Reclaiming personal data for the common good

Theo Bass at Nesta: “…The argument of our new report for DECODE is that more of the social value of personal data can be discovered by tools and platforms that give people the power to decide how their data is used. We need to flip the current model on its head, giving people back full control and respecting our data protection and fundamental rights framework.

The report describes how this might pave the way for a fairer distribution of the value generated by data, while opening up new use-cases that are valuable to government, society and individuals themselves. In order to achieve this vision, the DECODE project will develop and test the following:

Flexible rules to give people full control:  There is currently a lack of  technical and legal norms that would allow people to control and share data on their own terms. If this were possible, then people might be able to share their data for the public good, or publish it as anonymised open data under specific conditions, or for specific use-cases (say, non-commercial purposes). DECODE is working with the Making Sense project and Barcelona City Council to assist local communities with new forms of citizen sensing. The pilots will tackle the challenges of collating, storing and sharing data anonymously to influence policy on the city’s digital democracy platform Decidim (part of the D-CENT toolkit).

Trusted platforms to realise the collective value of data: Much of the opportunity will only be realised where individuals are able to pool their data together to leverage its potential economic and social value. Platform cooperatives offer a feasible model, highlighting the potential of digital technologies to help members collectively govern themselves. Effective data sharing has to be underpinned by high levels of user trust, and platform co-ops achieve this by embedding openness, respect for individual users’ privacy, and democratic participation over how decisions are made. DECODE is working with two platform co-ops – a neighbourhood social networking site called Gebied Online; and a democratic alternative to Airbnb in Amsterdam called FairBnB – to test new privacy-preserving features and granular data sharing options….(More)”

Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy

Book by Melanie Swan: “Bitcoin is starting to come into its own as a digital currency, but the blockchain technology behind it could prove to be much more significant. This book takes you beyond the currency (“Blockchain 1.0”) and smart contracts (“Blockchain 2.0”) to demonstrate how the blockchain is in position to become the fifth disruptive computing paradigm after mainframes, PCs, the Internet, and mobile/social networking.

Author Melanie Swan, Founder of the Institute for Blockchain Studies, explains that the blockchain is essentially a public ledger with potential as a worldwide, decentralized record for the registration, inventory, and transfer of all assets—not just finances, but property and intangible assets such as votes, software, health data, and ideas.

Topics include:

  • Concepts, features, and functionality of Bitcoin and the blockchain
  • Using the blockchain for automated tracking of all digital endeavors
  • Enabling censorship?resistant organizational models
  • Creating a decentralized digital repository to verify identity
  • Possibility of cheaper, more efficient services traditionally provided by nations
  • Blockchain for science: making better use of the data-mining network
  • Personal health record storage, including access to one’s own genomic data
  • Open access academic publishing on the blockchain…(More)”.

A distributed model for internet governance

Global Partners Digital: “Across the world, increased internet adoption has radically altered people’s lives – creating the need for new methods of internet governance that are more effective, flexible, inclusive, and legitimate. Conversations about reforming the internet governance ecosystem are already taking place at the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation, and within the wider IGF community.

A new paper by GovLab co-founder and GPD Advisory Board member Stefaan Verhulst – A distributed model for internet governance – seeks to contribute to this evolving debate by proposing a distributed yet coordinated framework for internet governance – one which accommodates existing and emerging decision-making approaches, while also enabling broader participation by a wider range of institutions and actors….(More)”

How did awful panel discussions become the default format?

 at The Guardian: “With the occasional exception, my mood in conferences usually swings between boredom, despair and rage. The turgid/self-aggrandizing keynotes and coma-inducing panels, followed by people (usually men) asking ‘questions’ that are really comments, and usually not on topic. The chairs who abdicate responsibility and let all the speakers over-run, so that the only genuinely productive bit of the day (networking at coffee breaks and lunch) gets squeezed. I end up dozing off, or furiously scribbling abuse in my notebook as a form of therapy, and hoping my neighbours can’t see what I’m writing. I probably look a bit unhinged…

This matters both because of the lost opportunity that badly run conferences represent, and because they cost money and time. I hope that if it was easy to fix, people would have done so already, but the fact is that the format is tired and unproductive.

