The significance of algorithmic selection for everyday life: The Case of Switzerland


University of Zurich: “This project empirically investigates the significance of automated algorithmic selection (AS) applications on the Internet for everyday life in Switzerland. It is the first countrywide, representative empirical study in the emerging interdisciplinary field of critical algorithm studies which assesses growing social, economic and political implications of algorithms in various life domains. The project is based on an innovative mix of methods comprising qualitative interviews and a representative Swiss online survey, combined with a passive metering (tracking) of Internet use.


  • Latzer, Michael
     / Festic, Noemi / Kappeler, Kiran (2020): Use and Assigned Relevance of Algorithmic-Selection Applications in Switzerland. Report 1 from the Project: The Significance of Algorithmic Selection for Everyday Life: The Case of Switzerland. Zurich: University of Zurich. http://mediachange.ch/research/algosig [forthcoming]
  • Latzer, Michael / Festic, Noemi / Kappeler, Kiran (2020): Awareness of Algorithmic Selection and Attitudes in Switzerland. Report 2 from the Project: The Significance of Algorithmic Selection for Everyday Life: The Case of Switzerland. Zurich: University of Zurich. http://mediachange.ch/research/algosig [forthcoming]
  • Latzer, Michael / Festic, Noemi / Kappeler, Kiran (2020): Awareness of Risks Related to Algorithmic Selection in Switzerland. Report 3 from the Project: The Significance of Algorithmic Selection for Everyday Life: The Case of Switzerland. Zurich: University of Zurich. http://mediachange.ch/research/algosig [forthcoming]
  • Latzer, Michael / Festic, Noemi / Kappeler, Kiran (2020): Coping Practices Related to Algorithmic Selection in Switzerland. Report 4 from the Project: The Significance of Algorithmic Selection for Everyday Life: The Case of Switzerland. Zurich: University of Zurich. http://mediachange.ch/research/algosig [forthcoming]…(More)”.

Experts warn of privacy risk as US uses GPS to fight coronavirus spread


Alex Hern at The Guardian: “A transatlantic divide on how to use location data to fight coronavirus risks highlights the lack of safeguards for Americans’ personal data, academics and data scientists have warned.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has turned to data provided by the mobile advertising industry to analyse population movements in the midst of the pandemic.

Owing to a lack of systematic privacy protections in the US, data collected by advertising companies is often extremely detailed: companies with access to GPS location data, such as weather apps or some e-commerce sites, have been known to sell that data on for ad targeting purposes. That data provides much more granular information on the location and movement of individuals than the mobile network data received by the UK government from carriers including O2 and BT.

While both datasets track individuals at the collection level, GPS data is accurate to within five metres, according to Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, a data scientist at Imperial College, while mobile network data is accurate to 0.1km² in city centres and much less in less dense areas – the difference between locating an individual to their street and to a specific room in their home…

But, warns de Montjoye, such data is never truly anonymous. “The original data is pseudonymised, yet it is quite easy to reidentify someone. Knowing where someone was is enough to reidentify them 95% of the time, using mobile phone data. So there’s the privacy concern: you need to process the pseudonymised data, but the pseudonymised data can be reidentified. Most of the time, if done properly, the aggregates are aggregated, and cannot be de-anonymised.”

The data scientist points to successful attempts to use location data in tracking outbreaks of malaria in Kenya or dengue in Pakistan as proof that location data has use in these situations, but warns that trust will be hurt if data collected for modelling purposes is then “surreptitiously used to crack down on individuals not respecting quarantines or kept and used for unrelated purposes”….(More)”.

Data Protection under SARS-CoV-2


GDPR Hub: “The sudden outbreak of cases of COVID-19-afflictions (“Corona-Virus”), which was declared a pandemic by the WHO affects data protection in various ways. Different data protection authorities published guidelines for employers and other parties involved in the processing of data related to the Corona-Virus (read more below).

The Corona-Virus has also given cause to the use of different technologies based on data collection and other data processing activities by the EU/EEA member states and private companies. These processing activities mostly focus on preventing and slowing the further spreading of the Corona-Virus and on monitoring the citizens’ abidance with governmental measures such as quarantine. Some of them are based on anonymous or anonymized data (like for statistics or movement patterns), but some proposals also revolved around personalized tracking.

