Why the Global South should nationalise its data


Ulises Ali Mejias at AlJazeera: “The recent coup in Bolivia reminds us that poor countries rich in resources continue to be plagued by the legacy of colonialism. Anything that stands in the way of a foreign corporation’s ability to extract cheap resources must be removed.

Today, apart from minerals and fossil fuels, corporations are after another precious resource: Personal data. As with natural resources, data too has become the target of extractive corporate practices.

As sociologist Nick Couldry and I argue in our book, The Costs of Connection: How Data is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating It for Capitalism, there is a new form of colonialism emerging in the world: data colonialism. By this, we mean a new resource-grab whereby human life itself has become a direct input into economic production in the form of extracted data.

We acknowledge that this term is controversial, given the extreme physical violence and structures of racism that historical colonialism employed. However, our point is not to say that data colonialism is the same as historical colonialism, but rather to suggest that it shares the same core function: extraction, exploitation, and dispossession.

Like classical colonialism, data colonialism violently reconfigures human relations to economic production. Things like land, water, and other natural resources were valued by native people in the precolonial era, but not in the same way that colonisers (and later, capitalists) came to value them: as private property. Likewise, we are experiencing a situation in which things that were once primarily outside the economic realm – things like our most intimate social interactions with friends and family, or our medical records – have now been commodified and made part of an economic cycle of data extraction that benefits a few corporations.

So what could countries in the Global South do to avoid the dangers of data colonialism?…(More)”.

Data Protection in the Humanitarian Sector – A Blockchain Approach


Report by Andrej Verity and Irene Solaiman: “Data collection and storage are becoming increasingly digital. In the humanitarian sector, data motivates action, informing organizations who then determine priorities and resource allocation in crises.

“Humanitarians are dependent on technology and on the Internet. When life-saving aid isn’t delivered on time and to the right beneficiaries, people can die.” -Brookings

In the age of information and cyber warfare, humanitarian organizations must take measures to protect civilians, especially those in critical and vulnerable positions.

“Data privacy and ensuring protection from harm, including the provision of data security, are therefore fundamentally linked—and neither can be realized without the other.” -The Signal Code

Information in the wrong hands can risk lives or even force aid organizations to shut down. For example, in 2009, Sudan expelled over a dozen international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that were deemed key to maintaining a lifeline to 4.7 million people in western Darfur. The expulsion occurred after the Sudanese Government collected Internet-accessible information that made leadership fear international criminal charges. Responsible data protection is a crucial component of cybersecurity. As technology develops, so do threats and data vulnerabilities. Emerging technologies such as blockchain provide further security to sensitive information and overall data storage. Still, with new technologies come considerations for implementation…(More)”.

What are hidden data treasuries and how can they help development outcomes?


Blogpost by Damien Jacques et al: “Cashew nuts in Burkina Faso can be seen growing from space. Such is the power of satellite technology, it’s now possible to observe the changing colors of fields as crops slowly ripen.

This matters because it can be used as an early warning of crop failure and food crisis – giving governments and aid agencies more time to organize a response.

Our team built an exhaustive crop type and yield estimation map in Burkina Faso, using artificial intelligence and satellite images from the European Space Agency. 

But building the map would not have been possible without a data set that GIZ, the German government’s international development agency, had collected for one purpose on the ground some years before – and never looked at again.

At Dalberg, we call this a “hidden data treasury” and it has huge potential to be used for good. 

Unlocking data potential

In the records of the GIZ Data Lab, the GPS coordinates and crop yield measurements of just a few hundred cashew fields were sitting dormant.

They’d been collected in 2015 to assess the impact of a program to train farmers. But through the power of machine learning, that data set has been given a new purpose.

Using Dalberg Data Insights’ AIDA platform, our team trained algorithms to analyze satellite images for cashew crops, track the crops’ color as they ripen, and from there, estimate yields for the area covered by the data.

From this, it’s now possible to predict crop failures for thousands of fields.

We believe this “recycling” of old data, when paired with artificial intelligence, can help to bridge the data gaps in low-income countries and meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals….(More)”.