For example, how did something as truly awful as panel discussions become the default format? They end up being a parade of people reading out papers, or they include terrible powerpoints crammed with too many words and illegible graphics. Can we try other formats, like speed dating (eg 10 people pitch their work for 2 minutes each, then each goes to a table and the audience hooks up (intellectually, I mean) with the ones they were interested in); world cafes; simulation games; joint tasks (eg come up with an infographic that explains X)? Anything, really. Yes ‘manels’ (male only panels – take the pledge here) are an outrage, but why not go for complete abolition, rather than mere gender balance?

Conferences frequently discuss evidence and results. So where is the evidence and results for the efficacy of conferences? Given the resources being ploughed into research on development (DFID alone spends about £350m a year), surely it would be a worthwhile investment, if it hasn’t already been done, to sponsor a research programme that runs multiple parallel experiments with different event formats, and compares the results in terms of participant feedback, how much people retain a month after the event etc? At the very least, can they find or commission a systematic review on what the existing evidence says?

Feedback systems could really help. A public eBay-type ratings system to rank speakers/conferences would provide nice examples of good practice for people to draw on (and bad practice to avoid). Or why not go real-time and encourage instant audience feedback? OK, maybe Occupy-style thumbs up from the audience if they like the speaker, thumbs down if they don’t would be a bit in-your-face for academe, but why not introduce a twitterwall to encourage the audience to interact with the speaker (perhaps with moderation to stop people testing the limits, as my LSE students did to Owen Barder last term)?

We need to get better at shaping the format to fit the the precise purpose of the conference. … if the best you can manage is ‘disseminating new research’ of ‘information sharing’, alarm bells should probably ring….(More)”.

Not everyone in advanced economies is using social media

 at Pew: “Despite the seeming ubiquity of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, many in Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia and Japan do not report regularly visiting social media sites. But majorities in all of the 14 countries surveyed say they at least use the internet.

Social media use is relatively common among people in Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia and the U.S. Around seven-in-ten report using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, but that still leaves a significant minority of the population in those countries (around 30%) who are non-users.

At the other end of the spectrum, in France, only 48% say they use social networking sites. That figure is even lower in Greece (46%), Japan (43%) and Germany (37%). In Germany, this means that more than half of internet users say they do not use social media. 

The differences in reported social media use across the 14 countries are due in part to whether people use the internet, since low rates of internet access limit the potential social media audience. While fewer than one-in-ten Dutch (5%), Swedes (7%) and Australians (7%) don’t access the internet or own a smartphone, that figure is 40% in Greece, 33% in Hungary and 29% in Italy.

However, internet access doesn’t guarantee social media use. In Germany, for example, 85% of adults are online, but less than half of this group report using Facebook, Twitter or Xing. A similar pattern is seen in some of the other developed economies polled, including Japan and France, where social media use is low relative to overall internet penetration….(More)

Five hacks for digital democracy

Beth Simone Noveck in Nature: “…Technology is already changing the way public institutions make decisions. Governments at every level are using ‘big data’ to pinpoint or predict the incidence of crime, heart attack and foodborne illness. Expert networking platforms — online directories of people and their skills, such as in Spain — are helping to match civil servants who have the relevant expertise with those who need the know-how.

To get beyond conventional democratic models of representation or referendum, and, above all, to improve learning in the civil service, we must build on these pockets of promise and evolve. That requires knowledge of what works and when. But there is a dearth of research on the impact of technology on public institutions. One reason is a lack of suitable research methods. Many academics prefer virtual labs with simulated conditions that are far from realistic. Field experiments have long been used to evaluate the choice between two policies. But much less attention is paid to how public organizations might operate differently with new technologies.

The perfect must not be the enemy of the good. Even when it is impractical to create a control group and run parallel interventions in the same institution, comparisons can yield insights. For instance, one could compare the effect of using citizen commenting on legislative proposals in the Brazilian parliament with similar practices in the Finnish parliament.

Of course, some leaders have little interest in advancing more than their own power. But many more politicians and public servants are keen to use research-based evidence to guide how they use technology to govern in the public interest.

The MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, Illinois, has started funding a research network — a dozen academics and public servants — to study the possibilities of using new technology to govern more transparently and in partnership with citizens (see More collaboration among universities and across disciplines is needed. New research platforms — such as the Open Governance Research Exchange, developed by the Governance Lab, the UK-based non-profit mySociety and the World Bank — can offer pathways for sharing research findings and co-creating methodologies….(More)”

Can social media, loud and inclusive, fix world politics

 at the Conversation: “Privacy is no longer a social norm, said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, as social media took a leap to bring more private information into the public domain.

But what does it mean for governments, citizens and the exercise of democracy? Donald Trump is clearly not the first leader to use his Twitter account as a way to both proclaim his policies and influence the political climate. Social media presents novel challenges to strategic policy, and has become a managerial issues for many governments.

But it also offers a free platform for public participation in government affairs. Many argue that the rise of social media technologies can give citizens and observers a better opportunity to identify pitfalls of government and their politics.

As government embrace the role of social media and the influence of negative or positive feedback on the success of their project, they are also using this tool to their advantages by spreading fabricated news.

This much freedom of expression and opinion can be a double-edged sword.

A tool that triggers change

On the positive side, social media include social networking applications such as Facebook and Google+, microblogging services such as Twitter, blogs, video blogs (vlogs), wikis, and media-sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr, among others.

Social media as a collaborative and participatory tool, connects users with each other and help shaping various communities. Playing a key role in delivering public service value to citizens it also helps people to engage in politics and policy-making, making processes easier to understand, through information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Today four out of five countries in the world have social media features on their national portals to promote interactive networking and communication with the citizen. Although we don’t have any information about the effectiveness of such tools or whether they are used to their full potential, 20% of these countries shows that they have “resulted in new policy decisions, regulation or service”.

Social media can be an effective tool to trigger changes in government policies and services if well used. It can be used to prevent corruption, as it is direct method of reaching citizens. In developing countries, corruption is often linked to governmental services that lack automated processes or transparency in payments.

The UK is taking the lead on this issue. Its anti-corruption innovation hub aims to connect several stakeholders – including civil society, law enforcement and technologies experts – to engage their efforts toward a more transparent society.

With social media, governments can improve and change the way they communicate with their citizens – and even question government projects and policies. In Kazakhstan, for example, a migration-related legislative amendment entered into force early January 2017 and compelled property owners to register people residing in their homes immediately or else face a penalty charge starting in February 2017.

Citizens were unprepared for this requirement, and many responded with indignation on social media. At first the government ignored this reaction. However, as the growing anger soared via social media, the government took action and introduced a new service to facilitate the registration of temporary citizens….

But the campaigns that result do not always evolve into positive change.

Egypt and Libya are still facing several major crises over the last years, along with political instability and domestic terrorism. The social media influence that triggered the Arab Spring did not permit these political systems to turn from autocracy to democracy.

Brazil exemplifies a government’s failure to react properly to a massive social media outburst. In June 2013 people took to the streets to protest the rising fares of public transportation. Citizens channelled their anger and outrage through social media to mobilise networks and generate support.

The Brazilian government didn’t understand that “the message is the people”. Though the riots some called the “Tropical Spring” disappeared rather abruptly in the months to come, they had major and devastating impact on Brazil’s political power, culminating in the impeachment of President Rousseff in late 2016 and the worst recession in Brazil’s history.

As in the Arab Spring countries, the use of social media in Brazil did not result in economic improvement. The country has tumbled down into depression, and unemployment has risen to 12.6%…..

Government typically asks “how can we adapt social media to the way in which we do e-services, and then try to shape their policies accordingly. They would be wiser to ask, “how can social media enable us to do things differently in a way they’ve never been done before?” – that is, policy-making in collaboration with people….(More)”.