At the moment, it is not easy to figure out, which processing activities are actually supposed to be conducted and which are only rumors. This page will therefore be adapted once certain processing activities have been confirmed. For now, this article does not assess the lawfulness of particular processing activities, but rather outlines the general conditions for data processing in connection with the Corona-Virus.

It must be noted that several activities – such as monitoring, if citizens comply with quarantine and stay indoors by watching at mobile phone locations – can be done without having to use personal data under Article 4(1) GDPR, if all necessary information can be derived from anonymised data. The GDPR does not apply to activities that only rely on anonymised data….(More)”.

Deliberative Mini-Publics as a Response to Populist Democratic Backsliding


Chapter by Oran Doyle and Rachael Walsh: “Populisms come in different forms, but all involve a political rhetoric that invokes the will of a unitary people to combat perceived constraints, whether economic, legal, or technocratic. In this chapter, our focus is democratic backsliding aided by populist rhetoric. Some have suggested deliberative democracy as a means to combat this form of populism. Deliberative democracy encourages and facilitates both consultation and contestation, emphasizing plurality of voices, the legitimacy of disagreement, and the imperative of reasoned persuasion. Its participatory and inclusive character has the potential to undermine the credibility of populists’ claims to speak for a unitary people. Ireland has been widely referenced in constitutionalism’s deliberative turn, given its recent integration of deliberative mini-publics into the constitutional amendment process.

Reviewing the Irish experience, we suggest that deliberative mini-publics are unlikely to reverse democratic backsliding. Populist rhetoric is fueled by the very measures intended to combat democratic backsliding: enhanced constitutional constraints merely illustrate how the will of the people is being thwarted. The virtues of Ireland’s experiment in deliberative democracy — citizen participation, integration with representative democracy, deliberation, balanced information, expertise — have all been criticized in ways that are at least consistent with populist narratives. The failure of such narratives to take hold in Ireland, we suggest, may be due to a political system that is already resistant to populist rhetoric, as well as a tradition of participatory constitutionalism. The experiment with deliberative mini-publics may have strengthened Ireland’s constitutional culture by reinforcing anti-populist features. But it cannot be assumed that this experience would be replicated in larger countries polarized along political, ethnic, or religious lines….(More)”.

Why isn’t the government publishing more data about coronavirus deaths?


Article by Jeni Tennison: “Studying the past is futile in an unprecedented crisis. Science is the answer – and open-source information is paramount…Data is a necessary ingredient in day-to-day decision-making – but in this rapidly evolving situation, it’s especially vital. Everything has changed, almost overnight. Demands for foodtransport, and energy have been overhauled as more people stop travelling and work from home. Jobs have been lost in some sectors, and workers are desperately needed in others. Historic experience can no longer tell us how our society or economy is working. Past models hold little predictive power in an unprecedented situation. To know what is happening right now, we need up-to-date information….

This data is also crucial for scientists, who can use it to replicate and build upon each other’s work. Yet no open data has been published alongside the evidence for the UK government’s coronavirus response. While a model that informed the US government’s response is freely available as a Google spreadsheet, the Imperial College London model that prompted the current lockdown has still not been published as open-source code. Making data open – publishing it on the web, in spreadsheets, without restrictions on access – is the best way to ensure it can be used by the people who need it most.

There is currently no open data available on UK hospitalisation rates; no regional, age or gender breakdown of daily deaths. The more granular breakdown of registered deaths provided by the Office of National Statistics is only published on a weekly basis, and with a delay. It is hard to tell whether this data does not exist or the NHS has prioritised creating dashboards for government decision makers rather than informing the rest of the country. But the UK is making progress with regard to data: potential Covid-19 cases identified through online and call-centre triage are now being published daily by NHS Digital.

Of course, not all data should be open. Singapore has been publishing detailed data about every infected person, including their age, gender, workplace, where they have visited and whether they had contact with other infected people. This can both harm the people who are documented and incentivise others to lie to authorities, undermining the quality of data.

