Geolocation Data for Pattern of Life Analysis in Lower-Income Countries


Report by Eduardo Laguna-Muggenburg, Shreyan Sen and Eric Lewandowski: “Urbanization processes in the developing world are often associated with the creation of informal settlements. These areas frequently have few or no public services exacerbating inequality even in the context of substantial economic growth.

In the past, the high costs of gathering data through traditional surveying methods made it challenging to study how these under-served areas evolve through time and in relation to the metropolitan area to which they belong. However, the advent of mobile phones and smartphones in particular presents an opportunity to generate new insights on these old questions.

In June 2019, Orbital Insight and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Arab States Human Development Report team launched a collaborative pilot program assessing the feasibility of using geolocation data to understand patterns of life among the urban poor in Cairo, Egypt.

The objectives of this collaboration were to assess feasibility (and conditionally pursue preliminary analysis) of geolocation data to create near-real time population density maps, understand where residents of informal settlements tend to work during the day, and to classify universities by percentage of students living in informal settlements.

The report is organized as follows. In Section 2 we describe the data and its limitations. In Section 3 we briefly explain the methodological background. Section 4 summarizes the insights derived from the data for the Egyptian context. Section 5 concludes….(More)”.

Handbook of Research on Politics in the Computer Age


Book edited by Ashu M. G. Solo: “Technology and particularly the Internet have caused many changes in the realm of politics. Aspects of engineering, computer science, mathematics, or natural science can be applied to politics. Politicians and candidates use their own websites and social network profiles to get their message out. Revolutions in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa have started in large part due to social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Social networking has also played a role in protests and riots in numerous countries. The mainstream media no longer has a monopoly on political commentary as anybody can set up a blog or post a video online. Now, political activists can network together online.

The Handbook of Research on Politics in the Computer Age is a pivotal reference source that serves to increase the understanding of methods for politics in the computer age, the effectiveness of these methods, and tools for analyzing these methods. The book includes research chapters on different aspects of politics with information technology, engineering, computer science, or math, from 27 researchers at 20 universities and research organizations in Belgium, Brazil, Cape Verde, Egypt, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, and the United States of America. Highlighting topics such as online campaigning and fake news, the prospective audience includes, but is not limited to, researchers, political and public policy analysts, political scientists, engineers, computer scientists, political campaign managers and staff, politicians and their staff, political operatives, professors, students, and individuals working in the fields of politics, e-politics, e-government, new media and communication studies, and Internet marketing….(More)”.

Index: Secondary Uses of Personal Data


By Alexandra Shaw, Andrew Zahuranec, Andrew Young, Stefaan Verhulst

The Living Library Index–inspired by the Harper’s Index–provides important statistics and highlights global trends in governance innovation. This installment focuses on public perceptions regarding secondary uses of personal data (or the re-use of data initially collected for a different purpose). It provides a summary of societal perspectives toward personal data usage, sharing, and control. It is not meant to be comprehensive–rather, it intends to illustrate conflicting, and often confusing, attitudes toward the re-use of personal data. 

Please share any additional, illustrative statistics on data, or other issues at the nexus of technology and governance, with us at info@thelivinglib.org

Data ownership and control 

  • Percentage of Americans who say it is “very important” they control information collected about them: 74% – 2016
  • Americans who think that today’s privacy laws are not good enough at protecting people’s privacy online: 68% – 2016
  • Americans who say they have “a lot” of control over how companies collect and use their information: 9% – 2015
  • In a survey of 507 online shoppers, the number of respondents who indicated they don’t want brands tracking their location: 62% – 2015
  • In a survey of 507 online shoppers, the amount who “prefer offers that are targeted to where they are and what they are doing:” 60% – 2015 
  • Number of surveyed American consumers willing to provide data to corporations under the following conditions: 
    • “Data about my social concerns to better connect me with non-profit organizations that advance those causes:” 19% – 2018
    • “Data about my DNA to help me uncover any hereditary illnesses:” 21% – 2018
    • “Data about my interests and hobbies to receive relevant information and offers from online sellers:” 32% – 2018
    • “Data about my location to help me find the fastest route to my destination:” 40% – 2018
    • “My email address to receive exclusive offers from my favorite brands:”  56% – 2018  

