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South Bronx civic tech; Apple's "cop mode"; info-wars; and much more.


  • This is civic tech: Radical Relay is a new app designed to help women through pregnancy, focused on the needs of women of color, immigrants, and low-income workers who have some of the highest levels of pregnancy-related complications, as Ese Olumhense reports for The City. It’s the brain-child of Civic Hall member (and former organizer-in-residence) Ivelyse Andino, the South Bronx-based founder of Radical Health, and it’s been developed by Civic Hall member organization Quadrant 2. Talk about collaboration for the public good!

  • Apple has made it easy to quickly disable its Touch ID function, as Tom Warren reports for The Verge. He notes that while the feature is intended to make it easy to quickly call emergency services, you can also use it to lock your phone out of using Touch or Face ID—something protesters in Hong Kong have gotten savvy to, as Paul Mazur reports for The New York Times. Warren calls the new feature “cop mode.” (Mazur’s piece is also worth a close reading for what it tells us about how protest movements are adapting to the use of facial recognition tech by police.)

  • Here’s a report from Kazuki Jinnouchi on how the Code for Japan group in the city of Nerima has developed a speech-to-text app focusing on accessibility for people with communications impairments.

  • Ade Adeniji of Inside Philanthropy writes up the story behind Craig Newmark’s $5 million gift to us at Civic Hall.

  • Democracy rising: How did Puerto Ricans organize themselves to successfully oust their scandal-ridden Governor? Glimpses of answers can be found in this feature story in The New York Times by Simon Romero, Frances Robles, Patricia Mazzei and Jose A. Del Real and in this Boston Globe oped by Rita Indiana. The latter emphasizes the cultural traditions and resources that demonstrators organically relied on; the former notes that longstanding organizing networks, like the Colectiva Feminista en Construccion, a woman’s group long at odds with the governor, galvanized the earliest demonstrations, greeting him when he arrived back from an overseas trip to insure that the public would see he wasn’t returning home with impunity. “Nobody can claim credit for this moment, because there are no leaders in this movement. This is an organic movement,” Shariana Ferrer, of the Colectiva Feminista, told the Times. “But it’s not spontaneous. This is the culmination of years of grass-roots work, community work, and social political organizations.” Word of protest events spread quickly from posts on Facebook through services like WhatsApp, and much of the movement was self-convened (“autoconvocados”).

  • Puerto Rico’s protest movement is now setting its sights on displacing both of the country’s major political parties, viewing them as too corrupt to fix what ails the island, Michael Deibert and Ezra Fieser report for Bloomberg.

  • Tech and politics: Siva Vaidhyanathan has a really smart piece in The Atlantic parsing the debate about whether the tech platforms discriminate against conservative voices. The quick version: Facebook and Google reward content that generates strong emotional reactions. If the platforms are biased, it’s against democratic citizenship, which “demands both motivation of the like-minded and deliberation among those with different ideas and agendas” and which also needs to be able to discern truth from falsity, things that both Facebook and Google are bad at.

  • Go deeper: “We live in a world in which the means of manipulation have gone forth and multiplied, a world of dark ads, psy-ops, hacks, bots, soft facts, deep fakes, fake news, Putin, trolls, and Trump,” writes Peter Pomerantsev in the Guardian. He’s the author of a terrific book on modern Russia, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, and has a new book out that this essay is from: This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality. More from Pomerantsev:

    What we are seeing is, in the words of Columbia law professor Tim Wu, a situation where “speech itself is seen as a censorial weapon.” This questions the old idea that the answer to “fallacious speech” is “more speech” – that we live in a “marketplace of ideas” where the best “information products” will win out. What if that market can be rigged?

  • ICYMI: The Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report late last week concluding that Russia targeted the election systems in all 50 states in 2016, and in at least one case they were “in a position to delete or change voter data” in the Illinois voter database, David Sanger and Catie Edmondson report for The New York Times.

  • Alex Stamos, the former head of security for Facebook, is launching the Stanford Internet Observatory, hoping to help researchers get their hands on the tools, analysis and tech platform user data needed to figure out how to deal with the rise of political disinformation online, as Andy Greenberg reports for Wired.

  • Privacy, shmivacy: Kalev Leetaru writes in Forbes that if Facebook’s plans to embed encryption in all of its platforms goes forward as planned, it will become a “true wiretapping service” and “governments will simply be able to harness social media companies to perform their mass surveillance for them, sending them real-time alerts and copies of the decrypted content.”

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