When people are concerned about how data about them is handled, they demand transparency. To retain our trust, governments need to be open about how data is collected and used, how it’s being shared, with whom, and for what purpose. Openness about the use of personal data to help tackle the Covid-19 crisis will become more pressing as governments seek to develop contact tracing apps and immunity passports….(More)”.

Collective Intelligence at EU Level – Social and Democratic Dimensions


Paper by Nora Milotay and Gianluca Sgueo: “Humans are among the many living species capable of collaborative and imaginative thinking. While it is widely agreed among scholars that this capacity has contributed to making humans the dominant species, other crucial questions remain open to debate. Is it possible to encourage large groups of people to engage in collective thinking? Is it possible to coordinate citizens to find solutions to address global challenges? Some scholars claim that large groups of independent, motivated, and well-informed people can, collectively, make better decisions than isolated individuals can – what is known as ‘collective intelligence.’

The social dimension of collective intelligence mainly relates to social aspects of the economy and of innovation. It shows that a holistic approach to innovation – one that includes not only technological but also social aspects – can greatly contribute to the EU’s goal of promoting a just transition for everyone to a sustainable and green economy in the digital age. The EU has been taking concrete action to promote social innovation by supporting the development of its theory and practice. Mainly through funding programmes, it helps to seek new types of partners and build new capacity – and thus shape the future of local and national innovations aimed at societal needs.

The democratic dimension suggests that the power of the collective can be leveraged so as to improve public decision-making systems. Supported by technology, policy-makers can harness the ‘civic surplus’ of citizens – thus providing smarter solutions to regulatory challenges. This is particularly relevant at EU level in view of the planned Conference on the Future of Europe, aimed at engaging communities at large and making EU decision-making more inclusive and participatory.

The current coronavirus crisis is likely to change society and our economy in ways as yet too early to predict, but recovery after the crisis will require new ways of thinking and acting to overcome common challenges, and thus making use of our collective intelligence should be more urgent than ever. In the longer term, in order to mobilise collective intelligence across the EU and to fully exploit its innovative potential, the EU needs to strengthen its education policies and promote a shared understanding of a holistic approach to innovation and of collective intelligence – and thus become a ‘global brain,’ with a solid institutional set-up at the centre of a subsidised experimentation process that meets the challenges imposed by modernday transformations…(More)”.

Governments could track COVID-19 lockdowns through social media posts


Alfred Ng at CNET: “Your posts on social media have been harvested for advertising. They’ve been taken to build up a massive facial recognition database. Now that same data could be used by companies and governments to help maintain quarantines during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Ghost Data, a research group in Italy and the US, collected more than half a million Instagram posts in March, targeting regions in Italy where residents were supposed to be on lockdown. It provided those images and videos to LogoGrab, an image recognition company that can automatically identify people and places. The company found at least 33,120 people violated Italy’s quarantine orders. 

Andrea Stroppa, the founder of Ghost Data, said his group has offered its research to the Italian government. Stroppa doesn’t consider the social media scraping to be a privacy concern because researchers anonymized the data by removing profile and specific location data before analyzing it. He also has public health on his mind. 

“In our view, privacy is very important. It’s a fundamental human right,” Stroppa said. “However, it’s important to give our support to help the government and the authorities. Hundreds of people are dying every day.”…(More)” .

Commission tells carriers to hand over mobile data in coronavirus fight


Mark Scott, Laurens Cerulus and Laura Kayali at Politico: “The European Commission on Monday urged Europe’s telecoms giants including Deutsche Telekom and Orange to share reams of people’s mobile data from across the region to help predict the spread of the coronavirus.

In a conference call with telecoms executives, Thierry Breton, Europe’s internal market commissioner, called on the companies to hand over anonymized and aggregated data from people’s mobile phones to track how the virus was spreading, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The draft plans would allow the Commission — and not the carriers — to manage how the data was used, and give EU officials control over so-called metadata on hundreds of millions of people’s mobile phones. That represents a significant step for Brussels as it would make the EU executive liable for any hefty fines if the digital information was hacked or misused.

Speaking to POLITICO, Breton confirmed the request to carriers, adding that the Commission needed such aggregated metadata to track the spread of the virus and determine where people’s need for medical supplies was the most pressing.

