Wall Street Journal: “Hedge Funds Are Using FOIA Requests to Obtain Nonpublic Information From Federal Agencies…When SAC Capital Advisors LP was weighing an investment in Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., the hedge-fund firm contacted a source it knew would provide nonpublic information without blinking: the federal government.
An investment manager for an SAC affiliate asked the Food and Drug Administration last December for any “adverse event reports” for Vertex’s recently approved cystic-fibrosis drug. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the agency had to hand over the material, which revealed no major problems. The bill: $72.50, cheaper than the price of two Vertex shares.
SAC and its affiliate, Sigma Capital Management LLC, snapped up 13,500 Vertex shares in the first quarter and options to buy 25,000 more, securities filings indicate. The stock rose that quarter, then surged 62% on a single day in April when Vertex announced positive results from safety tests on a separate cystic-fibrosis drug designed to be used in combination with the first.
Finance professionals have been pulling every lever they can these days to extract information from the government. Many have discovered that the biggest lever of all is the one available to everyone—the Freedom of Information Act—conceived by advocates of open government to shine light on how officials make decisions. FOIA is part of an array of techniques sophisticated investors are using to try to obtain potentially market-moving information about products, legislation, regulation and government economic statistics.
“It’s an information arms race,” says Les Funtleyder, a longtime portfolio manager and now partner at private-equity firm Poliwogg Holdings Inc. “It’s important to try every avenue. If anyone else is doing it, you need to, too.”
A review by The Wall Street Journal of more than 100,000 of the roughly three million FOIA requests filed over the past five years, including all of those sent to the FDA, shows that investors use the process to troll for all kinds of information. They ask the Environmental Protection Agency about pollution regulations, the Department of Energy about grants for energy-efficient vehicles, and the Securities and Exchange Commission about whether publicly held companies are under investigation. Such requests are perfectly legal.”
See also “Making FOIA More Free and Open” (Joel Gurin)
“In this report, Drs. Lael Keiser and Susan Miller examine the critical role of non-governmental outreach organizations in assisting government agencies to determine benefit eligibility of citizens applying for services. Many non-profits and other organizations help low-income applicants apply for Social Security, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps).
Some outreach organizations help veterans navigate the complexity of the veterans disability benefits program. These organizations include the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, as well as state government-run veterans agencies. Drs. Keiser and Miller interviewed dozens of managers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and outreach organizations about their interactions in helping veterans. They found “there is indeed effective collaboration” and that these organizations serve a key role for veterans in processing their claims. These organizations also help lighten the workload of VA benefit examiners by ensuring the paperwork is in order in advance, as well as serving as a communications conduit.
Drs. Keiser and Miller found variations in the effectiveness of the relationships between VA and outreach organization staffs and identified best practices for increasing effectiveness. These lessons can be applied to other agencies that interactive frequently with outreach organizations that assist citizens in navigating the complexity of applying for various government benefit programs. Listen to the interview on Federal News Radio.”
Phys.org: “What does your Twitter profile reveal about you? More than you know, according to Chris Weidemann. The GIST master’s student has developed an application that follows geospatial footprints.
You start your day at your favorite breakfast spot. When your order of strawberry waffles with extra whipped cream arrives, it’s too delectable not to share with your Twitter followers. You snap a photo with your smartphone and hit send. Then, it’s time to hit the books.
You tweet your friends that you’ll be at the library on campus. Later that day, palm trees silhouette a neon-pink sunset. You can’t resist. You tweet a picture with the hashtag #ILoveLA.
You may not realize that when you tweet those breezy updates and photos of food, you are sharing information about your location.
Chris Weidemann, a graduate student in the Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIST) online master’s program at USC Dornsife, investigated just how much public geospatial data was generated by Twitter users and how their information—available through Twitter’s application programming interface (API)—could potentially be used by third parties. His study was published June 2013 in the International Journal of Geoinformatics…
Twitter has approximately 500 million active users, and reports show that 6 percent of users opt-in to allow the platform to broadcast their location using global positioning technology with each tweet they post. That’s about 30 million people sending geo-tagged data out into the Twitterverse. In their tweets, people can choose whether their information is displayed as a city and state, an address or pinpoint their precise latitude and longitude.
That’s only part of their geospatial footprint. Information contained in a post may reveal a user’s location. Depending upon how the account is set up, profiles may include details about their hometown, time zone and language.”
Julius Genachowski in Forbes: “What’s going on here? In cities and states across the country, two forces are engaged in battles with major consequences for the future of the Internet and the U.S. innovation economy.