How randomised trials became big in development economics


Seán Mfundza Muller, Grieve Chelwa, and Nimi Hoffmann at the Conversation: “…One view of the challenge of development is that it is fundamentally about answering causal questions. If a country adopts a particular policy, will that cause an increase in economic growth, a reduction in poverty or some other improvement in the well-being of citizens?

In recent decades economists have been concerned about the reliability of previously used methods for identifying causal relationships. In addition to those methodological concerns, some have argued that “grand theories of development” are either incorrect or at least have failed to yield meaningful improvements in many developing countries.

Two notable examples are the idea that developing countries may be caught in a poverty trap that requires a “big push” to escape and the view that institutions are key for growth and development.

These concerns about methods and policies provided a fertile ground for randomised experiments in development economics. The surge of interest in experimental approaches in economics began in the early 1990s. Researchers began to use “natural experiments”, where for example random variation was part of a policy rather than decided by a researcher, to look at causation.

But it really gathered momentum in the 2000s, with researchers such as the Nobel awardees designing and implementing experiments to study a wide range of microeconomic questions.

Randomised trials

Proponents of these methods argued that a focus on “small” problems was more likely to succeed. They also argued that randomised experiments would bring credibility to economic analysis by providing a simple solution to causal questions.

These experiments randomly allocate a treatment to some members of a group and compare the outcomes against the other members who did not receive treatment. For example, to test whether providing credit helps to grow small firms or increase their likelihood of success, a researcher might partner with a financial institution and randomly allocate credit to applicants that meet certain basic requirements. Then a year later the researcher would compare changes in sales or employment in small firms that received the credit to those that did not.

Randomised trials are not a new research method. They are best known for their use in testing new medicines. The first medical experiment to use controlled randomisation occurred in the aftermath of the second world war. The British government used it to assess the effectiveness of a drug for tuberculosis treatment.

In the early 20th century and mid-20th century American researchers had used experiments like this to examine the effects of various social policies. Examples included income protection and social housing.

The introduction of these methods into development economics also followed an increase in their use in other areas of economics. One example was the study of labour markets.

Randomised control trials in economics are now mostly used to evaluate the impact of social policy interventions in poor and middle-income countries. Work by the 2019 Nobel awardees – Michael Kremer, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo – includes experiments in Kenya and India on teacher attendancetextbook provisionmonitoring of nurse attendance and the provision of microcredit.

The popularity, among academics and policymakers, of the approach is not only due to its seeming ability to solve methodological and policy concerns. It is also due to very deliberate, well-funded advocacy by its proponents….(More)”.

Facial recognition needs a wider policy debate


Editorial Team of the Financial Times: “In his dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell warned of a future under the ever vigilant gaze of Big Brother. Developments in surveillance technology, in particular facial recognition, mean the prospect is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

In China, the government was this year found to have used facial recognition to track the Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority. In Hong Kong, protesters took down smart lamp posts for fear of their actions being monitored by the authorities. In London, the consortium behind the King’s Cross development was forced to halt the use of two cameras with facial recognition capabilities after regulators intervened. All over the world, companies are pouring money into the technology.

At the same time, governments and law enforcement agencies of all hues are proving willing buyers of a technology that is still evolving — and doing so despite concerns over the erosion of people’s privacy and human rights in the digital age. Flaws in the technology have, in certain cases, led to inaccuracies, in particular when identifying women and minorities.

The news this week that Chinese companies are shaping new standards at the UN is the latest sign that it is time for a wider policy debate. Documents seen by this newspaper revealed Chinese companies have proposed new international standards at the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, a Geneva-based organisation of industry and official representatives, for things such as facial recognition. Setting standards for what is a revolutionary technology — one recently described as the “plutonium of artificial intelligence” — before a wider debate about its merits and what limits should be imposed on its use, can only lead to unintended consequences. Crucially, standards ratified in the ITU are commonly adopted as policy by developing nations in Africa and elsewhere — regions where China has long wanted to expand its influence. A case in point is Zimbabwe, where the government has partnered with Chinese facial recognition company CloudWalk Technology. The investment, part of Beijing’s Belt and Road investment in the country, will see CloudWalk technology monitor major transport hubs. It will give the Chinese company access to valuable data on African faces, helping to improve the accuracy of its algorithms….

