Digital dystopia: how algorithms punish the poor


Ed Pilkington at The Guardian: “All around the world, from small-town Illinois in the US to Rochdale in England, from Perth, Australia, to Dumka in northern India, a revolution is under way in how governments treat the poor.

You can’t see it happening, and may have heard nothing about it. It’s being planned by engineers and coders behind closed doors, in secure government locations far from public view.

Only mathematicians and computer scientists fully understand the sea change, powered as it is by artificial intelligence (AI), predictive algorithms, risk modeling and biometrics. But if you are one of the millions of vulnerable people at the receiving end of the radical reshaping of welfare benefits, you know it is real and that its consequences can be serious – even deadly.

The Guardian has spent the past three months investigating how billions are being poured into AI innovations that are explosively recasting how low-income people interact with the state. Together, our reporters in the US, Britain, India and Australia have explored what amounts to the birth of the digital welfare state.

Their dispatches reveal how unemployment benefits, child support, housing and food subsidies and much more are being scrambled online. Vast sums are being spent by governments across the industrialized and developing worlds on automating poverty and in the process, turning the needs of vulnerable citizens into numbers, replacing the judgment of human caseworkers with the cold, bloodless decision-making of machines.

At its most forbidding, Guardian reporters paint a picture of a 21st-century Dickensian dystopia that is taking shape with breakneck speed…(More)”.

Urban Slums in a Datafying Milieu: Challenges for Data-Driven Research Practice


Paper by Bijal Brahmbhatt et al: “With the ongoing trend of urban datafication and growing use of data/evidence to shape developmental initiatives by state as well as non-state actors, this exploratory case study engages with the complex and often contested domains of data use. This study uses on-the-ground experience of working with informal settlements in Indian cities to examine how information value chains work in practice and the contours of their power to intervene in building an agenda of social justice into governance regimes. Using illustrative examples from ongoing action-oriented projects of Mahila Housing Trust in India such as the Energy Audit Project, Slum Mapping Exercise and women-led climate resilience building under the Global Resilience Partnership, it raises questions about challenges of making effective linkages between data, knowledge and action in and for slum communities in the global South by focussing on two issues.

First, it reveals dilemmas of achieving data accuracy when working with slum communities in developing cities where populations are dynamically changing, and where digitisation and use of ICT has limited operational currency. The second issue focuses on data ownership. It foregrounds the need for complementary inputs and the heavy requirement for support systems in informal settlements in order to translate data-driven knowledge into actionable forms. Absence of these will blunt the edge of data-driven community participation in local politics. Through these intersecting streams, the study attempts to address how entanglements between southern urbanism, datafication, governance and social justice diversify the discourse on data justice. It highlights existing hurdles and structural hierarchies within a data-heavy developmental register emergent across multiple cities in the global South where data-driven governmental regimes interact with convoluted urban forms and realities….(More)”.

‘Digital colonialism’: why some countries want to take control of their people’s data from Big Tech


Jacqueline Hicks at the Conversation: “There is a global standoff going on about who stores your data. At the close of June’s G20 summit in Japan, a number of developing countries refused to sign an international declaration on data flows – the so-called Osaka Track. Part of the reason why countries such as India, Indonesia and South Africa boycotted the declaration was because they had no opportunity to put their own interests about data into the document.

With 50 other signatories, the declaration still stands as a statement of future intent to negotiate further, but the boycott represents an ongoing struggle by some countries to assert their claim over the data generated by their own citizens.

Back in the dark ages of 2016, data was touted as the new oil. Although the metaphor was quickly debunked it’s still a helpful way to understand the global digital economy. Now, as international negotiations over data flows intensify, the oil comparison helps explain the economics of what’s called “data localisation” – the bid to keep citizens’ data within their own country.

Just as oil-producing nations pushed for oil refineries to add value to crude oil, so governments today want the world’s Big Tech companies to build data centres on their own soil. The cloud that powers much of the world’s tech industry is grounded in vast data centres located mainly around northern Europe and the US coasts. Yet, at the same time, US Big Tech companies are increasingly turning to markets in the global south for expansion as enormous numbers of young tech savvy populations come online….(More)”.

Digital Media and Wireless Communication in Developing Nations: Agriculture, Education, and the Economic Sector


Book by Megh R. Goyal and Emmanuel Eilu: “… explores how digital media and wireless communication, especially mobile phones and social media platforms, offer concrete opportunities for developing countries to transform different sectors of their economies. The volume focuses on the agricultural, economic, and education sectors. The chapter authors, mostly from Africa and India, provide a wealth of information on recent innovations, the opportunities they provide, challenges faced, and the direction of future research in digital media and wireless communication to leverage transformation in developing countries….(More)”.