The Conversation

Forecasting Freedom of Information – Why it faces problems—and how experts say they could be solved,

Report by David Cuillier: “People must have access to reliable public information to make informed decisions and hold their elected officials accountable. Without transparent government at all levels—local, state and federal—representative democracy is threatened. For a generation, presidents of both parties have in different ways tightened controls on government information. “The natural progress of things,” Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation commissioned this study to better understand the landscape involving public access to government records by gathering information and insights from 336 freedom of information experts—journalists, advocates, record custodians, technology companies, scholars and others. In all, from December 2016 through January 2017, 108 experts were interviewed and 228 surveyed online. The study is not representative of journalists or society as a whole, but rather a cross section of those who deal with public record laws routinely. They are the active members, and in some cases the leaders, of America’s freedom of information community. Freedom of information is not decided only in Washington, D.C. All levels of government are involved, bringing into view a diversity of government officials. Our objective was to canvass experts to identify barriers to information access and possible solutions, looking broadly at the law, public education, networking and new technology. We found dissatisfaction, uncertainty and worry.

Key points:

1. MANY EXPERTS SAY ACCESS IS WORSE TODAY COMPARED WITH FOUR YEARS AGO: About half of the 228 experts surveyed online reported that access to state and local records has gotten worse during the past four years (41 percent said it stayed the same, and 13 percent said it has gotten better2 ), and 41 percent said access to federal records has worsened. “What I hear from reporters in Washington and my students is that exemptions are being used in way too many cases and delays are still very long,” said Leonard Downie, former Washington Post executive editor and current Weil Family Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “I hope the door doesn’t get shut tighter.”

2. NEARLY 4 IN 10 SEE A RISE IN DENIALS: Though most respondents (57 percent) said denials have stayed the same during the past four years, 38 percent said they have been denied records at any level of government more frequently, and only 6 percent said denials have decreased. …

3. OVERWHELMINGLY, EXPERTS PREDICTED THAT ACCESS WILL GET WORSE: Nearly 9 out of 10 predicted that access to government will worsen because of the new presidential administration. “I think it’s going to be a backyard brawl,” said Ted Bridis, investigations editor for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. Over the past several months, nonprofit organizations scrambled to save data purged from federal websites and listed the many restrictions placed on communications with the public.

This report lays out problems with freedom of information and synthesizes solutions aimed at making freedom of information laws work as their creators intended—as an open, honest way for the public to know what its government is doing….(More)”

Digital Media Integration for Participatory Democracy

Book by Rocci Luppicini and Rachel Baarda: “Digital technology has revitalized the landscape of political affairs. As e-government continues to become more prominent in society, conducting further research in this realm is vital to promoting democratic advancements.

Digital Media Integration for Participatory Democracy provides a comprehensive examination of the latest methods and trends used to engage citizens with the political world through new information and communication technologies. Highlighting innovative practices and applications across a variety of areas such as technoethics, civic literacy, virtual reality, and social networking, this book is an ideal reference source for government officials, academicians, students, and researchers interested in the enhancement of citizen engagement in modern democracies….(More)”

The Power of Networks: Six Principles That Connect Our Lives

Book by Christopher Brinton and Mung Chiang: “What makes WiFi faster at home than at a coffee shop? How does Google order search results? Why do Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube use fundamentally different rating and recommendation methods—and why does it matter? Is it really true that everyone on Facebook is connected in six steps or less? And how do cat videos—or anything else—go viral? The Power of Networks answers questions like these for the first time in a way that all of us can understand and use, whether at home, the office, or school. Using simple language, analogies, stories, hundreds of illustrations, and no more math than simple addition and multiplication, Christopher Brinton and Mung Chiang provide a smart but accessible introduction to the handful of big ideas that drive the technical and social networks we use every day—from cellular phone networks and cloud computing to the Internet and social media platforms.

The Power of Networks unifies these ideas through six fundamental principles of networking, which explain the difficulties in sharing network resources efficiently, how crowds can be wise or not so wise depending on the nature of their connections, how there are many building-blocks of layers in a network, and more. Understanding these simple ideas unlocks the workings of everything from the connections we make on Facebook to the technology that runs such platforms. Along the way, the authors also talk with and share the special insights of renowned experts such as Google’s Eric Schmidt, former Verizon Wireless CEO Dennis Strigl, and “fathers of the Internet” Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn….(More)”