Consumer Attitudes 

  • Academic study participants willing to donate personal data to research if it could lead to public good: 60% – 2014
  • Academic study participants willing to share personal data for research purposes in the interest of public good: 25% – 2014
  • Percentage who expect companies to “treat [them] like an individual, not as a member of some segment like ‘millennials’ or ‘suburban mothers:’” 74% – 2018 
    • Percentage who believe that brands should understand a “consumer’s individual situation (e.g. marital status, age, location, etc.)” when they’re being marketed to: 70% – 2018 Number who are “more annoyed” by companies now compared to 5 years ago: 40% – 2018Percentage worried their data is shared across companies without their permission: 88% – 2018Amount worried about a brand’s ability to track their behavior while on the brand’s website, app, or neither: 75% – 2018 
  • Consumers globally who expect brands to anticipate needs before they arise: 33%  – 2018 
  • Surveyed residents of the United Kingdom who identify as:
    • “Data pragmatists” willing to share personal data “under the right circumstances:” 58% – 2017
    • “Fundamentalists,” who would not share personal data for better services: 24% – 2017
    • Respondents who think data sharing is part of participating in the modern economy: 62% – 2018
    • Respondents who believe that data sharing benefits enterprises more than consumers: 75% – 2018
    • People who want more control over their data that enterprises collect: 84% – 2018
    • Percentage “unconcerned” about personal data protection: 18% – 2018
  • Percentage of Americans who think that government should do more to regulate large technology companies: 55% – 2018
  • Registered American voters who trust broadband companies with personal data “a great deal” or “a fair amount”: 43% – 2017
  • Americans who report experiencing a major data breach: 64% – 2017
  • Number of Americans who believe that their personal data is less secure than it was 5 years ago: 49% – 2019
  • Amount of surveyed American citizens who consider trust in a company an important factor for sharing data: 54% – 2018

Convenience

Microsoft’s 2015 Consumer Data Value Exchange Report attempts to understand consumer attitudes on the exchange of personal data across the global markets of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, Germany, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States. From their survey of 16,500 users, they find:

  • The most popular incentives for sharing data are: 
    • Cash rewards: 64% – 2015
    • Significant discounts: 49% – 2015
    • Streamlined processes: 29% – 2015
    • New ideas: 28% – 2015
  • Respondents who would prefer to see more ads to get new services: 34% – 2015
  • Respondents willing to share search terms for a service that enabled fewer steps to get things done: 70% – 2015 
  • Respondents willing to share activity data for such an improvement: 82% – 2015
  • Respondents willing to share their gender for “a service that inspires something new based on others like them:” 79% – 2015

A 2015 Pew Research Center survey presented Americans with several data-sharing scenarios related to convenience. Participants could respond: “acceptable,” “it depends,” or “not acceptable” to the following scenarios: 

  • Share health information to get access to personal health records and arrange appointments more easily:
    • Acceptable: 52% – 2015
    • It depends: 20% – 2015
    • Not acceptable: 26% – 2015
  • Share data for discounted auto insurance rates: 
    • Acceptable: 37% – 2015
    • It depends: 16% – 2015
    • Not acceptable: 45% – 2015
  • Share data for free social media services: 
    • Acceptable: 33% – 2015
    • It depends: 15% – 2015
    • Not acceptable: 51% – 2015
  • Share data on smart thermostats for cheaper energy bills: 
    • Acceptable: 33% – 2015
    • It depends: 15% – 2015
    • Not acceptable: 51% – 2015