How cities can leverage citizen data while protecting privacy


MIT News: “India is on a path with dual — and potentially conflicting — goals related to the use of citizen data.

To improve the efficiency their municipal services, many Indian cities have started enabling government-service requests, which involves collecting and sharing citizen data with government officials and, potentially, the public. But there’s also a national push to protect citizen privacy, potentially restricting data usage. Cities are now beginning to question how much citizen data, if any, they can use to track government operations.

In a new study, MIT researchers find that there is, in fact, a way for Indian cities to preserve citizen privacy while using their data to improve efficiency.

The researchers obtained and analyzed data from more than 380,000 government service requests by citizens across 112 cities in one Indian state for an entire year. They used the dataset to measure each city government’s efficiency based on how quickly they completed each service request. Based on field research in three of these cities, they also identified the citizen data that’s necessary, useful (but not critical), or unnecessary for improving efficiency when delivering the requested service.

In doing so, they identified “model” cities that performed very well in both categories, meaning they maximized privacy and efficiency. Cities worldwide could use similar methodologies to evaluate their own government services, the researchers say. …(More)”.

The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation


Report by Philip Howard and Samantha Bradshaw: “…The report explores the tools, capacities, strategies and resources employed by global ‘cyber troops’, typically government agencies and political parties, to influence public opinion in 70 countries.

Key findings include:

  • Organized social media manipulation has more than doubled since 2017, with 70 countries using computational propaganda to manipulate public opinion.
  • In 45 democracies, politicians and political parties have used computational propaganda tools by amassing fake followers or spreading manipulated media to garner voter support.
  • In 26 authoritarian states, government entities have used computational propaganda as a tool of information control to suppress public opinion and press freedom, discredit criticism and oppositional voices, and drown out political dissent.
  • Foreign influence operations, primarily over Facebook and Twitter, have been attributed to cyber troop activities in seven countries: China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
  • China has now emerged as a major player in the global disinformation order, using social media platforms to target international audiences with disinformation.
  • 25 countries are working with private companies or strategic communications firms offering a computational propaganda as a service.
  • Facebook remains the platform of choice for social media manipulation, with evidence of formally organised campaigns taking place in 56 countries….

The report explores the tools and techniques of computational propaganda, including the use of fake accounts – bots, humans, cyborgs and hacked accounts – to spread disinformation. The report finds:

  • 87% of countries used human accounts
  • 80% of countries used bot accounts
  • 11% of countries used cyborg accounts
  • 7% of countries used hacked or stolen accounts…(More)”.

Index: The Data Universe 2019


By Michelle Winowatan, Andrew J. Zahuranec, Andrew Young, Stefaan Verhulst, Max Jun Kim

The Living Library Index – inspired by the Harper’s Index – provides important statistics and highlights global trends in governance innovation. This installment focuses on the data universe.

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

Internet Traffic:

  • Percentage of the world’s population that uses the internet: 51.2% (3.9 billion people) – 2018
  • Number of search processed worldwide by Google every year: at least 2 trillion – 2016
  • Website traffic worldwide generated through mobile phones: 52.2% – 2018
  • The total number of mobile subscriptions in the first quarter of 2019: 7.9 billion (addition of 44 million in quarter) – 2019
  • Amount of mobile data traffic worldwide: nearly 30 billion GB – 2018
  • Data category with highest traffic worldwide: video (60%) – 2018
  • Global average of data traffic per smartphone per month: 5.6 GB – 2018
    • North America: 7 GB – 2018
    • Latin America: 3.1 GB – 2018
    • Western Europe: 6.7 GB – 2018
    • Central and Eastern Europe: 4.5 GB – 2018
    • North East Asia: 7.1 GB – 2018
    • Southeast Asia and Oceania: 3.6 GB – 2018
    • India, Nepal, and Bhutan: 9.8 GB – 2018
    • Middle East and Africa: 3.0 GB – 2018
  • Time between the creation of each new bitcoin block: 9.27 minutes – 2019

Streaming Services:

