Bridging the digital divide for underserved communities


Report by Deloitte: “…This “digital divide” was first noted more than 25 years ago as consumer communications needs shifted from landline voice to internet access. The economics of broadband spawned availability, adoption, and affordability disparities between rural and urban geographies and between lower- and higher-income segments. Today, the digital divide still presents a significant gap after more than $100 billion of infrastructure investment has been allocated by the US government over the past decade to address this issue. The current debate regarding additional funds for broadband deployment implies that further examination is warranted regarding how to get to broadband for all and achieve the resulting economic prosperity.


Quantifying the economic impact of bridging the digital divide clearly shows the criticality of broadband infrastructure to the US economy. Deloitte developed economic models to evaluate the relationship between broadband and economic growth. Our models indicate that a 10-percentage-point increase of broadband penetration in 2016 would have resulted in more than 806,000 additional jobs in 2019, or an average annual increase of 269,000 jobs. Moreover, we found a strong correlation between broadband availability and jobs and GDP growth. A 10-percentage-point increase of broadband access in 2014 would have resulted in more than 875,000 additional US jobs and $186B more in economic output in 2019. The analysis also showed that higher broadband speeds drive noticeable improvements in job growth, albeit with diminishing returns. As an example, the gain in jobs from 50 to 100 Mbps is more than the gain in jobs from 100 to 150 Mbps….(More)”.

The New Breed: What Our History with Animals Reveals about Our Future with Robots


Book by Kate Darling: “For readers of The Second Machine Age or The Soul of an Octopus, a bold, exciting exploration of how building diverse kinds of relationships with robots—inspired by how we interact with animals—could be the key to making our future with robotic technology work.

There has been a lot of ink devoted to discussions of how robots will replace us and take our jobs. But MIT Media Lab researcher and technology policy expert Kate Darling argues just the opposite, and that treating robots with a bit of humanity, more like the way we treat animals, will actually serve us better. From a social, legal, and ethical perspective, she shows that our current ways of thinking don’t leave room for the robot technology that is soon to become part of our everyday routines. Robots are likely to supplement—rather than replace—our own skills and relationships. So if we consider our history of incorporating animals into our work, transportation, military, and even families, we actually have a solid basis for how to contend with this future.

A deeply original analysis of our technological future and the ethical dilemmas that await us, The New Breed explains how the treatment of machines can reveal a new understanding of our own history, our own systems and how we relate—not just to non-humans, but also to each other….(More)”.

Power to the Public: The Promise of Public Interest Technology


Book by Tara Dawson McGuinness and Hana Schank: “As the speed and complexity of the world increases, governments and nonprofit organizations need new ways to effectively tackle the critical challenges of our time—from pandemics and global warming to social media warfare. In Power to the Public, Tara Dawson McGuinness and Hana Schank describe a revolutionary new approach—public interest technology—that has the potential to transform the way governments and nonprofits around the world solve problems. Through inspiring stories about successful projects ranging from a texting service for teenagers in crisis to a streamlined foster care system, the authors show how public interest technology can make the delivery of services to the public more effective and efficient.

At its heart, public interest technology means putting users at the center of the policymaking process, using data and metrics in a smart way, and running small experiments and pilot programs before scaling up. And while this approach may well involve the innovative use of digital technology, technology alone is no panacea—and some of the best solutions may even be decidedly low-tech.

Clear-eyed yet profoundly optimistic, Power to the Public presents a powerful blueprint for how government and nonprofits can help solve society’s most serious problems….(More)

The Promise of Access: Technology, Inequality, and the Political Economy of Hope


Book by Daniel Greene: “Why simple technological solutions to complex social issues continue to appeal to politicians and professionals who should (and often do) know better.

Why do we keep trying to solve poverty with technology? What makes us feel that we need to learn to code—or else? In The Promise of AccessDaniel Greene argues that the problem of poverty became a problem of technology in order to manage the contradictions of a changing economy. Greene shows how the digital divide emerged as a policy problem and why simple technological solutions to complex social issues continue to appeal to politicians and professionals who should (and often do) know better.