The first force is new ventures harnessing technology—particularly the Internet and mobile—to challenge incumbents in a growing number of industries: From hotels (Airbnb) to rental cars (ZipCar, RelayRides, Car2Go) to taxis (SideCar, Lyft, Uber) to car dealerships (Tesla) to parking lots (Parking Panda) to textbooks (Chegg) to lending and fundraising (Lending Club, Kickstarter) to restaurants (food trucks) to boating (Boatband, GetMyBoat) to errand running services (TaskRabbit) to Internet service (Chattanooga, TN; Lafayette, LA; Google Fiber).
Many of these ventures are part of the new “sharing economy.” ….
The second force in these battles is city and state governments, which typically have long and deep relationships with established industries. Not surprisingly, and acting rationally from their perspective, existing businesses have been lobbying state and local officials to restrict new entrants.
And across the country, new laws are being proposed and enacted—and existing but out-of-date laws are being enforced—to protect incumbents from new Internet- and mobile-based competitors….
There are lessons here for the current battles in city halls and state houses. We suggest four simple principles for every state and local official considering regulatory decisions affecting the sharing economy and other disruptive Internet- and mobile-based businesses:
Stand with innovation. The benefits of innovation can be hard to appreciate fully early on, but we know from our history that innovation drives consumer benefits and economic growth. Give innovative new services the benefit of the doubt. And where there are issues to address, take a tailored, technology-neutral approach.
Focus on consumers. Consider the full range of benefits new services provide consumers. Most innovators and their investors are putting up their time and money because they see a gap in the market—ways in which consumers are not fully served by existing businesses. The results of a fair-minded consumer-focused analysis might be different than some first instincts. For example, Airbnb and Uber provide insurance to protect consumers; grey-market home stays and unlicensed livery cabs may not. Weigh the benefits of moving grey-market activities out of the shadows.
Keep an open mind. Spend the time to understand new businesses and new technologies, including by speaking with new service providers and their users. Don’t just rely on opponents’ characterizations.
Use the service. Before deciding to regulate an innovative service, public officials should use the service. Because they’re new, innovative services can be hard to fully appreciate without experiencing them—and using them will provide hands-on insights on their benefits as well as tailored ways to address any issues. At the FCC we launched a Technology Experience Center so that agency staff could use cutting-edge communications devices and services potentially affected by agency rules.
Innovation is a core competitive advantage for the U.S. and a primary driver of economic growth and job creation across the country. In today’s fast-moving global economy, capital and talent can flow anywhere. Pro-innovation policies are critical to growing jobs and investment in U.S. cities.”
Mashable: “We reached out to a few organizations using information, both hand- and algorithm-collected, to create helpful tools for their communities. This is only a small sample of what’s out there — plenty more pop up each day, and as more information becomes public, the trend will only grow….
1. Transit Time NYC
Transit Time NYC, an interactive map developed by WNYC, lets New Yorkers click a spot in any of the city’s five boroughs for an estimate of subway or train travel times. To create it, WNYC lead developer Steve Melendez broke the city into 2,930 hexagons, then pulled data from open source itinerary platform OpenTripPlanner — the Wikipedia of mapping software — and coupled it with the MTA’s publicly downloadable subway schedule….
2. Twitter’s ‘Topography of Tweets
In a blog post, Twitter unveiled a new data visualization map that displays billions of geotagged tweets in a 3D landscape format. The purpose is to display, topographically, which parts of certain cities most people are tweeting from…
3. Homicide Watch D.C.
Homicide Watch D.C. is a community-driven data site that aims to cover every murder in the District of Columbia. It’s sorted by “suspect” and “victim” profiles, where it breaks down each person’s name, age, gender and race, as well as original articles reported by Homicide Watch staff…
4. Falling Fruit Can you find a hidden apple tree along your daily bike commute? Falling Fruit can.
The website highlights overlooked or hidden edibles in urban areas across the world. By collecting public information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, municipal tree inventories, foraging maps and street tree databases, the site has created a network of 615 types of edibles in more than 570,000 locations. The purpose is to remind urban dwellers that agriculture does exist within city boundaries — it’s just more difficult to find….
AIDSVu is an interactive map that illustrates the prevalence of HIV in the United States. The data is pulled from the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s national HIV surveillance reports, which are collected at both state and county levels each year…”
Springwise: “The power of the visual sharing that makes platforms such as Instagram so popular has been harnessed by retailers like Ask CT Food to share knowledge about cooking, but could the same be done for the medical world? Figure1 enables health professionals to upload and share photos of conditions, creating online discussion as well as crowdsourcing a database of reference images.
