Americans’ views about privacy, surveillance and data-sharing


Pew Research Center: “In key ways, today’s digitally networked society runs on quid pro quos: People exchange details about themselves and their activities for services and products on the web or apps. Many are willing to accept the deals they are offered in return for sharing insight about their purchases, behaviors and social lives. At times, their personal information is collected by government on the grounds that there are benefits to public safety and security.

A majority of Americans are concerned about this collection and use of their data, according to a new report from Pew Research Center….

Americans vary in their attitudes toward data-sharing in the pursuit of public good. Though many Americans don’t think they benefit much from the collection of their data, and they find that the potential risks of this practice outweigh the benefits, there are some scenarios in which the public is more likely to accept the idea of data-sharing. In line with findings in a 2015 Center survey showing that some Americans are comfortable with trade-offs in sharing data, about half of U.S. adults (49%) say it is acceptable for the government to collect data about all Americans in order to assess potential terrorist threats. That compares with 31% who feel it is unacceptable to collect data about all Americans for that purpose. By contrast, just one-quarter say it is acceptable for smart speaker makers to share users’ audio recordings with law enforcement to help with criminal investigations, versus 49% who find that unacceptable….(More)”.

Decision-making in the Age of the Algorithm


Paper by Thea Snow: “Frontline practitioners in the public sector – from social workers to police to custody officers – make important decisions every day about people’s lives. Operating in the context of a sector grappling with how to manage rising demand, coupled with diminishing resources, frontline practitioners are being asked to make very important decisions quickly and with limited information. To do this, public sector organisations are turning to new technologies to support decision-making, in particular, predictive analytics tools, which use machine learning algorithms to discover patterns in data and make predictions.

While many guides exist around ethical AI design, there is little guidance on how to support a productive human-machine interaction in relation to AI. This report aims to fill this gap by focusing on the issue of human-machine interaction. How people are working with tools is significant because, simply put, for predictive analytics tools to be effective, frontline practitioners need to use them well. It encourages public sector organisations to think about how people feel about predictive analytics tools – what they’re fearful of, what they’re excited about, what they don’t understand.

Based on insights drawn from an extensive literature review, interviews with frontline practitioners, and discussions with experts across a range of fields, the guide also identifies three key principles that play a significant role in supporting a constructive human-machine relationship: context, understanding, and agency….(More)”.

Data as oil, infrastructure or asset? Three metaphors of data as economic value


Jan Michael Nolin at the Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society: “Principled discussions on the economic value of data are frequently pursued through metaphors. This study aims to explore three influential metaphors for talking about the economic value of data: data are the new oil, data as infrastructure and data as an asset.

With the help of conceptual metaphor theory, various meanings surrounding the three metaphors are explored. Meanings clarified or hidden through various metaphors are identified. Specific emphasis is placed on the economic value of ownership of data.

In discussions on data as economic resource, the three different metaphors are used for separate purposes. The most used metaphor, data are the new oil, communicates that ownership of data could lead to great wealth. However, with data as infrastructure data have no intrinsic value. Therefore, profits generated from data resources belong to those processing the data, not those owning it. The data as an asset metaphor can be used to convince organizational leadership that they own data of great value….(More)”.

Study says ‘specific’ weather forecasts can’t be made more than 10 days in advance


Matthew Cappucci at the Washington Post: “Imagine someone telling you the weather forecast for New Year’s Day today, two months in advance, with exact temperature bounds and rainfall to a hundredth of an inch. Sounds too good to be true, yes?

A new study in Science says it’s simply not possible. But just how far can we take a day-by-day forecast?

The practical limit to daily forecasting

“A skillful forecast lead time of midlatitude instantaneous weather is around 10 days, which serves as the practical predictability limit,” according to a study published in April in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences.

Those limits aren’t likely to change much anytime soon. Even if scientists had the data they needed and a more perfect understanding of all forecasting’s complexities, skillful forecasts could extend out to about 14 or 15 days only, the 2019 study found, because of the chaotic nature of the atmosphere.

“Two weeks is about right. It’s as close to be the ultimate limit as we can demonstrate,” the study’s lead author told Science Magazine.

The American Meteorological Society agrees. Their statement on the limits of prediction, in place since 2015, states that “presently, forecasts of daily or specific weather conditions do not exhibit useful skill beyond eight days, meaning that their accuracy is low.”


Although the American Meteorological Society strongly advises against issuing specific forecasts beyond eight days, popular weather vendor AccuWeather has, for years, churned out detailed predictions many days further into the future. It initiated 45-day forecasts in 2013, which it extended to 90 days in 2016 — and has been heavily criticized for it….(More)”.

Big Data, Big Impact? Towards Gender-Sensitive Data Systems


Report by Data2X: “How can insights drawn from big data sources improve understanding about the lives of women and girls?

This question has underpinned Data2X’s groundbreaking work at the intersection of big data and gender — work that funded ten research projects that examined the potential of big data to fill the global gender data gap.

Big Data, Big Impact? Towards Gender-Sensitive Data Systems summarizes the findings and potential policy implications of the Big Data for Gender pilot projects funded by Data2X, and lays out five cross-cutting messages that emerge from this body of work:

  1. Big data offers unique insights on women and girls.
  2. Gender-sensitive big data is ready to scale and integrate with traditional data.
  3. Identify and correct bias in big datasets.
  4. Protect the privacy of women and girls.
  5. Women and girls must be central to data governance.