Greene shows why it is so hard to get rid of the idea—which he terms the access doctrine—that the problem of poverty can be solved with the right tools and the right skills. This way of thinking is so ingrained that is adopted by organizations that fight poverty—which often refashion themselves to resemble technology startups. Drawing on years of fieldwork, Greene explores how this plays out in the real world, examining organizational change in technology startups, public libraries, and a charter school in Washington, DC. He finds that as the libraries and school pursue technological solutions, they win praise and funding but also marginalize and alienate the populations they serve. Greene calls for new political alliances that can change the terms on which we understand technology and fight poverty….(More)”

Sustainable Cities: Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and the Rise of Green, “Cy-phy” Cities


Book by Claudio Scardovi: “Global cities are facing an almost unprecedented challenge of change. As they re-emerge from the Covid 19 pandemic and get ready to face climate change and other, potentially existential threats, they need to look for new ways to support wealth and wellbeing creation – leveraging Big Data and AI and suing them into their physical reality and to become greener, more inclusive and resilient, hence sustainable.This book describes how new digital technologies could be used to design digital and physical twins of cities that are able to feed into each other to optimize their working and ability to create new wealth and wellbeing. The book also describes how to increase cities’ social and economic resilience during crisis time and addressing their almost fatal weaknesses – as it became all too obvious during the recent COVID 19 crisis. Also, the book presents a framework for a critical discussion of the concept of “smart-city”, suggesting its development into a “cyber” and “meta” one – meaning, not only digital systems can allow physical ones (e.g. cities, citizens, households and companies) to become “smarter”, but also the vice versa is true, as off line data and real life behaviours can support the optimization and development of virtual brains as a sum of big data and artificial intelligence apps all sitting “over the cloud”.

An analysis of the fundamental dynamics of this emerging “info-telligence” economy, and of the potential role of big digital players like Amazon, Google and Facebook is then paving the way to discuss a few strategic forays on how traditional sectors such as financial services, real estate, TMT or health could also evolve, leveraging Big Data and AI in a cyber-physical integrated setting. Finally, a number of thought provoking use cases that could be designed around individuals, and to improve the success and the resilience of households and companies living and working in urban areas are discussed, as an example of one of the most exciting future markets to come: the one of global, sustainable cities…(More)”.

How We Built a Facebook Feed Viewer


Citizen Browser at The MarkUp: “Our interactive dashboard, Split Screen, gives readers a peek into the content Facebook delivered to people of different demographic backgrounds and voting preferences who participated in our Citizen Browser project. 

Using Citizen Browser, our custom Facebook inspector, we perform daily captures of Facebook data from paid panelists. These captures collect the content that was displayed on their Facebook feeds at the moment the app performed its automated capture. From Dec. 1, 2020, to March 2, 2021, 2,601 paid participants have contributed their data to the project. 

To measure what Facebook’s recommendation algorithm displays to different groupings of people, we compare data captured from each over a two-week period. We look at three different pairings:

  • Women vs. Men
  • Biden Voters vs. Trump Voters
  • Millennials vs. Boomers 

We labeled our panelists based on their self-disclosed political leanings, gender, and age. We describe each pairing in more detail in the Pairings section of this article. 

For each pair, we examine four types of content served by Facebook: news sources, posts with news links, hashtags, and group recommendations. We compare the percentage of each grouping that was served each piece of content to that of the other grouping in the pair.  

For more information on the data we collect, the panel’s demographic makeup, and the extensive redaction process we undertake to preserve privacy, see our methodology How We Built a Facebook Inspector.

Our observations should not be taken as proof of Facebook’s choosing to target specific content at specific demographic groups. There are many factors that influence any given person’s feed that we do not account for, including users’ friends and social networks….(More)”.

Liberation Technology


Tim Keary at the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “Human traffickers have forced hundreds of women, children, and men into sexual slavery in Colombia during the past decade. According to Colombia’s Ministry of the Interior and Justice, 686 cases of human trafficking occurred within the country from January 2013 to July 2020. Many of those seized were women, children, and Venezuelan migrants.

To combat this crime, Migración Colombia, the nation’s border control agency; the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM); and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched a mobile application called LibertApp last July. Pressing the app’s panic button immediately sends the user’s live geolocation data to the Colombian Ministry of the Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking Operations Center (COAT), where an expert anti-trafficking team investigates the report.

The app also functions as a resource hub for information and prevention. It offers an educational module (available in both English and Spanish) that explains what human trafficking is, who is the most at risk, and the most common strategies that traffickers use to isolate and exploit victims. LibertApp also includes a global directory of consulates’ contact information that users can access for support.

While COAT and Migración Colombia now manage the app, IOM, an international organization that supports migrant communities and advises national governments on migration policy, developed the original concept, provided technical support, created user profiles, and built the educational module. IOM saw LibertApp as a new tool to support high-risk groups such as Venezuelan migrants and refugees. “It is necessary to permanently search for different strategies for the prevention of trafficking” and to ensure the “rescue of victims who are in Colombia or abroad,” says Ana Durán-Salvatierra, IOM Colombia’s chief of mission….

PRM funded the app, which had a budget of $15,000. The investment was part of the department’s overall contribution through the United Nations appeal known as the Refugee and Migrant Response Plan, a global initiative that had granted a total of $276.4 million to Colombia as of November 2020.