Other Studies

  • Surveyed banking and insurance customers who would exchange personal data for:
    • Targeted auto insurance premiums: 64% – 2019
    • Better life insurance premiums for healthy lifestyle choices: 52% – 2019 
  • Surveyed banking and insurance customers willing to share data specifically related to income, location and lifestyle habits to: 
    • Secure faster loan approvals: 81.3% – 2019
    • Lower the chances of injury or loss: 79.7% – 2019 
    • Receive discounts on non-insurance products or services: 74.6% – 2019
    • Receive text alerts related to banking account activity: 59.8% – 2019 
    • Get saving advice based on spending patterns: 56.6% – 2019
  • In a survey of over 7,000 members of the public around the globe, respondents indicated:
    • They thought “smartphone and tablet apps used for navigation, chat, and news that can access your contacts, photos, and browsing history” is “creepy;” 16% – 2016
    • Emailing a friend about a trip to Paris and receiving advertisements for hotels, restaurants and excursions in Paris is “creepy:” 32% – 2016
    • A free fitness-tracking device that monitors your well-being and sends a monthly report to you and your employer is “creepy:” 45% – 2016
    • A telematics device that allows emergency services to track your vehicle is “creepy:” 78% – 2016
  • The number of British residents who do not want to work with virtual agents of any kind: 48% – 2017
  • Americans who disagree that “if companies give me a discount, it is a fair exchange for them to collect information about me without my knowing”: 91% – 2015

Data Brokers, Intermediaries, and Third Parties 

  • Americans who consider it acceptable for a grocery store to offer a free loyalty card in exchange for selling their shopping data to third parties: 47% – 2016
  • Number of people who know that “searches, site visits and purchases” are reviewed without consent:  55% – 2015
  • The number of people in 1991 who wanted companies to ask them for permission first before collecting their personal information and selling that data to intermediaries: 93% – 1991
    • Number of Americans who “would be very concerned if the company at which their data were stored sold it to another party:” 90% – 2008
    • Percentage of Americans who think it’s unacceptable for their grocery store to share their shopping data with third parties in exchange for a free loyalty card: 32% – 2016
  • Percentage of Americans who think that government needs to do more to regulate advertisers: 64% – 2016
    • Number of Americans who “want to have control over what marketers can learn about” them online: 84% – 2015
    • Percentage of Americans who think they have no power over marketers to figure out what they’re learning about them: 58% – 2015
  • Registered American voters who are “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” with companies like Internet service providers or websites using personal data to recommend stories, articles, or videos:  56% – 2017
  • Registered American voters who are “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” with companies like Internet service providers or websites selling their personal information to third parties for advertising purposes: 64% – 2017

Personal Health Data

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2014 Health Data Exploration Project Report analyzes attitudes about personal health data (PHD). PHD is self-tracking data related to health that is traceable through wearable devices and sensors. The three major stakeholder groups involved in using PHD for public good are users, companies that track the users’ data, and researchers. 

  • Overall Respondents:
    • Percentage who believe anonymity is “very” or “extremely” important: 67% – 2014
    • Percentage who “probably would” or “definitely would” share their personal data with researchers: 78% – 2014
    • Percentage who believe that they own—or should own—all the data about them, even when it is indirectly collected: 54% – 2014
    • Percentage who think they share or ought to share ownership with the company: 30% – 2014
    • Percentage who think companies alone own or should own all the data about them: 4% – 2014
    • Percentage for whom data ownership “is not something I care about”: 13% – 2014
    • Percentage who indicated they wanted to own their data: 75% – 2014 
    • Percentage who would share data only if “privacy were assured:” 68% – 2014
    • People who would supply data regardless of privacy or compensation: 27% – 2014
      • Percentage of participants who mentioned privacy, anonymity, or confidentiality when asked under what conditions they would share their data:  63% – 2014
      • Percentage who would be “more” or “much more” likely to share data for compensation: 56% – 2014
      • Percentage who indicated compensation would make no difference: 38% – 2014
      • Amount opposed to commercial  or profit-making use of their data: 13% – 2014
    • Percentage of people who would only share personal health data with a guarantee of:
      • Privacy: 57% – 2014
      • Anonymization: 90% – 2014
  • Surveyed Researchers: 
    • Percentage who agree or strongly agree that self-tracking data would help provide more insights in their research: 89% – 2014
    • Percentage who say PHD could answer questions that other data sources could not: 95% – 2014
    • Percentage who have used public datasets: 57% – 2014
    • Percentage who have paid for data for research: 19% – 2014
    • Percentage who have used self-tracking data before for research purposes: 46% – 2014
    • Percentage who have worked with application, device, or social media companies: 23% – 2014
    • Percentage who “somewhat disagree” or “strongly disagree” there are barriers that cannot be overcome to using self-tracking data in their research: 82% – 2014 

SOURCES: 

“2019 Accenture Global Financial Services Consumer Study: Discover the Patterns in Personality”, Accenture, 2019. 