This report argues that the time for pilot projects has passed. Data privacy concerns must be addressed; investment in scale up is needed. Big data offers great potential for women and girls, and indeed for all people….(More)”.

Google’s ‘Project Nightingale’ Gathers Personal Health Data on Millions of Americans


Rob Copeland at Wall Street Journal: “Google is engaged with one of the U.S.’s largest health-care systems on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states.

The initiative, code-named “Project Nightingale,” appears to be the biggest effort yet by a Silicon Valley giant to gain a toehold in the health-care industry through the handling of patients’ medical data. Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc.  and Microsoft Corp. are also aggressively pushing into health care, though they haven’t yet struck deals of this scope.

Google began Project Nightingale in secret last year with St. Louis-based Ascension, a Catholic chain of 2,600 hospitals, doctors’ offices and other facilities, with the data sharing accelerating since summer, according to internal documents.

The data involved in the initiative encompasses lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete health history, including patient names and dates of birth….

Neither patients nor doctors have been notified. At least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients, according to a person familiar with the matter and the documents.

In a news release issued after The Wall Street Journal reported on Project Nightingale on Monday, the companies said the initiative is compliant with federal health law and includes robust protections for patient data….(More)”.

Angela Merkel urges EU to seize control of data from US tech titans


Guy Chazan at the Financial Times: “Angela Merkel has urged Europe to seize control of its data from Silicon Valley tech giants, in an intervention that highlights the EU’s growing willingness to challenge the US dominance of the digital economy.

The German chancellor said the EU should claim “digital sovereignty” by developing its own platform to manage data and reduce its reliance on the US-based cloud services run by Amazon, Microsoft and Google. “So many companies have just outsourced all their data to US companies,” Ms Merkel told German business leaders. “I’m not saying that’s bad in and of itself — I just mean that the value-added products that come out of that, with the help of artificial intelligence, will create dependencies that I’m not sure are a good thing.”

Her speech, at an employers’ conference in Berlin, shows the extent to which the information economy is emerging as a battleground in the EU-US trading relationship. It also highlights the concern in European capitals that the EU could be weakened by the market dominance of the big US tech companies, particularly in the business of storing, processing and analysing data.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s powerful competition chief who is now also to oversee EU digital policy, last month told the Financial Times that she was examining whether large internet companies could be held to higher standards of proof in competition cases, as part of a tougher line on dominant companies, such as Google.

Ms Merkel was speaking just two weeks after Berlin unveiled plans for a European cloud computing initiative, dubbed Gaia-X, which it has described as a “competitive, safe and trustworthy data infrastructure for Europe”.

At the conference on Tuesday, Peter Altmaier, economy minister, said the data of companies such as Volkswagen, and that of the German interior ministry and social security system, were increasingly stored on the servers of Microsoft and Amazon. “And in this we are losing part of our sovereignty,” he added….(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)”.

The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithm Design


Book by Michael Kearns and Aaron Roth: “Over the course of a generation, algorithms have gone from mathematical abstractions to powerful mediators of daily life. Algorithms have made our lives more efficient, more entertaining, and, sometimes, better informed. At the same time, complex algorithms are increasingly violating the basic rights of individual citizens. Allegedly anonymized datasets routinely leak our most sensitive personal information; statistical models for everything from mortgages to college admissions reflect racial and gender bias. Meanwhile, users manipulate algorithms to “game” search engines, spam filters, online reviewing services, and navigation apps.

Understanding and improving the science behind the algorithms that run our lives is rapidly becoming one of the most pressing issues of this century. Traditional fixes, such as laws, regulations and watchdog groups, have proven woefully inadequate. Reporting from the cutting edge of scientific research, The Ethical Algorithm offers a new approach: a set of principled solutions based on the emerging and exciting science of socially aware algorithm design. Michael Kearns and Aaron Roth explain how we can better embed human principles into machine code – without halting the advance of data-driven scientific exploration. Weaving together innovative research with stories of citizens, scientists, and activists on the front lines, The Ethical Algorithm offers a compelling vision for a future, one in which we can better protect humans from the unintended impacts of algorithms while continuing to inspire wondrous advances in technology….(More)”.

Finland’s model in utilising forest data


Report by Matti Valonen et al: “The aim of this study is to depict the Finnish Forest Centre’s Metsään.fiwebsite’s background, objectives and implementation and to assess its needs for development and future prospects. The Metsään.fi-service included in the Metsään.fi-website is a free e-service for forest owners and corporate actors (companies, associations and service providers) in the forest sector, which aim is to support active decision-making among forest owners by offering forest resource data and maps on forest properties, by making contacts with the authorities easier through online services and to act as a platform for offering forest services, among other things.

In addition to the Metsään.fi-service, the website includes open forest data services that offer the users national forest resource data that is not linked with personal information.

Private forests are in a key position as raw material sources for traditional and new forest-based bioeconomy. In addition to wood material, the forests produce non-timber forest products (for example berries and mushrooms), opportunities for recreation and other ecosystem services.

Private forests cover roughly 60 percent of forest land, but about 80 percent of the domestic wood used by forest industry. In 2017 the value of the forest industry production was 21 billion euros, which is a fifth of the entire industry production value in Finland. The forest industry export in 2017 was worth about 12 billion euros, which covers a fifth of the entire export of goods. Therefore, the forest sector is important for Finland’s national economy…(More)”.