In less than a year of operation, 246 people have used the app to make reports, culminating in a handful of investigations and rescues. The most notable success story occurred last summer when COAT received a report from LibertApp that led to the rescue of a Venezuelan minor from a bar in Maní, in the Casanare region of Colombia, that was being run as a brothel. During the raid, authorities captured two Colombian citizens alleged to have managed the establishment and who coerced 15 women into sexual slavery….(More)”

The Techlash and Tech Crisis Communication


Book by Nirit Weiss-Blatt: “This book provides an in-depth analysis of the evolution of tech journalism. The emerging tech-backlash is a story of pendulum swings: We are currently in tech-dystopianism after a long period spent in tech-utopianism. Tech companies were used to ‘cheerleading’ coverage of product launches. This long tech-press honeymoon ended, and was replaced by a new era of mounting criticism focused on tech’s negative impact on society. When and why did tech coverage shift? How did tech companies respond to the rise of tech criticism?

The book depicts three main eras: Pre-Techlash, Techlash, and Post-Techlash. The reader is taken on a journey from computer magazines, through tech blogs to the upsurge of tech investigative reporting. It illuminates the profound changes in the power dynamics between the media and the tech giants it covers.

The interplay between tech journalism and tech PR was underexplored. Through analyses of both tech media and the corporates’ crisis responses, this book examines the roots and characteristics of the Techlash, and provides explanations to ‘How did we get here?’. Insightful observations by tech journalists and tech public relations professionals are added to the research data, and together – they tell the story of the TECHLASH. It includes theoretical and practical implications for both tech enthusiasts and critics….(More)”.

Smart weather app helps Kenya’s herders brace for drought


Thomson Reuters Foundation: “Sitting under a low tree to escape the blazing Kenyan sun, Kaltuma Milkalkona and two young men hunch intently over the older woman’s smartphone – but they are not transfixed by the latest sports scores or a trending internet meme.

The men instead are looking at a weather alert for their village in the country’s north, sent through an app that uses weather station data to help pastoralists prepare for drought.

The myAnga app on Milkalkona’s phone showed that Merille would continue facing dry weather and that “pasture conditions (were) expected to be very poor with no grass and browse availability.”

One of the young men said he would warn his older brother, who had taken the family’s livestock to another area where there was water and pasture, not to come home yet.

Milkalkona, 42, who lives and sells clothing in the neighbouring town of Laisamis, said she often shared data from her phone with others who did not have smartphones.

“When I get the weather alerts, I usually show the people who are close to me,” she said, as well as calling others in more distant villages.

Extreme and erratic weather linked to a warming climate can be devastating for Kenya’s pastoralists, with prolonged droughts making it difficult to find enough pasture for their animals.

But armed with up-to-date weather information and advice, herders can plan ahead to ensure their livestock make it through the region’s frequent dry spells, said Frankline Agolla, co-founder of Amfratech, a Nairobi-based social enterprise that developed the myAnga app.

The app – its name means “my weather” – goes further than the weather reports anyone can get from the meteorological department by interpreting them and making recommendations to herders on the best way to protect their livelihoods.

“If there is an imminent drought, we advise them to sell their livestock early to reduce their losses,” said Agolla in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation….

The app is part of Amfratech’s Climate Livestock and Markets (CLIMARK) project, which the company aims to roll out to more than 300,000 pastoralists in Kenya over the next five years, with funding and other help from partners including the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation and the Kenya Livestock Marketing Council.

The app sends out weekly weather information in English, Swahili and other languages used in northern Kenya, and users can see forecasts for areas as small as a single village, Agolla said….(More)”.

N.Y.’s Vaccine Websites Weren’t Working. He Built a New One for $50.


Sharon Otterman at New York Times: “Huge Ma, a 31-year-old software engineer for Airbnb, was stunned when he tried to make a coronavirus vaccine appointment for his mother in early January and saw that there were dozens of websites to check, each with its own sign-up protocol. The city and state appointment systems were completely distinct.

“There has to be a better way,” he said he remembered thinking.

So, he developed one. In less than two weeks, he launched TurboVax, a free website that compiles availability from the three main city and state New York vaccine systems and sends the information in real time to Twitter. It cost Mr. Ma less than $50 to build, yet it offers an easier way to spot appointments than the city and state’s official systems do.

“It’s sort of become a challenge to myself, to prove what one person with time and a little motivation can do,” he said last week. “This wasn’t a priority for governments, which was unfortunate. But everyone has a role to play in the pandemic, and I’m just doing the very little that I can to make it a little bit easier.”

Supply shortages and problems with access to vaccination appointments have been some of the barriers to the equitable distribution of the vaccine in New York City and across the United States, officials have acknowledged….(More)”.