posed question: What are the dimensions and drivers of short term financial stability?

An added bonus of partnerships like the CIC is the community of practice that naturally emerges. We believe that data scientists from all walks can, and indeed must, learn from each other to have the greatest impact. Our initiative especially encourages cooperative capacity-building around data security and privacy. We acknowledge that as access to information grows, so does the risk to consumers themselves. We endorse collaborative projects that value ethics, respect, and integrity as much as they value cross-organizational learning.

As our portfolio grows, we will invite an even broader network to engage. We’re already working with NEST Insights to draw on NEST’s extensive administrative data on retirement savings, with an aim to understand more about the long-term implications of non-traditional work and unstable household balance sheets on financial security….(More)”.

Force Google, Apple and Uber to share mapping data, UK advised


Aliya Ram and Madhumita Murgia at the Financial Times: “The UK government should force Google, Apple, Uber and others to share their mapping data so that other companies can develop autonomous cars, drones and transport apps, according to an influential campaign group. The Open Data Institute, co-founded by Tim Berners-Lee at MIT and Nigel Shadbolt, artificial intelligence professor at the University of Oxford, warned on Tuesday that big tech companies had become “data monopolies”.

The group said the UK’s Geospatial Commission should ask the companies to share map data with rivals and the public sector in a collaborative database or else force them to do so with legislation.

“Google along with all of the other companies like Apple and Uber are trying to deliver an excellent service to their clients and customers,” said Jeni Tennison, chief executive of the Open Data Institute. “The status quo is not optimal because all of the organisations we are talking about are replicating effort. This means that people are overall not getting the best service from the data that is being collected and maintained. “The large companies are becoming more like data monopolies and that doesn’t give us the best value from our data.”

On Tuesday, the UK government said its Office for Artificial Intelligence had teamed up with the ODI to pilot two new “data trusts” — legal structures that allow multiple groups to share anonymised information. Data trusts have been described as a good way for small business to compete with large rivals that have lots of data, but only a handful have been set up so far.

The trusts will be designed over the next few months and could be used to share data, for example, about cities, the environment, biodiversity and transport. Ms Tennison said the ODI was also working on a data trust with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and local authorities in Greenwich to see how real time data from the internet of things and sensors could be shared with start-ups to solve problems in the city. London’s transport authority has said ride hailing apps would be forced to turn over travel data to the government. Uber now provides public access to its data on traffic and travel conditions in the UK….(More) (Full Report)”.

Getting Serious About Evidence-Based Public Management


Philip Joyce at Governing: “In a column in this space in 2015, the late Paul L. Posner, who was one of the most thoughtful observers of public management and intergovernmental relations of the last half-century, decried the disappearance of report cards of government management. In particular, he issued an appeal for someone to move into the space that had been occupied by the Government Performance Project, the decade-long effort funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to assess the management of states and large local governments.

If anything, what Posner advocated is needed even more today. In an era in which the call for evidence-based decision-making is ubiquitous in government, we have been lacking any real analysis, or even description, of what states and local governments are doing. A couple of recent notable efforts, however, have moved to partially fill this void at the state level.

First, a 2017 report by Pew and the MacArthur Foundation looked across the states at ways in which evidence-based policymaking was used in human services. The study looked at six types of actions that could be undertaken by states and identified states that were engaging, in some way, across four specific policy areas (behavioral health, child welfare, criminal justice and juvenile justice): defining levels of evidence (40 states); inventorying existing programs (50); comparing costs and benefits at a program level (17); reporting outcomes in the budget (42); targeting funds to evidence-based programs (50); and requiring action through state law (34)….

The second notable effort is an ongoing study of the use of data and evidence in the states that was launched recently by the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO). Previously, no one had attempted to summarize and categorize all of the initiatives – including those with their impetus in both laws and executive orders — underway across the 50 states. NASBO’s inventory of “Statewide Initiatives to Advance the Use of Data & Evidence for Decision-Making” is part of a set of resources aimed at providing state officials and other interested parties with a summary demonstrating the breadth of these initiatives.

The resulting “living” inventory, which is updated as additional practices are discovered, categorizes these state efforts into five types, listing a total of 90 as of this writing: data analytics (13 initiatives in 9 states), evidence-based policymaking (12 initiatives in 10 states), performance budgeting (18 initiatives in 16 states), performance management (27 initiatives in 24 states) and process improvement (20 initiatives in 19 states).

NASBO acknowledges that it is difficult to draw a bright line between these categories and classifies the initiatives according to the one that appears to be the most dominant. Nevertheless, this inventory provides a very useful catalogue of what states report they are doing, with links to further resources that make it a valuable resource for those considering launching similar initiatives….(More)”.

