The digitalisation of social protection before and since the onset of Covid-19: opportunities, challenges and lessons


Paper by the Overseas Development Institute: “…discusses the main opportunities and challenges associated with digital social protection, drawing on trends pre-Covid and since the onset of the pandemic. It offers eight lessons to help social protection actors capitalise on technology’s potential in a risk-sensitive manner.

  • The response to Covid-19 accelerated the trend of increasing digitalisation of social protection delivery.
  • Studies from before and during the pandemic suggest that well-used technology holds potential to enhance provision for some service users, and played a notable role in rapid social protection expansion during Covid-19. It may also help reduce leakage or inclusion errors, lower costs and support improvements in programme design.
  • However, unless designed and implemented with careful mitigating measures, digitalisation may in some cases do more harm than good. Key concerns relate to potential risks and challenges of exclusion, protection and privacy violations, ‘technosolutionism’ and obscured transparency and accountability.
  • Ultimately, technology is a tool, and its outcomes depend on the needs it is expected to meet, the goals it is deployed to pursue, and the specific ways in which it is designed and implemented…(More)”.

Technology is Not Neutral: A Short Guide to Technology Ethics


Book by Stephanie Hare: “It seems that just about every new technology that we bring to bear on improving our lives brings with it some downside, side effect or unintended consequence.

These issues can pose very real and growing ethical problems for all of us. For example, automated facial recognition can make life easier and safer for us – but it also poses huge issues with regard to privacy, ownership of data and even identity theft. How do we understand and frame these debates, and work out strategies at personal and governmental levels?

Technology Is Not Neutral: A Short Guide to Technology Ethics addresses one of today’s most pressing problems: how to create and use tools and technologies to maximize benefits and minimize harms? Drawing on the author’s experience as a technologist, political risk analyst and historian, the book offers a practical and cross-disciplinary approach that will inspire anyone creating, investing in or regulating technology, and it will empower all readers to better hold technology to account…(More)”.

It’s in Everyone’s Interest to Sustain our Open Digital Future


Article by Govind Shivkumar and Alex Krasodomski-Jones: “…Omidyar Network was proud to support the creation of “The Open Road,” a new report by our partners at Demos that vividly highlights the many dangers facing open infrastructure — and lays out a clear and achievable path to securing its sustainable future. In short, the report urges philanthropies to take concrete steps, with significant funding, to bolster open-source software and open standards, and the people who keep the infrastructure working.

The value of open-source code and the movement behind it

Everything from hospitals and banks to social media and messaging platforms run on open-source software; that is, mostly free “source code” that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance to build their own digital applications. In complement, open standards — like HTML, a common way of coding a website — help facilitate interoperability and data exchanges between different products or services. Both of these “encourage a decentralized community of developers to collaborate on projects and jointly benefit from the resulting software”.

A secure, open technology system is immensely valuable to companies and governments. It facilitates connections between their technologies and other systems, which increases the value of their tools; it is easy to adopt and make changes; and it avoids the pitfalls of reinventing the wheel or reinvesting resources. Because of that vast flexibility, developers and engineers can innovate for the user’s needs faster and more cost-effectively, giving the public a meaningful choice of which interconnected apps, devices, technologies they want to use.

“More openness means more innovation. More transparency means more scrutiny, which means fewer overlooked security vulnerabilities. Openness favors the development of ‘good technology,’ which embeds privacy, security, and other protections in its design.”

The challenges facing open infrastructure

The ecosystem is vast and acutely vulnerable. Period catastrophes like the Heartbleed bug which was exposed in 2014, and later security flaws, such as log4shell and log4J, threatened millions of digital applications worldwide. Other weaknesses are simply the result of neglect and lack of proper investment and upkeep. When security vulnerabilities cause cracks in the infrastructure, allowing malicious actors to wreak havoc, the startled world briefly takes notice…(More)”

Imagining Governance for Emerging Technologies


Essay by Debra J.H. Mathews, Rachel Fabi and Anaeze C. Offodile: “…How should such technologies be regulated and governed? It is increasingly clear that past governance structures and strategies are not up to the task. What these technologies require is a new governance approach that accounts for their interdisciplinary impacts and potential for both good and ill at both the individual and societal level. 

To help lay the groundwork for a novel governance framework that will enable policymakers to better understand these technologies’ cross-sectoral footprint and anticipate and address the social, legal, ethical, and governance issues they raise, our team worked under the auspices of the National Academy of Medicine’s Committee on Emerging Science, Technology, and Innovation in health and medicine (CESTI) to develop an analytical approach to technology impacts and governance. The approach is grounded in detailed case studies—including the vignettes about Robyn and Liam—which have informed the development of a set of guiding principles (see sidebar).

