Apps, I Did It Again

IOWATF (Caucustocracy); Clout Chasers and Coronavirus; School of Data; and more.


From Healthcare.gov to Orca, an app that the Romney 2012 campaign built to enable its volunteers to keep track of voters on Election Day, tech that is supposed to work at mass scale on its first live test does not have a good track record in the political arena. Add Iowa’s caucus reporting app to the pile. And it’s not like the warning signs weren’t there.

Here’s NPR’s Kate Payne and Miles Parks on January 14th: “Iowa’s Democrats hope the new app lets the party get results out to the public quicker, says Troy Price, the chairman of the state party. In an interview, Price declined to provide more details about which company or companies designed the app, or about what specific measures have been put in place to guarantee the system’s security.”

“The idea of security through obscurity is almost always a mistake,” Doug Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa and a former caucus precinct leader, commented in that same story. “Drawing the blinds on the process leaves us, in the public, in a position where we can’t even assess the competence of the people doing something on our behalf.”

The app wasn’t sent to caucus organizers for downloading until hours before the caucuses began, the AP reports, meaning that some precinct chairs had trouble downloading it or logging into it and never even used it.

As many people have been pointing out for some time, the soft underbelly of American democracy is our open information system. If people don’t agree about basic facts, such as if a vote was accurately counted, we are in big trouble. But while all kinds of conspiracy theories are flying around this morning, some tying the maker of the Iowa reporting app, a Democratic firm called Shadow, Inc., to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and also to Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, it’s best to remember that ineptitude explains far more failures than anything.

This is civic tech: NYC School of Data is coming up March 7. It’s BetaNYC’s annual community-driven conference, with programming support from NYC Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics, bringing together city officials, activists, and community members to talk about open data, civic technology, and service design. It will be held at CUNY Law School in Queens, with dozens of sessions, panels, workshops, office hours with NYC agencies, and  demo/usability sessions covering a wide variety of topics. Registration is now open— early bird pricing til Feb 10th.

Apply: New Media Ventures has opened its 2020 open call for startups that are working on shifting power, building movements, changing narratives and sparking civic engagement.

Apply: The civic crowdfunding platform ioby is looking to hire a Cincinnati Action Strategist to open a new office there.

Information disorder, continued: “Clout chasers” are spreading misleading claims about the Wuhan coronavirus using fearmongering and racial stereotyping and making the most of algorithms that amplify emotionally engaging content over facts, Brandy Zadrozny, Kalhan Rosenblatt and Ben Collins report for NBC News.

Mainstream media outlets are also generating a great deal of misleading and hyperbolic content about the virus, which social media platforms also amplify, Julia Carrie Wong reports for The Guardian.

End times: Performance artist Simon Weckert filled a handwagon with 99 second-hand smartphones with their GPS data on and then went for a walk, turning traffic-free streets red in the process.

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