The Nail Finds a Hammer: Self-Sovereign Identity, Design Principles, and Property Rights in the Developing World


Report by Michael Graglia, Christopher Mellon and Tim Robustelli: “Our interest in identity systems was an inevitable outgrowth of our earlier work on blockchain-based1 land registries.2 Property registries, which at the simplest level are ledgers of who has which rights to which asset, require a very secure and reliable means of identifying both people and properties. In the course of investigating solutions to that problem, we began to appreciate the broader challenges of digital identity and its role in international development. And the more we learned about digital identity, the more convinced we became of the need for self-sovereign identity, or SSI. This model, and the underlying principles of identity which it incorporates, will be described in detail in this paper.

We believe that the great potential of SSI is that it can make identity in the digital world function more like identity in the physical world, in which every person has a unique and persistent identity which is represented to others by means of both their physical attributes and a collection of credentials attested to by various external sources of authority. These credentials are stored and controlled by the identity holder—typically in a wallet—and presented to different people for different reasons at the identity holder’s discretion. Crucially, the identity holder controls what information to present based on the environment, trust level, and type of interaction. Moreover, their fundamental identity persists even though the credentials by which it is represented may change over time.

The digital incarnation of this model has many benefits, including both greatly improved privacy and security, and the ability to create more trustworthy online spaces. Social media and news sites, for example, might limit participation to users with verified identities, excluding bots and impersonators.

The need for identification in the physical world varies based on location and social context. We expect to walk in relative anonymity down a busy city street, but will show a driver’s license to enter a bar, and both a driver’s license and a birth certificate to apply for a passport. There are different levels of ID and supporting documents required for each activity. But in each case, access to personal information is controlled by the user who may choose whether or not to share it.

Self-sovereign identity gives users complete control of their own identities and related personal data, which sits encrypted in distributed storage instead of being stored by a third party in a central database. In older, “federated identity” models, a single account—a Google account, for example—might be used to log in to a number of third-party sites, like news sites or social media platforms. But in this model a third party brokers all of these ID transactions, meaning that in exchange for the convenience of having to remember fewer passwords, the user must sacrifice a degree of privacy.

A real world equivalent would be having to ask the state to share a copy of your driver’s license with the bar every time you wanted to prove that you were over the age of 21. SSI, in contrast, gives the user a portable, digital credential (like a driver’s license or some other document that proves your age), the authenticity of which can be securely validated via cryptography without the recipient having to check with the authority that issued it. This means that while the credential can be used to access many different sites and services, there is no third-party broker to track the services to which the user is authenticating. Furthermore, cryptographic techniques called “zero-knowledge proofs” (ZKPs) can be used to prove possession of a credential without revealing the credential itself. This makes it possible, for example, for users to prove that they are over the age of 21 without having to share their actual birth dates, which are both sensitive information and irrelevant to a binary, yes-or-no ID transaction….(More)”.

Beyond democracy: could seasteads and cryptocurrencies replace the nation state?


Patri Friedman in The Spectator: “For the past 20 years I’ve been working to enable start-up societies: permanent autonomous zones on land or at sea intended to accelerate economic development and to serve as laboratories for voluntary political experiments.

For just as long (in fact since I first read The Sovereign Individual), I’ve been interested in the potential of digital cash, which is finally arriving in the form of bitcoin and the emerging cryptocurrency industry.

Start-up societies and cryptocurrencies have many parallels. Both grew from individualist movements seeking ways to take their philosophy from online message boards to the real world. Both seek to decentralise power in order to disrupt traditional institutions seen as having been captured by selfish elites. And both are critically dependent on ‘governance’ — the technology of designing and enforcing rules for collective decision-making.

Because of these parallels, people are often curious about how the two movements relate. Will seasteads — as manmade permanent dwellings at sea are known — use cryptocurrencies? Will blockchain projects such as Bitnation replace the nation state? In a world of competing virtual economic systems, do we even need to reform government in real life? (Answers: maybe, not soon and absolutely.)

There’s an old saying that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a week, but underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade. Similarly, I think people greatly overestimate the immediate impact of blockchain on startup countries, while underestimating the degree to which the fates of start-up countries and blockchain are ultimately intertwined.

In the near term, I don’t believe that blockchain will somehow enable start-up societies. The reason is simple: the hard thing about starting a new country is not the payment system. That’s why we live in a world with 1,000 cryptocurrencies but no sovereign micro-nations.

I’m also sceptical of the crypto-anarchy theory that rapidly evolving online institutions will somehow remove the need for improving offline ones. Physical space underpins virtual space, and most human activity still happens in physical space. Moreover, no matter how transcendently effulgent your networked life is, it can be ended by a single bullet. So the performance of your friendly neighbourhood nation state, with its monopoly on physical violence, still matters in the digital age…(More)”

The Nail Finds a Hammer: Self-Sovereign Identity, Design Principles, and Property Rights in the Developing World


Report by Michael Graglia, Christopher Mellon and Tim Robustelli: “Our interest in identity systems was an inevitable outgrowth of our earlier work on blockchain-based1 land registries.2 Property registries, which at the simplest level are ledgers of who has which rights to which asset, require a very secure and reliable means of identifying both people and properties. In the course of investigating solutions to that problem, we began to appreciate the broader challenges of digital identity and its role in international development. And the more we learned about digital identity, the more convinced we became of the need for self-sovereign identity, or SSI. This model, and the underlying principles of identity which it incorporates, will be described in detail in this paper.

