“Anonymous” Data Won’t Protect Your Identity


Sophie Bushwick at Scientific American: “The world produces roughly 2.5 quintillion bytes of digital data per day, adding to a sea of information that includes intimate details about many individuals’ health and habits. To protect privacy, data brokers must anonymize such records before sharing them with researchers and marketers. But a new study finds it is relatively easy to reidentify a person from a supposedly anonymized data set—even when that set is incomplete.

Massive data repositories can reveal trends that teach medical researchers about disease, demonstrate issues such as the effects of income inequality, coach artificial intelligence into humanlike behavior and, of course, aim advertising more efficiently. To shield people who—wittingly or not—contribute personal information to these digital storehouses, most brokers send their data through a process of deidentification. This procedure involves removing obvious markers, including names and social security numbers, and sometimes taking other precautions, such as introducing random “noise” data to the collection or replacing specific details with general ones (for example, swapping a birth date of “March 7, 1990” for “January–April 1990”). The brokers then release or sell a portion of this information.

“Data anonymization is basically how, for the past 25 years, we’ve been using data for statistical purposes and research while preserving people’s privacy,” says Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, an assistant professor of computational privacy at Imperial College London and co-author of the new study, published this week in Nature Communications.  Many commonly used anonymization techniques, however, originated in the 1990s, before the Internet’s rapid development made it possible to collect such an enormous amount of detail about things such as an individual’s health, finances, and shopping and browsing habits. This discrepancy has made it relatively easy to connect an anonymous line of data to a specific person: if a private detective is searching for someone in New York City and knows the subject is male, is 30 to 35 years old and has diabetes, the sleuth would not be able to deduce the man’s name—but could likely do so quite easily if he or she also knows the target’s birthday, number of children, zip code, employer and car model….(More)”

The plan to mine the world’s research papers


Priyanka Pulla in Nature: “Carl Malamud is on a crusade to liberate information locked up behind paywalls — and his campaigns have scored many victories. He has spent decades publishing copyrighted legal documents, from building codes to court records, and then arguing that such texts represent public-domain law that ought to be available to any citizen online. Sometimes, he has won those arguments in court. Now, the 60-year-old American technologist is turning his sights on a new objective: freeing paywalled scientific literature. And he thinks he has a legal way to do it.

Over the past year, Malamud has — without asking publishers — teamed up with Indian researchers to build a gigantic store of text and images extracted from 73 million journal articles dating from 1847 up to the present day. The cache, which is still being created, will be kept on a 576-terabyte storage facility at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. “This is not every journal article ever written, but it’s a lot,” Malamud says. It’s comparable to the size of the core collection in the Web of Science database, for instance. Malamud and his JNU collaborator, bioinformatician Andrew Lynn, call their facility the JNU data depot.

No one will be allowed to read or download work from the repository, because that would breach publishers’ copyright. Instead, Malamud envisages, researchers could crawl over its text and data with computer software, scanning through the world’s scientific literature to pull out insights without actually reading the text.

The unprecedented project is generating much excitement because it could, for the first time, open up vast swathes of the paywalled literature for easy computerized analysis. Dozens of research groups already mine papers to build databases of genes and chemicals, map associations between proteins and diseases, and generate useful scientific hypotheses. But publishers control — and often limit — the speed and scope of such projects, which typically confine themselves to abstracts, not full text. Researchers in India, the United States and the United Kingdom are already making plans to use the JNU store instead. Malamud and Lynn have held workshops at Indian government laboratories and universities to explain the idea. “We bring in professors and explain what we are doing. They get all excited and they say, ‘Oh gosh, this is wonderful’,” says Malamud.

But the depot’s legal status isn’t yet clear. Malamud, who contacted several intellectual-property (IP) lawyers before starting work on the depot, hopes to avoid a lawsuit. “Our position is that what we are doing is perfectly legal,” he says. For the moment, he is proceeding with caution: the JNU data depot is air-gapped, meaning that no one can access it from the Internet. Users have to physically visit the facility, and only researchers who want to mine for non-commercial purposes are currently allowed in. Malamud says his team does plan to allow remote access in the future. “The hope is to do this slowly and deliberately. We are not throwing this open right away,” he says….(More)”.

Improving access to information and restoring the public’s faith in democracy through deliberative institutions


Katherine R. Knobloch at Democratic Audit: “Both scholars and citizens have begun to believe that democracy is in decline. Authoritarian power grabs, polarising rhetoric, and increasing inequality can all claim responsibility for democratic systems that feel broken. Democracy depends on a polity who believe that their engagement matters, but evidence suggests democratic institutions have become unresponsive to the will of the public. How can we restore faith in self-government when both research and personal experience tell us that the public is losing power, not gaining it?