Progress is needed on regulation. Proposals by the European Commission for laws to give EU citizens explicit rights over the use of their facial recognition data as part of a wider overhaul of regulation governing artificial intelligence are welcome. The move would bolster citizens’ protection above existing restrictions laid out under its general data protection regulation. Above all, policymakers should be mindful that if the technology’s unrestrained rollout continues, it could hold implications for other, potentially more insidious, innovations. Western governments should step up to the mark — or risk having control of the technology’s future direction taken from them….(More)”.

The Digital Roadmap


Report by the Pathway for Prosperity Commission: “The Digital Roadmap presents an overarching vision for a globally connected world that both delivers on the opportunities presented by technology, and limits downside risks. Importantly, it also sets out how this vision can be achieved.

Craft a digital compact for inclusive development

Embracing country-wide digital change will be disruptive. Navigating it requires coordinated action. Reconfiguring an economy will result in some resistance. The best way to achieve buy-in, and to balance trade-offs, is through dialogue: the private sector and civil society in its broadest sense (including community leaders, academia, trade unions, NGOs, and faith groups). The political economy of upheaval is difficult, but change can be managed with discussions that are inclusive of multiple groups. These dialogues should result in a national digital compact: a shared vision of the future to which everyone commits. The Pathways Commission has supported three countries – Ethiopia, Mongolia and South Africa – as they each developed country-wide digital strategies, using the Digital Economy Kit.

Put people at the centre of the digital future

Rapid technological affects peoples’ lives.Failure to put people at the centre of social and economic change can lead to social unrest. The pace and intensity of change means it’s all the more important that people are at the centre of the digital future – not the technology. This requires equipping people to benefit from opportunities, while also protecting them from the potential harms of the digital age. Governments should take responsibility for ensuring that vocational education is truly useful for workers and for business in the digital age. The private sector needs to be involved in keeping curricula up to date.

Build the digital essentials

Digital products and services cannot be created in a vacuum – essential components need to be in place: physical infrastructure, foundational digital systems (such as digital identification and mobile money), and capital to invest in innovation. These are the basic ingredients needed for existing firms to adopt more productive technologies, and for digital entrepreneurs to build and innovate. Having reliable infrastructure and interoperable systems means that firms and service providers can focus on their core business, without having to build an enabling environment from scratch.

Reach everyone with digital technologies

If technology is to be a force for development for everyone, it must reach everyone.Just over half of the world’s population is connected to a digital life; for the rest, digital opportunities don’t mean much. Without digital connections, people can’t participate in digital work platforms, benefit from new technologies in education, or engage with government services online. Women, people with lower levels of education, and people in poverty are usually those who lack digital access. Reaching everyone requires looking beyond current business models. The private sector needs to design for inclusion, ensuring the poorest and most marginalised consumers, to ensure they are not left even further behind.

Govern technology for the future

The unprecedented pace of change and emergence of new risks in the digital era (such as algorithmic bias, cybersecurity, and threats to privacy) are creating headaches for even the most well-resourced countries. For developing countries, the challenges are even bigger. Digital technologies fundamentally shape what people do and how they do it: freelancers may face algorithms that determine chances to get hired. Banks might face a financial system with heightened risk from new, non-bank deposit holders. These issues, and many others, require new and adaptive approaches to decision-making. Emerging global norms will need to consider the needs of developing countries….(More)”.

Government at a Glance 2019


OECD Report: “Government at a Glance provides reliable, internationally comparative data on government activities and their results in OECD countries. Where possible, it also reports data for Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and South Africa. In many public governance areas, it is the only available source of data. It includes input, process, output and outcome indicators as well as contextual information for each country.

The 2019 edition includes input indicators on public finance and employment; while processes include data on institutions, budgeting practices and procedures, human resources management, regulatory government, public procurement and digital government and open data. Outcomes cover core government results (e.g. trust, inequality reduction) and indicators on access, responsiveness, quality and citizen satisfaction for the education, health and justice sectors.

Governance indicators are especially useful for monitoring and benchmarking governments’ progress in their public sector reforms.Each indicator in the publication is presented in a user-friendly format, consisting of graphs and/or charts illustrating variations across countries and over time, brief descriptive analyses highlighting the major findings conveyed by the data, and a methodological section on the definition of the indicator and any limitations in data comparability….(More)”.