“Americans’ Views About Data Collection and Security”, Pew Research Center, 2015. 

“Data Donation: Sharing Personal Data for Public Good?”, ResearchGate, 2014.

Data privacy: What the consumer really thinks,” Acxiom, 2018.

“Exclusive: Public wants Big Tech regulated”, Axios, 2018.

Consumer data value exchange,” Microsoft, 2015.

Crossing the Line: Staying on the right side of consumer privacy,” KPMG International Cooperative, 2016.

“How do you feel about the government sharing our personal data? – livechat”, The Guardian, 2017. 

“Personal data for public good: using health information in medical research”, The Academy of Medical Sciences, 2006. 

“Personal Data for the Public Good: New Opportunities to Enrich Understanding of Individual and Population Health”, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Health Data Exploration Project, Calit2, UC Irvine and UC San Diego, 2014. 

“Pew Internet and American Life Project: Cloud Computing Raises Privacy Concerns”, Pew Research Center, 2008. 

“Poll: Little Trust That Tech Giants Will Keep Personal Data Private”, Morning Consult & Politico, 2017. 

“Privacy and Information Sharing”, Pew Research Center, 2016. 

“Privacy, Data and the Consumer: What US Thinks About Sharing Data”, MarTech Advisor, 2018. 

“Public Opinion on Privacy”, Electronic Privacy Information Center, 2019. 

“Selligent Marketing Cloud Study Finds Consumer Expectations and Marketer Challenges are Rising in Tandem”, Selligent Marketing Cloud, 2018. 

The Data-Sharing Disconnect: The Impact of Context, Consumer Trust, and Relevance in Retail Marketing,” Boxever, 2015. 

Microsoft Research reveals understanding gap in the brand-consumer data exchange,” Microsoft Research, 2015.

“Survey: 58% will share personal data under the right circumstances”, Marketing Land: Third Door Media, 2019. 

“The state of privacy in post-Snowden America”, Pew Research Center, 2016. 

The Tradeoff Fallacy: How Marketers Are Misrepresenting American Consumers And Opening Them Up to Exploitation”, University of Pennsylvania, 2015.

Facebook’s AI team maps the whole population of Africa


Devin Coldewey at TechCrunch: “A new map of nearly all of Africa shows exactly where the continent’s 1.3 billion people live, down to the meter, which could help everyone from local governments to aid organizations. The map joins others like it from Facebook  created by running satellite imagery through a machine learning model.

It’s not exactly that there was some mystery about where people live, but the degree of precision matters. You may know that a million people live in a given region, and that about half are in the bigger city and another quarter in assorted towns. But that leaves hundreds of thousands only accounted for in the vaguest way.

Fortunately, you can always inspect satellite imagery and pick out the spots where small villages and isolated houses and communities are located. The only problem is that Africa is big. Really big. Manually labeling the satellite imagery even from a single mid-sized country like Gabon or Malawi would take a huge amount of time and effort. And for many applications of the data, such as coordinating the response to a natural disaster or distributing vaccinations, time lost is lives lost.

Better to get it all done at once then, right? That’s the idea behind Facebook’s Population Density Maps project, which had already mapped several countries over the last couple of years before the decision was made to take on the entire African continent….

“The maps from Facebook ensure we focus our volunteers’ time and resources on the places they’re most needed, improving the efficacy of our programs,” said Tyler Radford, executive director of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, one of the project’s partners.

The core idea is straightforward: Match census data (how many people live in a region) with structure data derived from satellite imagery to get a much better idea of where those people are located.

“With just the census data, the best you can do is assume that people live everywhere in the district – buildings, fields, and forests alike,” said Facebook engineer James Gill. “But once you know the building locations, you can skip the fields and forests and only allocate the population to the buildings. This gives you very detailed 30 meter by 30 meter population maps.”