Deliberative public engagement

Deliberative democracy offers one solution, and it’s slowly shifting how the public engages in political decision-making. In Oregon, the Citizens’ Initiative Review(CIR) asks a group of randomly selected voters to carefully study public issues and then make policy recommendations based on their collective experience and insight. In Ireland, Citizens’ Assemblies are being used to amend the country’s constitution to better reflect changing cultural norms. In communities across the world, Participatory Budgeting is giving the public control over local government spending. Far from squashing democratic power, these deliberative institutions bolster it. They exemplify a new wave in democratic government, one that aims to bring community members together across political and cultural divides to make decisions about how to govern themselves.

Though the contours of deliberative events vary, most share key characteristics. A diverse body of community members gather together to learn from experts and one another, think through the short- and long-term implications of different policy positions, and discuss how issues affect not only themselves but their wider communities. At the end of those conversations, they make decisions that are representative of the diversity of participants and their ideas and which have been tested through collective reasoning….(More)”.

Google and the University of Chicago Are Sued Over Data Sharing


Daisuke Wakabayashi in The New York Times: “When the University of Chicago Medical Center announced a partnership to share patient data with Google in 2017, the alliance was promoted as a way to unlock information trapped in electronic health records and improve predictive analysis in medicine.

On Wednesday, the University of Chicago, the medical center and Google were sued in a potential class-action lawsuit accusing the hospital of sharing hundreds of thousands of patients’ records with the technology giant without stripping identifiable date stamps or doctor’s notes.

The suit, filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, demonstrates the difficulties technology companies face in handling health data as they forge ahead into one of the most promising — and potentially lucrative — areas of artificial intelligence: diagnosing medical problems.

Google is at the forefront of an effort to build technology that can read electronic health records and help physicians identify medical conditions. But the effort requires machines to learn this skill by analyzing a vast array of old health records collected by hospitals and other medical institutions.

That raises privacy concerns, especially when is used by a company like Google, which already knows what you search for, where you are and what interests you hold.

In 2016, DeepMind, a London-based A.I. lab owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was accused of violating patient privacy after it struck a deal with Britain’s National Health Service to process medical data for research….(More)”.

Self-Sovereign Identity


sɛlf-ˈsɑvrən aɪˈdɛntəti

A decentralized identification mechanism that gives individuals control over what, when, and to whom their personal information is shared.

Identification document (ID) is a crucial part of every individual’s life, in that it is often a prerequisite for accessing a variety of services — ranging from creating a bank account to enrolling children in school to buying alcoholic beverages to signing up for an email account to voting in an election — and also a proof of simply being. This system poses fundamental problems, which a field report by the GovLab on Blockchain and Identity frames as follows:

“One of the central challenges of modern identity is its fragmentation and variation across platform and individuals. There are also issues related to interoperability between different forms of identity, and the fact that different identities confer very different privileges, rights, services or forms of access. The universe of identities is vast and manifold. Every identity in effect poses its own set of challenges and difficulties—and, of course, opportunities.”

A report published in New America echoed this point, by arguing that:

“Societally, we lack a coherent approach to regulating the handling of personal data. Users share and generate far too much data—both personally identifiable information (PII) and metadata, or “data exhaust”—without a way to manage it. Private companies, by storing an increasing amount of PII, are taking on an increasing level of risk. Solution architects are recreating the wheel, instead of flying over the treacherous terrain we have just described.”

SSI is dubbed as the solution for those identity problems mentioned above. Identity Woman, a researcher and advocate for SSI, goes even further by arguing that generating “a digital identity that is not under the control of a corporation, an organization or a government” is essential “in pursuit of social justice, deep democracy, and the development of new economies that share wealth and protect the environment.”

To inform the analysis on blockchain-based Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI), the GovLab report argues that identity is “a process, not a thing” and breaks it into a 5-stage lifecycle, which are provisioning, administration, authentication, authorization, and auditing/monitoring. At each stage, identification serves a unique function and poses different challenges.

With SSI, individuals have full control over how their personal information is shared, who gets access to it, and when. The New America report, summarizes the potential of SSI in the following paragraphs:

“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.”

[…]

“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.”

Some case studies on the application of SSI in the real world presented in the GovLab Blockchange website include a government-issued self-sovereign ID using blockchain technology in the city of Zug in Switzerland; a mobile election voting platform, secured via smart biometrics, real time ID verification and the blockchain for irrefutability piloted in West Virginia; and a blockchain based land and property transaction/registration in Sweden.