Developed by healthcare tech startup Movable Science, the platform is designed in a similar vein to Instagram and enables medical professionals to create their own feed of images from the cases they deal with. In order to protect patients’ identities, the app uses facial recognition to block out faces, while users can add their own marks to cover up other indentifiable marks. They can also add pointers and annotations, as well as choosing who sees it, before uploading the image. Photos can be tagged with relevant terms to allow the community to easily find them through search and others can comment on the images, fostering discussion among users. Images can also be starred, which acts simultaneously as an indication of quality as well as enabling users to save useful images for later reference. …
Although Instagram was developed with the broad purpose of entertainment and social sharing, Figure1 has tweaked the platform’s functions to provide a tool that could help doctors and students share their knowledge and learn from others in an engaging way…”
Patrick Meier at iRevolution: “A unique and detailed survey funded by the Rockefeller Foundation confirms the important role that social and community bonds play vis-à-vis disaster resilience. The new study, which focuses on resilience and social capital in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, reveals how disaster-affected communities self-organized, “with reports of many people sharing access to power, food and water, and providing shelter.” This mutual aid was primarily coordinated face-to-face. This may not always be possible, however. So the “Share Economy” can also play an important role in coordinating self-help during disasters…. In a share economy, “asset owners use digital clearinghouses to capitalize the unused capacity of things they already have, and consumers rent from their peers rather than rent or buy from a company”. During disasters, these asset owners can use the same digital clearinghouses to offer what they have at no cost. For example, over 1,400 kindhearted New Yorkers offered free housing to people heavily affected by the hurricane. They did this using AirBnB, as shown in the short video above. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the City of San Francisco has just lunched a partnership with BayShare, a sharing economy advocacy group in the Bay Area. The partnership’s goal is to “harness the power of sharing to ensure the best response to future disasters in San Francisco”
Editorial of NewScientist: “OUR world is written in code. These days, almost anything electrical or mechanical requires many thousands of lines of code to work. Consider a modern car: you could argue that from the driver’s perspective, it’s now a computer that gives you control over an engine, drivetrain and wheels. And with cars beginning to drive themselves, the code will soon be in even more control.
But who controls the code? Those who write the programs behind the machines have become hugely lionised. Silicon Valley courts software developers with huge salaries and copious stock options, throwing in perks ranging from gourmet food to free haircuts. The rest of us can only look on, excluded by esoteric arguments about the merits of rival programming techniques and languages. Like the clerics who once controlled written language, programmers have a vested interest in keeping the status quo…”
USDA News Release: “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, along with Bill Gates, and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, today kicked off a two-day international open data conference, saying that data “is among the most important commodities in agriculture” and sharing it openly increases its value.
Secretary Vilsack, as head of the U.S. Government delegation to the conference, announced the launch of a new “virtual community” as part of a suite of actions, including the release of new data, that the United States is taking to give farmers and ranchers, scientists, policy makers and other members of the public easy access to publicly funded data to help increase food security and nutrition.
“The digital revolution fueled by open data is starting to do for the modern world of agriculture what the industrial revolution did for agricultural productivity over the past century,” said Vilsack. “Open access to data will help combat food insecurity today while laying the groundwork for a sustainable agricultural system to feed a population that is projected to be more than nine billion by 2050.”
The virtual Food, Agriculture, and Rural data community launched today on Data.gov-the U.S. Government’s data sharing website-to catalogue America’s publicly available agricultural data and increase the ability of the public to find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the Federal Government. The data community features a collection of more than 300 newly cataloged datasets, databases, and raw data sources related to food, agriculture, and rural issues from agencies across the U.S. Government. In addition to the data catalog, the virtual community shares a number of applications, maps and tools designed to help farmers, scientists and policymakers improve global food security and nutrition….
The conference and the U.S. actions supporting open agricultural data fulfill the Open Data for Agriculture commitment made as part of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which was launched by President Obama and G-8 partners at the 2012 G-8 Leaders Summit last year at Camp David, Maryland.”
G-8 Open Data for Agriculture Conference Aims to Help Feed a Growing Population and Fulfill New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition Commitment
Secretary Vilsack Announces Launch of a Virtual Community to Give Increased Public Access to Food, Agriculture, and Rural Data
From the The Physics arXiv Blog: “The way we view online recipes reveals how our eating habits change over time, say computational sociologists….it’s no surprise that computational sociologists have begun to mine the data associated with our browsing habits to discover more about our diets and eating habits. Last year we looked at some fascinating work examining networks of ingredients and the flavours they contain, gathered from online recipe websites. It turns out this approach gives fascinating insights into the way recipes vary geographically and into the possibility of unexplored combinations of flavours.
Today, Robert West at Stanford University and Ryen White and Eric Horvitz from Microsoft Research in Redmond, take a deeper look at the electronic trails we leave when we hunt for food on the web. They say the data reveals important trends in the way our diets change with the season, with our geographical location and with certain special days such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. And they conclude that the data could become an important tool for monitoring public health.”
See also : arxiv.org/abs/1304.3742: From Cookies to Cooks: Insights on Dietary Patterns via Analysis of Web Usage Logs