Based on careful analysis of past governance, these case studies also contain a plausible vision of what might happen in the future. They illuminate ethical issues and help reveal governance tools and choices that could be crucial to delivering social benefits and reducing or avoiding harms. We believe that the approach taken by the committee will be widely applicable to considering the governance of emerging health technologies. Our methodology and process, as we describe here, may also be useful to a range of stakeholders involved in governance issues like these…(More)”.

How harmful is social media?


Gideon Lewis-Kraus in The New Yorker: “In April, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt published an essay in The Atlantic in which he sought to explain, as the piece’s title had it, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” Anyone familiar with Haidt’s work in the past half decade could have anticipated his answer: social media. Although Haidt concedes that political polarization and factional enmity long predate the rise of the platforms, and that there are plenty of other factors involved, he believes that the tools of virality—Facebook’s Like and Share buttons, Twitter’s Retweet function—have algorithmically and irrevocably corroded public life. He has determined that a great historical discontinuity can be dated with some precision to the period between 2010 and 2014, when these features became widely available on phones….

After Haidt’s piece was published, the Google Doc—“Social Media and Political Dysfunction: A Collaborative Review”—was made available to the public. Comments piled up, and a new section was added, at the end, to include a miscellany of Twitter threads and Substack essays that appeared in response to Haidt’s interpretation of the evidence. Some colleagues and kibbitzers agreed with Haidt. But others, though they might have shared his basic intuition that something in our experience of social media was amiss, drew upon the same data set to reach less definitive conclusions, or even mildly contradictory ones. Even after the initial flurry of responses to Haidt’s article disappeared into social-media memory, the document, insofar as it captured the state of the social-media debate, remained a lively artifact.

Near the end of the collaborative project’s introduction, the authors warn, “We caution readers not to simply add up the number of studies on each side and declare one side the winner.” The document runs to more than a hundred and fifty pages, and for each question there are affirmative and dissenting studies, as well as some that indicate mixed results. According to one paper, “Political expressions on social media and the online forum were found to (a) reinforce the expressers’ partisan thought process and (b) harden their pre-existing political preferences,” but, according to another, which used data collected during the 2016 election, “Over the course of the campaign, we found media use and attitudes remained relatively stable. Our results also showed that Facebook news use was related to modest over-time spiral of depolarization. Furthermore, we found that people who use Facebook for news were more likely to view both pro- and counter-attitudinal news in each wave. Our results indicated that counter-attitudinal exposure increased over time, which resulted in depolarization.” If results like these seem incompatible, a perplexed reader is given recourse to a study that says, “Our findings indicate that political polarization on social media cannot be conceptualized as a unified phenomenon, as there are significant cross-platform differences.”…(More)”.

The Sky’s Not The Limit: How Lower-Income Cities Can Leverage Drones


Report by UNDP: “Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are playing an important role in last-mile service delivery around the world. However, COVID-19 has highlighted a potentially broader role that UAVs could play – in cities. Higher-income cities are exploring the technology, but there is little documentation of use cases or potential initiatives in a development context. This report provides practical and applied guidance to lower-income cities looking to explore how drones can support key urban objectives…(More)”.

How can digital public technologies accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals?


Report by George Ingram, John W. McArthur, and Priya Vora: “…There is no singular relationship between access to digital technologies and SDG outcomes. Country- and issue-specific assessments are essential. Sound approaches will frequently depend on the underlying physical infrastructure and economic systems. Rwanda, for instance, has made tremendous progress on SDG health indicators despite high rates of income poverty and internet poverty. This contrasts with Burkina Faso, which has lower income poverty and internet poverty but higher child mortality.

We draw from an OECD typology to identify three layers of a digital ecosystem: Physical infrastructure, platform infrastructure, and apps-level products. Physical and platform layers of digital infrastructure provide the rules, standards, and security guarantees so that local market innovators and governments can develop new ideas more rapidly to meet ever-changing circumstances. We emphasize five forms of DPT platform infrastructure that can play important roles in supporting SDG acceleration:

  • Personal identification and registration infrastructure allows citizens and organizations to have equal access to basic rights and services;
  • Payments infrastructure enables efficient resource transfer with low transaction costs;
  • Knowledge infrastructure links educational resources and data sets in an open or permissioned way;
  • Data exchange infrastructure enables interoperability of independent databases; and
  • Mapping infrastructure intersects with data exchange platforms to empower geospatially enabled diagnostics and service delivery opportunities.