Nevertheless, on the hype of this new and emerging technology, the authors write:

“At their core, blockchain technologies offer new capacity for increasing the immutability, integrity, and resilience of information capture and disclosure mechanisms, fostering the potential to address some of the information asymmetries described above. By leveraging a shared and verified database of ledgers stored in a distributed manner, blockchain seeks to redesign information ecosystems in a more transparent, immutable, and trusted manner. Solving information asymmetries may turn out to be the real contribution of blockchain, and this—much more than the current enthusiasm over virtual currencies—is the real reason to assess its potential.

“It is important to emphasize, of course, that blockchain’s potential remains just that for the moment—only potential. Considerable hype surrounds the emerging technology, and much remains to be done and many obstacles to overcome if blockchain is to achieve the enthusiasts’ vision of “radical transparency.”

Further readings:

Allen, Christopher (2016). The Path to Self-Sovereign Identity. Coindesk. https://www.coindesk.com/path-self-sovereign-identity

Apostle, Julia (2018). Lessons from Cambridge Analytica: one way to protect your data. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/43bc6d18-2b6f-11e8-97ec-4bd3494d5f14

Graglia, Michael, Christopher Mellon, and Tim Robustelli (2018). The Nail Finds a Hammer: Self-Sovereign Identity, Design Principles, and Property Rights in the Developing World. New America. https://www.newamerica.org/future-property-rights/reports/nail-finds-hammer/

Identity Woman, Kaliya (2017). Humanizing Technology. Open Democracy. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/humanizing-technology/

Verhulst, Stefaan G. and Andrew Young (2018). On the Emergent Use of Distributed Ledger Technologies for Identity Management. The GovLab. https://blockchan.ge/fieldreport.html

Data & Policy: A new venue to study and explore policy–data interaction


Opening editorial by Stefaan G. Verhulst, Zeynep Engin and Jon Crowcroft: “…Policy–data interactions or governance initiatives that use data have been the exception rather than the norm, isolated prototypes and trials rather than an indication of real, systemic change. There are various reasons for the generally slow uptake of data in policymaking, and several factors will have to change if the situation is to improve. ….

  • Despite the number of successful prototypes and small-scale initiatives, policy makers’ understanding of data’s potential and its value proposition generally remains limited (Lutes, 2015). There is also limited appreciation of the advances data science has made the last few years. This is a major limiting factor; we cannot expect policy makers to use data if they do not recognize what data and data science can do.
  • The recent (and justifiable) backlash against how certain private companies handle consumer data has had something of a reverse halo effect: There is a growing lack of trust in the way data is collected, analyzed, and used, and this often leads to a certain reluctance (or simply risk-aversion) on the part of officials and others (Engin, 2018).
  • Despite several high-profile open data projects around the world, much (probably the majority) of data that could be helpful in governance remains either privately held or otherwise hidden in silos (Verhulst and Young, 2017b). There remains a shortage not only of data but, more specifically, of high-quality and relevant data.
  • With few exceptions, the technical capacities of officials remain limited, and this has obviously negative ramifications for the potential use of data in governance (Giest, 2017).
  • It’s not just a question of limited technical capacities. There is often a vast conceptual and values gap between the policy and technical communities (Thompson et al., 2015; Uzochukwu et al., 2016); sometimes it seems as if they speak different languages. Compounding this difference in world views is the fact that the two communities rarely interact.
  • Yet, data about the use and evidence of the impact of data remain sparse. The impetus to use more data in policy making is stymied by limited scholarship and a weak evidential basis to show that data can be helpful and how. Without such evidence, data advocates are limited in their ability to make the case for more data initiatives in governance.
  • Data are not only changing the way policy is developed, but they have also reopened the debate around theory- versus data-driven methods in generating scientific knowledge (Lee, 1973; Kitchin, 2014; Chivers, 2018; Dreyfuss, 2017) and thus directly questioning the evidence base to utilization and implementation of data within policy making. A number of associated challenges are being discussed, such as: (i) traceability and reproducibility of research outcomes (due to “black box processing”); (ii) the use of correlation instead of causation as the basis of analysis, biases and uncertainties present in large historical datasets that cause replication and, in some cases, amplification of human cognitive biases and imperfections; and (iii) the incorporation of existing human knowledge and domain expertise into the scientific knowledge generation processes—among many other topics (Castelvecchi, 2016; Miller and Goodchild, 2015; Obermeyer and Emanuel, 2016; Provost and Fawcett, 2013).
  • Finally, we believe that there should be a sound under-pinning a new theory of what we call Policy–Data Interactions. To date, in reaction to the proliferation of data in the commercial world, theories of data management,1 privacy,2 and fairness3 have emerged. From the Human–Computer Interaction world, a manifesto of principles of Human–Data Interaction (Mortier et al., 2014) has found traction, which intends reducing the asymmetry of power present in current design considerations of systems of data about people. However, we need a consistent, symmetric approach to consideration of systems of policy and data, how they interact with one another.