That’s several times more accurate than any extant population map of this size. The analysis is done by a machine learning agent trained on OpenStreetMap data from all over the world, where people have labeled and outlined buildings and other features.

First the huge amount of Africa’s surface that obviously has no structure had to be removed from consideration, reducing the amount of space the team had to evaluate by a factor of a thousand or more. Then, using a region-specific algorithm (because things look a lot different in coastal Morocco than they do in central Chad), the model identifies patches that contain a building….(More)”.

Does increased ‘participation’ equal a new-found enthusiasm for democracy?


Blog by Stephen King and Paige Nicol: “With a few months under our belts, 2019 looks unlikely to be the year of a great global turnaround for democracy. The decade of democratic ‘recession’ that Larry Diamond declared in 2015 has dragged on and deepened, and may now be teetering on the edge of becoming a full-blown depression. 

The start of each calendar year is marked by the release of annual indices, rankings, and reports on how democracy is faring around the world. 2018 reports from Freedom House and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) highlighted precipitous declines in civil liberties in long-standing democracies as well as authoritarian states. Some groups, including migrants, women, ethnic and other minorities, opposition politicians, and journalists have been particularly affected by these setbacks. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of journalists murdered nearly doubled last year, while the number imprisoned remained above 250 for the third consecutive year. 

Yet, the EIU also found a considerable increase in political participation worldwide. Levels of participation (including voting, protesting, and running for elected office, among other dimensions) increased substantially enough last year to offset falling scores in the other four categories of the index. Based on the methodology used, the rise in political participation was significant enough to prevent a decline in the global overall score for democracy for the first time in three years.

Though this development could give cause for optimism we believe it could also raise new concerns. 

In Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Venezuela we see people who, through desperation and frustration, have taken to the streets – a form of participation which has been met with brutal crackdowns. Time has yet to tell what the ultimate outcome of these protests will be, but it is clear that governments with autocratic tendencies have more – and cheaper – tools to monitor, direct, control, and suppress participation than ever before. 

Elsewhere, we see a danger of people becoming dislocated and disenchanted with democracy, as their representatives fail to take meaningful action on the issues that matter to them. In the UK Parliament, as Brexit discussions have become increasingly polarised and fractured along party political and ideological lines, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that there was a threat of social unrest if Parliament was seen to be frustrating the ‘will of the people.’ 

While we see enhanced participation as crucial to just and fair societies, it alone will not be the silver bullet that saves democracy. Whether this trend becomes a cause for hope or concern will depend on three factors: who is participating, what form does participation take, and how is participation received by those with power?…(More)”.

How data collected from mobile phones can help electricity planning


Article by Eduardo Alejandro Martínez Ceseña, Joseph Mutale, Mathaios Panteli, and Pierluigi Mancarella in The Conversation: “Access to reliable and affordable electricity brings many benefits. It supports the growth of small businesses, allows students to study at night and protects health by offering an alternative cooking fuel to coal or wood.

Great efforts have been made to increase electrification in Africa, but rates remain low. In sub-Saharan Africa only 42% of urban areas have access to electricity, just 22% in rural areas.

This is mainly because there’s not enough sustained investment in electricity infrastructure, many systems can’t reliably support energy consumption or the price of electricity is too high.

Innovation is often seen as the way forward. For instance, cheaper and cleaner technologies, like solar storage systems deployed through mini grids, can offer a more affordable and reliable option. But, on their own, these solutions aren’t enough.

To design the best systems, planners must know where on- or off-grid systems should be placed, how big they need to be and what type of energy should be used for the most effective impact.

The problem is reliable data – like village size and energy demand – needed for rural energy planning is scarce or non-existent. Some can be estimated from records of human activities – like farming or access to schools and hospitals – which can show energy needs. But many developing countries have to rely on human activity data from incomplete and poorly maintained national census. This leads to inefficient planning.

In our research we found that data from mobile phones offer a solution. They provide a new source of information about what people are doing and where they’re located.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there are more people with mobile phones than access to electricity, as people are willing to commute to get a signal and/or charge their phones.

This means that there’s an abundance of data – that’s constantly updated and available even in areas that haven’t been electrified – that could be used to optimise electrification planning….