Kenya passes data protection law crucial for tech investments


George Obulutsa and Duncan Miriri at Reuters: “Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday approved a data protection law which complies with European Union legal standards as it looks to bolster investment in its information technology sector.

The East African nation has attracted foreign firms with innovations such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money services, but the lack of safeguards in handling personal data has held it back from its full potential, officials say.

“Kenya has joined the global community in terms of data protection standards,” Joe Mucheru, minister for information, technology and communication, told Reuters.

The new law sets out restrictions on how personally identifiable data obtained by firms and government entities can be handled, stored and shared, the government said.

Mucheru said it complies with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation which came into effect in May 2018 and said an independent office will investigate data infringements….

A lack of data protection legislation has also hampered the government’s efforts to digitize identity records for citizens.

The registration, which the government said would boost its provision of services, suffered a setback this year when the exercise was challenged in court.

“The lack of a data privacy law has been an enormous lacuna in Kenya’s digital rights landscape,” said Nanjala Nyabola, author of a book on information technology and democracy in Kenya….(More)”.

Voting could be the problem with democracy


Bernd Reiter at The Conversation: “Around the globe, citizens of many democracies are worried that their governments are not doing what the people want.

When voters pick representatives to engage in democracy, they hope they are picking people who will understand and respond to constituents’ needs. U.S. representatives have, on average, more than 700,000 constituents each, making this task more and more elusive, even with the best of intentions. Less than 40% of Americans are satisfied with their federal government.

Across Europe, South America, the Middle East and China, social movements have demanded better government – but gotten few real and lasting results, even in those places where governments were forced out.

In my work as a comparative political scientist working on democracy, citizenship and race, I’ve been researching democratic innovations in the past and present. In my new book, “The Crisis of Liberal Democracy and the Path Ahead: Alternatives to Political Representation and Capitalism,” I explore the idea that the problem might actually be democratic elections themselves.

My research shows that another approach – randomly selecting citizens to take turns governing – offers the promise of reinvigorating struggling democracies. That could make them more responsive to citizen needs and preferences, and less vulnerable to outside manipulation….

For local affairs, citizens can participate directly in local decisions. In Vermont, the first Tuesday of March is Town Meeting Day, a public holiday during which residents gather at town halls to debate and discuss any issue they wish.

In some Swiss cantons, townspeople meet once a year, in what are called Landsgemeinden, to elect public officials and discuss the budget.

For more than 30 years, communities around the world have involved average citizens in decisions about how to spend public money in a process called “participatory budgeting,” which involves public meetings and the participation of neighborhood associations. As many as 7,000 towns and cities allocate at least some of their money this way.

The Governance Lab, based at New York University, has taken crowd-sourcing to cities seeking creative solutions to some of their most pressing problems in a process best called “crowd-problem solving.” Rather than leaving problems to a handful of bureaucrats and experts, all the inhabitants of a community can participate in brainstorming ideas and selecting workable possibilities.

Digital technology makes it easier for larger groups of people to inform themselves about, and participate in, potential solutions to public problems. In the Polish harbor city of Gdansk, for instance, citizens were able to help choose ways to reduce the harm caused by flooding….(More)”.

A Constitutional Right to Public Information


Paper by Chad G. Marzen: “In the wake of the 2013 United States Supreme Court decision of McBurney v. Young (569 U.S. 221), this Article calls for policymakers at the federal and state levels to ensure governmental records remain open and accessible to the public. It urges policymakers to call not only for strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act and the various state public records law, but to pursue an amendment to the United States Constitution providing a right to public information.

This Article proposes a draft of such an amendment:

The right to public information, being a necessary and vital part of democracy, shall be a fundamental right of the people. The right of the people to inspect and/or copy records of government, and to be provided notice of and attend public meetings of government, shall not unreasonably be restricted.

This Article analyzes the benefits of the amendment and concludes the enshrining of the right to public information in both the United States Constitution as well as various state constitutions will ensure greater access of public records and documents to the general public, consistent with the democratic value of open, transparent government….(More)”.