We believe that the great potential of SSI is that it can make identity in the digital world function more like identity in the physical world, in which every person has a unique and persistent identity which is represented to others by means of both their physical attributes and a collection of credentials attested to by various external sources of authority. These credentials are stored and controlled by the identity holder—typically in a wallet—and presented to different people for different reasons at the identity holder’s discretion. Crucially, the identity holder controls what information to present based on the environment, trust level, and type of interaction. Moreover, their fundamental identity persists even though the credentials by which it is represented may change over time.

The digital incarnation of this model has many benefits, including both greatly improved privacy and security, and the ability to create more trustworthy online spaces. Social media and news sites, for example, might limit participation to users with verified identities, excluding bots and impersonators.

The need for identification in the physical world varies based on location and social context. We expect to walk in relative anonymity down a busy city street, but will show a driver’s license to enter a bar, and both a driver’s license and a birth certificate to apply for a passport. There are different levels of ID and supporting documents required for each activity. But in each case, access to personal information is controlled by the user who may choose whether or not to share it.

Self-sovereign identity gives users complete control of their own identities and related personal data, which sits encrypted in distributed storage instead of being stored by a third party in a central database. In older, “federated identity” models, a single account—a Google account, for example—might be used to log in to a number of third-party sites, like news sites or social media platforms. But in this model a third party brokers all of these ID transactions, meaning that in exchange for the convenience of having to remember fewer passwords, the user must sacrifice a degree of privacy.

A real world equivalent would be having to ask the state to share a copy of your driver’s license with the bar every time you wanted to prove that you were over the age of 21. SSI, in contrast, gives the user a portable, digital credential (like a driver’s license or some other document that proves your age), the authenticity of which can be securely validated via cryptography without the recipient having to check with the authority that issued it. This means that while the credential can be used to access many different sites and services, there is no third-party broker to track the services to which the user is authenticating. Furthermore, cryptographic techniques called “zero-knowledge proofs” (ZKPs) can be used to prove possession of a credential without revealing the credential itself. This makes it possible, for example, for users to prove that they are over the age of 21 without having to share their actual birth dates, which are both sensitive information and irrelevant to a binary, yes-or-no ID transaction….(More)”.

Positive deviance, big data, and development: A systematic literature review


Paper by Basma Albanna and Richard Heeks: “Positive deviance is a growing approach in international development that identifies those within a population who are outperforming their peers in some way, eg, children in low‐income families who are well nourished when those around them are not. Analysing and then disseminating the behaviours and other factors underpinning positive deviance are demonstrably effective in delivering development results.

However, positive deviance faces a number of challenges that are restricting its diffusion. In this paper, using a systematic literature review, we analyse the current state of positive deviance and the potential for big data to address the challenges facing positive deviance. From this, we evaluate the promise of “big data‐based positive deviance”: This would analyse typical sources of big data in developing countries—mobile phone records, social media, remote sensing data, etc—to identify both positive deviants and the factors underpinning their superior performance.

While big data cannot solve all the challenges facing positive deviance as a development tool, they could reduce time, cost, and effort; identify positive deviants in new or better ways; and enable positive deviance to break out of its current preoccupation with public health into domains such as agriculture, education, and urban planning. In turn, positive deviance could provide a new and systematic basis for extracting real‐world development impacts from big data…(More)”.

How Big Tech Is Working With Nonprofits and Governments to Turn Data Into Solutions During Disasters


Kelsey Sutton at Adweek: “As Hurricane Michael approached the Florida Panhandle, the Florida Division of Emergency Management tapped a tech company for help.

Over the past year, Florida’s DEM has worked closely with GasBuddy, a Boston-based app that uses crowdsourced data to identify fuel prices and inform first responders and the public about fuel availability or power outages at gas stations during storms. Since Hurricane Irma in 2017, GasBuddy and DEM have worked together to survey affected areas, helping Florida first responders identify how best to respond to petroleum shortages. With help from the location intelligence company Cuebiq, GasBuddy also provides estimated wait times at gas stations during emergencies.

DEM first noticed GasBuddy’s potential in 2016, when the app was collecting and providing data about fuel availability following a pipeline leak.

“DEM staff recognized how useful such information would be to Florida during any potential future disasters, and reached out to GasBuddy staff to begin a relationship,” a spokesperson for the Florida State Emergency Operations Center explained….

Stefaan Verhulst, co-founder and chief research and development officer at the Governance Laboratory at New York University, advocates for private corporations to partner with public institutions and NGOs. Private data collected by corporations is richer, more granular and more up-to-date than data collected through traditional social science methods, making that data useful for noncorporate purposes like research, Verhulst said. “Those characteristics are extremely valuable if you are trying to understand how society works,” Verhulst said….(More)”.