We were able to use mobile data to develop a countrywide electrification strategy for Senegal. Although Senegal has one of the highest access to electricity rates in sub-Saharan Africa, just 38% of people in rural areas have access.

By using mobile data we were able to identify the approximate size of rural villages and access to education and health facilities. This information was then used to size and cost different electrification options and select the most economic one for each zone – whether villages should be connected to the grids, or where off-grid systems – like solar battery systems – were a better option.

To collect the data we randomly selected mobile phone data from 450,000 users from Senegal’s main telecomms provider, Sonatel, to understand exactly how information from mobile phones could be used. This includes the location of user and the characteristics of the place they live….(More)”

Africa Data Revolution Report 2018


Report by Jean-Paul Van Belle et al: ” The Africa Data Revolution Report 2018 delves into the recent evolution and current state of open data – with an emphasis on Open Government Data – in the African data communities. It explores key countries across the continent, researches a wide range of open data initiatives, and benefits from global thematic expertise. This second edition improves on process, methodology and collaborative partnerships from the first edition.

It draws from country reports, existing global and continental initiatives, and key experts’ input, in order to provide a deep analysis of the
actual impact of open data in the African context. In particular, this report features a dedicated Open Data Barometer survey as well as a special 2018
Africa Open Data Index regional edition surveying the status and impact of open data and dataset availability in 30 African countries. The research is complemented with six in-depth qualitative case studies featuring the impact of open data in Kenya, South Africa (Cape Town), Ghana, Rwanda, Burkina Faso and Morocco. The report was critically reviewed by an eminent panel of experts.

Findings: In some governments, there is a slow iterative cycle between innovation, adoption, resistance and re-alignment before finally resulting in Open Government Data (OGD) institutionalization and eventual maturity. There is huge diversity between African governments in embracing open data, and each country presents a complex and unique picture. In several African countries, there appears to be genuine political will to open up government based datasets, not only for increased transparency but also to achieve economic impacts, social equity and stimulate innovation.

The role of open data intermediaries is crucial and has been insufficiently recognized in the African context. Open data in Africa needs a vibrant, dynamic, open and multi-tier data ecosystem if the datasets are to make a real impact. Citizens are rarely likely to access open data themselves. But the democratization of information and communication platforms has opened up opportunities among a large and diverse set of intermediaries to explore and combine relevant data sources, sometimes with private or leaked data. The news media, NGOs and advocacy groups, and to a much lesser extent academics and social or profit-driven entrepreneurs have shown that OGD can create real impact on the achievement of the SDGs…

The report encourages national policy makers and international funding or development agencies to consider the status, impact and future of open
data in Africa on the basis of this research. Other stakeholders working with or for open data can hopefully  also learn from what is happening on the continent. It is hoped that the findings and recommendations contained in the report will form the basis of a robust, informed and dynamic debate around open government data in Africa….(More)”.

Can Data Save U.N. Peacekeeping?


Adam Day at World Policy Review: “Does international peacekeeping protect civilians caught up in civil wars? Do the 16,000 United Nations peacekeepers deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo actually save lives, and if so how many? Did the 9,000 patrols conducted by the U.N. Mission in South Sudan in the past three months protect civilians there? 

The answer is a dissatisfying “maybe.” Without a convincing story of saving lives, the U.N. is open to attacks by the likes of White House national security adviser John Bolton, who call peacekeeping “unproductive” and push for further cuts to the organization’s already diminished budget. But peacekeeping can—and must—make a case for its own utility, using data already at its fingertips. …(More)”.

Shutting down the internet doesn’t work – but governments keep doing it


George Ogola in The Conversation: “As the internet continues to gain considerable power and agency around the world, many governments have moved to regulate it. And where regulation fails, some states resort to internet shutdowns or deliberate disruptions.

The statistics are staggering. In India alone, there were 154 internet shutdowns between January 2016 and May 2018. This is the most of any country in the world.

But similar shutdowns are becoming common on the African continent. Already in 2019 there have been shutdowns in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Chad, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Last year there were 21 such shutdowns on the continent. This was the case in Togo, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Ethiopia, among others.