Each of these platform types can contribute directly or indirectly to a range of SDG outcomes. For example, a person’s ability to register their identity with public sector entities is fundamental to everything from a birth certificate (SDG target 16.9) to a land title (SDG 1.4), bank account (SDG 8.10), driver’s license, or government-sponsored social protection (SDG 1.3). It can also ensure access to publicly available basic services, such as access to public schools (SDG 4.1) and health clinics (SDG 3.8).

At least three levers can help “level the playing field” such that a wide array of service providers can use the physical and platform layers of digital infrastructure equally: (1) public ownership and governance; (2) public regulation; and (3) open code, standards, and protocols. In practice, DPTs are typically built and deployed through a mix of levers, enabling different public and private actors to extract benefits through unique pathways….(More)”.

Social Engineering: How Crowdmasters, Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls Created a New Form of Manipulative Communication


Open Access book by Robert W. Gehl, and Sean T Lawson: “Manipulative communication—from early twentieth-century propaganda to today’s online con artistry—examined through the lens of social engineering. The United States is awash in manipulated information about everything from election results to the effectiveness of medical treatments. Corporate social media is an especially good channel for manipulative communication, with Facebook a particularly willing vehicle for it. In Social Engineering, Robert Gehl and Sean Lawson show that online misinformation has its roots in earlier techniques: mass social engineering of the early twentieth century and interpersonal hacker social engineering of the 1970s, converging today into what they call “masspersonal social engineering.” As Gehl and Lawson trace contemporary manipulative communication back to earlier forms of social engineering, possibilities for amelioration become clearer.

The authors show how specific manipulative communication practices are a mixture of information gathering, deception, and truth-indifferent statements, all with the instrumental goal of getting people to take actions the social engineer wants them to. Yet the term “fake news,” they claim, reduces everything to a true/false binary that fails to encompass the complexity of manipulative communication or to map onto many of its practices. They pay special attention to concepts and terms used by hacker social engineers, including the hacker concept of “bullshitting,” which the authors describe as a truth-indifferent mix of deception, accuracy, and sociability. They conclude with recommendations for how society can undermine masspersonal social engineering and move toward healthier democratic deliberation…(More)”.

Shaping the Future of Small and Medium-Sized Cities: A Framework for Digital Transformation


Report by the World Economic Forum: “Digital transformation is becoming a crucial support mechanism for countries as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and undergo economic rebuilding and sustained development. For small and medium-sized cities (SMCs), digital transformation can disrupt traditional business models, breakthrough geographical and spatial boundaries, and create new ways to live in the digital era. However, the digital transformation of SMCs presents challenges such as insufficient digital talent, funds, and resources, poor understanding and application of digital technologies, and a lack of intercity interaction and cooperation mechanisms. This report analyses the challenges, needs, and concerns of SMCs undergoing digital transformation in China, Japan, Brazil, and Singapore, proposes a methodological reference model, and suggests actions for various urban stakeholders…(More)”.

Technology of the Oppressed


Book by David Nemer: “Brazilian favelas are impoverished settlements usually located on hillsides or the outskirts of a city. In Technology of the Oppressed, David Nemer draws on extensive ethnographic fieldwork to provide a rich account of how favela residents engage with technology in community technology centers and in their everyday lives. Their stories reveal the structural violence of the information age. But they also show how those oppressed by technology don’t just reject it, but consciously resist and appropriate it, and how their experiences with digital technologies enable them to navigate both digital and nondigital sources of oppression—and even, at times, to flourish.

Nemer uses a decolonial and intersectional framework called Mundane Technology as an analytical tool to understand how digital technologies can simultaneously be sites of oppression and tools in the fight for freedom. Building on the work of the Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, he shows how the favela residents appropriate everyday technologies—technological artifacts (cell phones, Facebook), operations (repair), and spaces (Telecenters and Lan Houses)—and use them to alleviate the oppression in their everyday lives. He also addresses the relationship of misinformation to radicalization and the rise of the new far right. Contrary to the simplistic techno-optimistic belief that technology will save the poor, even with access to technology these marginalized people face numerous sources of oppression, including technological biases, racism, classism, sexism, and censorship. Yet the spirit, love, community, resilience, and resistance of favela residents make possible their pursuit of freedom…(More)”.