  • Total hours of video streamed by Netflix users every minute: 97,222 – 2017
  • Hours of YouTube watched per day: over 1 billion – 2018
  • Number of tracks uploaded to Spotify every day: Over 20,000 – 2019
  • Number of Spotify’s monthly active users: 232 million – 2019
  • Spotify’s total subscribers: 108 million – 2019
  • Spotify’s hours of content listened: 17 billion – 2019
  • Total number of songs on Spotify’s catalog: over 30 million – 2019
  • Apple Music’s total subscribers: 60 million – 2019
  • Total number of songs on Apple Music’s catalog: 45 million – 2019

Social Media:

Calls and Messaging:

Retail/Financial Transaction:

  • Number of packages shipped by Amazon in a year: 5 billion – 2017
  • Total value of payments processed by Venmo in a year: USD 62 billion – 2019
  • Based on an independent analysis of public transactions on Venmo in 2017:
  • Based on a non-representative survey of 2,436 US consumers between the ages of 21 and 72 on P2P platforms:
    • The average volume of transactions handled by Venmo: USD 64.2 billion – 2019
    • The average volume of transactions handled by Zelle: USD 122.0 billion – 2019
    • The average volume of transactions handled by PayPal: USD 141.8 billion – 2019 
    • Platform with the highest percent adoption among all consumers: PayPal (48%) – 2019 

Internet of Things:

Sources:

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)”.

Betting on biometrics to boost child vaccination rates


Ben Parker at The New Humanitarian: “Thousands of children between the ages of one and five are due to be fingerprinted in Bangladesh and Tanzania in the largest biometric scheme of its kind ever attempted, the Geneva-based vaccine agency, Gavi, announced recently.

Although the scheme includes data protection safeguards – and its sponsors are cautious not to promise immediate benefits – it is emerging during a widening debate on data protection, technology ethics, and the risks and benefits of biometric ID in development and humanitarian aid.

Gavi, a global vaccine provider, is teaming up with Japanese and British partners in the venture. It is the first time such a trial has been done on this scale, according to Gavi spokesperson James Fulker.

Being able to track a child’s attendance at vaccination centres, and replace “very unreliable” paper-based records, can help target the 20 million children who are estimated to miss key vaccinations, most in poor or remote communities, Fulker said.

Up to 20,000 children will have their fingerprints taken and linked to their records in existing health projects. That collection effort will be managed by Simprints, a UK-based not-for-profit enterprise specialising in biometric technology in international development, according to Christine Kim, the company’s head of strategic partnerships….

Ethics and legal safeguards

Kim said Simprints would apply data protection standards equivalent to the EU’s General Directive on Privacy Regulation (GDPR), even if national legislation did not demand it. Families could opt out without any penalties, and informed consent would apply to any data gathering. She added that the fieldwork would be approved by national governments, and oversight would also come from institutional review boards at universities in the two countries.

Fulker said Gavi had also commissioned a third-party review to verify Simprints’ data protection and security methods.

For critics of biometrics use in humanitarian settings, however, any such plan raises red flags….

Data protection analysts have long been arguing that gathering digital ID and biometric data carries particular risks for vulnerable groups who face conflict or oppression: their data could be shared or leaked to hostile parties who could use it to target them.

In a recent commentary on biometrics and aid, Linda Raftree told The New Humanitarian that “the greatest burden and risk lies with the most vulnerable, whereas the benefits accrue to [aid] agencies.”

And during a panel discussion on “Digital Do No Harm” held last year in Berlin, humanitarian professionals and data experts discussed a range of threats and unintended consequences of new technologies, noting that they are as yet hard to predict….(More)”.

An open platform centric approach for scalable government service delivery to the poor: The Aadhaar case


Paper by Sandip Mukhopadhyay, Harry Bouwman and Mahadeo PrasadJaiswal: “The efficient delivery of government services to the poor, or Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP), faces many challenges. While a core problem is the lack of scalability, that could be solved by the rapid proliferation of platforms and associated ecosystems. Existing research involving platforms focus on modularity, openness, ecosystem leadership and governance, as well as on their impact on innovation, scale and agility. However, existing studies fail to explore the role of platform in scalable e-government services delivery on an empirical level. Based on an in-depth case study of the world’s largest biometric identity platform, used by millions of the poor in India, we develop a set of propositions connecting the attributes of a digital platform ecosystem to different indicators for the scalability of government service delivery. We found that modular architecture, combined with limited functionality in core modules, and open standards combined with controlled access and ecosystem governance enabled by keystone behaviour, have a positive impact on scalability. The research provides insights to policy-makers and government officials alike, particularly those in nations struggling to provide basic services to poor and marginalised. …(More)”.