All these challenges are real, and they are sticky. We are under no illusions that they will be overcome easily or quickly….

During the past four conferences, we have hosted an incredibly diverse range of dialogues and examinations by key global thought leaders, opinion leaders, practitioners, and the scientific community (Data for Policy, 2015201620172019). What became increasingly obvious was the need for a dedicated venue to deepen and sustain the conversations and deliberations beyond the limitations of an annual conference. This leads us to today and the launch of Data & Policy, which aims to confront and mitigate the barriers to greater use of data in policy making and governance.

Data & Policy is a venue for peer-reviewed research and discussion about the potential for and impact of data science on policy. Our aim is to provide a nuanced and multistranded assessment of the potential and challenges involved in using data for policy and to bridge the “two cultures” of science and humanism—as CP Snow famously described in his lecture on “Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” (Snow, 1959). By doing so, we also seek to bridge the two other dichotomies that limit an examination of datafication and is interaction with policy from various angles: the divide between practice and scholarship; and between private and public…

So these are our principles: scholarly, pragmatic, open-minded, interdisciplinary, focused on actionable intelligence, and, most of all, innovative in how we will share insight and pushing at the boundaries of what we already know and what already exists. We are excited to launch Data & Policy with the support of Cambridge University Press and University College London, and we’re looking for partners to help us build it as a resource for the community. If you’re reading this manifesto it means you have at least a passing interest in the subject; we hope you will be part of the conversation….(More)”.

Number of fact-checking outlets surges to 188 in more than 60 countries


Mark Stencel at Poynter: “The number of fact-checking outlets around the world has grown to 188 in more than 60 countries amid global concerns about the spread of misinformation, according to the latest tally by the Duke Reporters’ Lab.

Since the last annual fact-checking census in February 2018, we’ve added 39 more outlets that actively assess claims from politicians and social media, a 26% increase. The new total is also more than four times the 44 fact-checkers we counted when we launched our global database and map in 2014.

Globally, the largest growth came in Asia, which went from 22 to 35 outlets in the past year. Nine of the 27 fact-checking outlets that launched since the start of 2018 were in Asia, including six in India. Latin American fact-checking also saw a growth spurt in that same period, with two new outlets in Costa Rica, and others in Mexico, Panama and Venezuela.

The actual worldwide total is likely much higher than our current tally. That’s because more than a half-dozen of the fact-checkers we’ve added to the database since the start of 2018 began as election-related partnerships that involved the collaboration of multiple organizations. And some those election partners are discussing ways to continue or reactivate that work— either together or on their own.

Over the past 12 months, five separate multimedia partnerships enlisted more than 60 different fact-checking organizations and other news companies to help debunk claims and verify information for voters in MexicoBrazilSweden,Nigeria and the Philippines. And the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network assembled a separate team of 19 media outlets from 13 countries to consolidate and share their reporting during the run-up to last month’s elections for the European Parliament. Our database includes each of these partnerships, along with several others— but not each of the individual partners. And because they were intentionally short-run projects, three of these big partnerships appear among the 74 inactive projects we also document in our database.

Politics isn’t the only driver for fact-checkers. Many outlets in our database are concentrating efforts on viral hoaxes and other forms of online misinformation — often in coordination with the big digital platforms on which that misinformation spreads.

We also continue to see new topic-specific fact-checkers such as Metafact in Australia and Health Feedback in France— both of which launched in 2018 to focus on claims about health and medicine for a worldwide audience….(More)”.

EU countries and car manufacturers to share information to improve road safety


Press Release: “EU member states, car manufacturers and navigation systems suppliers will share information on road conditions with the aim of improving road safety. Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, agreed this today with four other EU countries during the ITS European Congress in Eindhoven. These agreements mean that millions of motorists in the Netherlands will have access to more information on unsafe road conditions along their route.