“We will select one big operator by country,” Breton said. “We want to be very fast and follow this on a daily basis.”

The Commission insisted the operation would respect the bloc’s privacy rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, and e-privacy legislation. The European Data Protection Supervisor would also be involved, the EU executive added. ..

In recent weeks, mobile operators have started to share anonymized data with EU governments in response to the spread of COVID-19. Carriers involved in the discussions with the Commission said Breton’s request would likely include providing the same type of data, and would have to respect the region’s tough privacy rules….

By aiming to pool large amounts of European mobile data, the Commission is following in the footsteps of national agencies, many of which are already working with carriers to track the spread of the virus through such anonymized digital information.

In Norway, local researchers saw a 60 percent decline in people traveling between cities after a countrywide lockdown was introduced — figures that were taken from people’s mobile phone data provided by Telenor, the national carrier.

Yet as the crisis has continued, countries such as Spain and Poland have gone a step further by creating smartphone apps, which offer an even greater ability to track and monitor people’s movements compared to anonymized mobile data. In the U.K., an app is in the works but has not yet launched….(More)”.

Using Technology to ‘Co-Create’ EU Policies


Paper by Gianluca Sgueo: “What will European Union (EU) decision-making look like in the next decade and beyond? Is technological progress promoting more transparent, inclusive and participatory decision-making at EU level?

Technology has dramatically changed both the number and quality of connections between citizens and public administrations. With technological progress, citizens have gained improved access to public authorities through new digital communication channels. Innovative, tech-based, approaches to policy-making have become the subject of a growing debate between academics and politicians. Theoretical approaches such as ‘CrowdLaw’, ‘Policy-Making 3.0’, ‘liquid’, ‘do-it- yourself’ or ‘technical’ democracy and ‘democratic innovations’ share the positive outlook towards technology; and technology is seen as the medium through which policies can be ‘co-created’ by decision-makers and stakeholders. Co-creation is mutually beneficial. Decision-makers gain legitimacy by incorporating the skills, knowledge and expertise of citizens, who in turn have the opportunity to shape new policies according to their needs and expectations.

EU institutions are at the forefront of experimentation with technologically innovative approaches to make decision-making more transparent and accessible to stakeholders. Efforts in modernising EU participatory channels through technology have evolved over time: from redressing criticism on democratic deficits, through fostering digital interactions with stakeholders, up to current attempts at designing policy-making in a friendly and participative manner.

While technological innovation holds the promise of making EU policy-making even more participatory, it is not without challenges. To begin with, technology is resource consuming. There are legal challenges associated with both over- and under-regulation of the use of technology in policy-making. Furthermore, technological innovation raises ethical concerns. It may increase inequality, for instance, or infringe personal privacy… (More)“.

France asks its citizens how to meet its climate-change targets


The Economist on “An experiment in consultative democracy”: “A nurse, a roofer, an electrician, a former fireman, a lycée pupil, a photographer, a teacher, a marketing manager, an entrepreneur and a civil servant. Sitting on red velvet benches in a domed art-deco amphitheatre in Paris, they and 140 colleagues are part of an unusual democratic experiment in a famously centralised country. Their mission: to draw up measures to reduce French greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, in line with an eu target that is otherwise in danger of being missed (and which the European Commission now wants to tighten). Six months ago, none of them had met. Now, they have just one month left to show that they can reinvent the French democratic process—and help save the planet. “It’s our moment,” Sylvain, one of the delegates, tells his colleagues from the podium. “We have the chance to propose something historic.”

On March 6th the “citizens’ climate convention” was due to begin its penultimate three-day sitting, the sixth since it began work last October. The convention is made up of a representative sample of the French population, selected by randomly generated telephone numbers. President Emmanuel Macron devised it in an attempt to calm the country after the gilets jaunes (yellow jackets) crisis of 2018. In response to the demand for less top-down decision-making, he first launched what he grandly called a “great national debate”, which took place a year ago. He also pledged the creation of a citizens’ assembly. It is designed to focus on precisely the conundrum that provoked the original protests against a rise in the carbon tax on motor fuel: how to make green policy palatable, efficient and fair.Already signed up?…(More)”.