The justifications for such shutdowns are usually relatively predictable. Governments often claim that internet access is blocked in the interest of public security and order. In some instances, however, their reasoning borders on the curious if not downright absurd, like the case of Ethiopia in 2017 and Algeria in 2018 when the internet was shut down apparently to curb cheating in national examinations.

Whatever their reasons, governments have three general approaches to controlling citzens’ access to the web.

How they do it

Internet shutdowns or disruptions usually take three forms. The first and probably the most serious is where the state completely blocks access to the internet on all platforms. It’s arguably the most punitive, with significant socialeconomic and political costs.

The financial costs can run into millions of dollars for each day the internet is blocked. A Deloitte report on the issue estimates that a country with average connectivity could lose at least 1.9% of its daily GDP for each day all internet services are shut down.

For countries with average to medium level connectivity the loss is 1% of daily GDP, and for countries with average to low connectivity it’s 0.4%. It’s estimated that Ethiopia, for example, could lose up to US$500,000 a day whenever there is a shutdown. These shutdowns, then, damage businesses, discourage investments, and hinder economic growth.

The second way that governments restrict internet access is by applying content blocking techniques. They restrict access to particular sites or applications. This is the most common strategy and it’s usually targeted at social media platforms. The idea is to stop or limit conversations on these platforms.

Online spaces have become the platform for various forms of political expression that many states especially those with authoritarian leanings consider subversive. Governments argue, for example, that social media platforms encourage the spread of rumours which can trigger public unrest.

This was the case in 2016 in Uganda during the country’s presidential elections. The government restricted access to social media, describing the shutdown as a “security measure to avert lies … intended to incite violence and illegal declaration of election results”.

In Zimbabwe, the government blocked social media following demonstrations over an increase in fuel prices. It argued that the January 2019 ban was because the platforms were being “used to coordinate the violence”.

The third strategy, done almost by stealth, is the use of what is generally known as “bandwidth throttling”. In this case telecom operators or internet service providers are forced to lower the quality of their cell signals or internet speed. This makes the internet too slow to use. “Throttling” can also target particular online destinations such as social media sites….(More)”

Many Around the World Are Disengaged From Politics


Richard Wike and Alexandra Castillo at Pew Research Center: “An engaged citizenry is often considered a sign of a healthy democracy. High levels of political and civic participation increase the likelihood that the voices of ordinary citizens will be heard in important debates, and they confer a degree of legitimacy on democratic institutions. However, in many nations around the world, much of the public is disengaged from politics.

To better understand public attitudes toward civic engagement, Pew Research Center conducted face-to-face surveys in 14 nations encompassing a wide range of political systems. The study, conducted in collaboration with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as part of their International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), includes countries from Africa, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Because it does not represent every region, the study cannot reflect the globe as a whole. But with 14,875 participants across such a wide variety of countries, it remains a useful snapshot of key, cross-national patterns in civic life.

The survey finds that, aside from voting, relatively few people take part in other forms of political and civic participation. Still, some types of engagement are more common among young people, those with more education, those on the political left and social network users. And certain issues – especially health care, poverty and education – are more likely than others to inspire political action. Here are eight key takeaways from the survey, which was conducted from May 20 to Aug. 12, 2018, via face-to-face interviews.

Most people vote, but other forms of participation are much less common. Across the 14 nations polled, a median of 78% say they have voted at least once in the past. Another 9% say they might vote in the future, while 7% say they would never vote.

With at least 9-in-10 reporting they have voted in the past, participation is highest in three of the four countries with compulsory voting (Brazil, Argentina and Greece). Voting is similarly high in both Indonesia (91%) and the Philippines (91%), two countries that do not have compulsory voting laws.

The lowest percentage is found in Tunisia (62%), which has only held two national elections since the Jasmine Revolution overthrew long-serving President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and spurred the Arab Spring protests across the Middle East.

Chart showing that beyond voting, political participation is relatively low.

Attending a political campaign event or speech is the second most common type of participation among those surveyed – a median of 33% have done this at least once. Fewer people report participating in volunteer organizations (a median of 27%), posting comments on political issues online (17%), participating in an organized protest (14%) or donating money to a social or political organization (12%)….(More)”.