The data on road conditions that is registered by modern cars is steadily improving. For instance, information on iciness, wrong-way drivers and breakdowns in emergency lanes. This kind of data can be instantly shared with road authorities and other vehicles following the same route. Drivers can then adapt their driving behaviour appropriately so that accidents and delays are prevented….

The partnership was announced today at the ITS European Congress, the largest European event in the fields of smart mobility and the digitalisation of transport. Among other things, various demonstrations were given on how sharing this type of data contributes to road safety. In the year ahead, the car manufacturers BMW, Volvo, Ford and Daimler, the EU member states Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain and Luxembourg, and navigation system suppliers TomTom and HERE will be sharing data. This means that millions of motorists across the whole of Europe will receive road safety information in their car. Talks on participating in the partnership are also being conducted with other European countries and companies.

ADAS

At the ITS congress, Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen and several dozen parties today also signed an agreement on raising awareness of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and their safe use. Examples of ADAS include automatic braking systems, and blind spot detection and lane keeping systems. Using these driver assistance systems correctly makes driving a car safer and more sustainable. The agreement therefore also includes the launch of the online platform “slimonderweg.nl” where road users can share information on the benefits and risks of ADAS.
Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen: “Motorists are often unaware of all the capabilities modern cars offer. Yet correctly using driver assistance systems really can increase road safety. From today, dozens of parties are going to start working on raising awareness of ADAS and improving and encouraging the safe use of such systems so that more motorists can benefit from them.”

Connected Transport Corridors

Today at the congress, progress was also made regarding the transport of goods. For example, at the end of this year lorries on three transport corridors in our country will be sharing logistics data. This involves more than just information on environmental zones, availability of parking, recommended speeds and predicted arrival times at terminals. Other new technologies will be used in practice on a large scale, including prioritisation at smart traffic lights and driving in convoy. Preparatory work on the corridors around Amsterdam and Rotterdam and in the southern Netherlands has started…..(More)”.

Come to Finland if you want to glimpse the future of health data!


Jukka Vahti at Sitra: “The Finnish tradition of establishing, maintaining and developing data registers goes back to the 1600s, when parish records were first kept.

When this old custom is combined with the opportunities afforded by digitisation, the positive approach Finns have towards research and technology, and the recently updated legislation enabling the data economy, Finland and the Finnish people can lead the way as Europe gradually, or even suddenly, switches to a fair data economy.

The foundations for a fair data economy already exist

The fair data economy is a natural continuation of the former projects promoting e-services that were undertaken in Finland.

For example, the Data Exchange Layer is already speeding up the transfer of data from one system to another in Finland and in Estonia, the country where the system originated, and a system unique to just these two countries.

In May 2019 Finland also saw the entry into force of the Act on the Secondary Use of Health and Social Data, according to which the information on social welfare and healthcare held in registers may be used for purposes of statistics, research, education, knowledge management, control and supervision conducted by authorities, and development and innovation activity.

The new law will make the work of researchers and service developers more effective, as the business of acquiring a permit will take place through a one-stop-shop principle and it will be possible to use data from more than one source more readily than before….(More)”.

Open Data and the Private Sector


Chapter by Joel Gurin, Carla Bonini and Stefaan Verhulst in State of Open Data: “The open data movement launched a decade ago with a focus on transparency, good governance, and citizen participation. As other chapters in this collection have documented in detail, those critical uses of open data have remained paramount and are continuing to grow in importance at a time of fake news and increased secrecy. But the value of open data extends beyond transparency and accountability – open data is also an important resource for business and economic growth.

The past several years have seen an increased focus on the value of open data to the private sector. In 2012, the Open Data Institute (ODI) was founded in the United Kingdom (UK) and backed with GBP 10 million by the UK government to maximise the value of open data in business and government. A year later, McKinsey released a report suggesting open data could help unlock USD 3 to 5 trillion in economic value annually. At around the same time, Monsanto acquired the Climate Corporation, a digital agriculture company that leverages open data to inform farmers for approximately USD 1.1 billion. In 2014, the GovLab launched the Open Data 500,2the first national study of businesses using open government data (now in six countries), and, in 2015, Open Data for Development (OD4D) launched the Open Data Impact Map, which today contains more than 1 100 examples of private sector companies using open data. The potential business applications of open data continue to be a priority for many governments around the world as they plan and develop their data programmes.

The use of open data has become part of the broader business practice of using data and data science to inform business decisions, ranging from launching new products and services to optimising processes and outsmarting the competition. In this chapter, we take stock of the state of open data and the private sector by analysing how the private sector both leverages and contributes to the open data ecosystem….(More)”.