Awkward Moments

Trump administration talks to big tech companies for help in upgrading government IT; An in-depth look at how Democratic and Republican candidates are faring on social media; and more.


  • This is civic tech: If civic engagement is good for your health (and evidence suggests that it makes you happier), then maybe doctors should prescribe voting, writes Dr. Danielle Ofri of Bellevue Hospital in a New York Times oped.

  • Luke Simcoe of Code for Canada does an excellent job of synthesizing the key themes and value of the Code for All Global Summit that took place two weeks ago in Bucharest. Don’t miss this definition of civic tech, from Greg Kempe of OpenUp: “Civic tech = software + user centered design + systems thinking + iterative delivery, applied to civic issues.”

  • In another blow to Google’s Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto, Ann Cavoukian, the province’s former privacy commissioner, has resigned from her consulting role with the company, Alanna Rizza of The Canadian Press, reports. Cavoukian says she envisioned “us creating a Smart City of Privacy, as opposed to a Smart City of Surveillance,” but quit when company leaders said they couldn’t guarantee that people’s personal information would be protected.

  • Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s self-described “conservative anarchist” digital minister, gets profiled by Apolitical.

  • Following in the Obama Administration’s footsteps, the Trump White House is talking to big tech companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM to get their help convincing their tech workers to do tours of duty helping upgrade government IT, Tony Romm reports for The Washington Post.

  • In Los Angeles, a project led by the Annenberg Foundation and city hall called PledgeLA has gotten 82 local tech companies and VC firms to promise to get more engaged with their communities, build more diverse workforces, and work with local nonprofits on challenges like traffic and housing, Nour Malas reports for The Wall Street Journal.

  • Civic hacker Matt Chapman blogs about the time the city of Seattle mistakenly sent him 32 million emails—full of personal information—and then tried to act like it didn’t do anything wrong.

  • The city of Oakland’s Civic Design Lab is looking to hire a service design manager.

  • Brave new world: Body cameras worn by NY Police Department officers “are generally crap in all models,” a city official tells the Daily News’s Thomas Tracy and Esha Ray, after one exploded while being worn by an officer on shift. All 3,000 cameras have now been removed from usage.

  • Tech and politics: ICYMI, here’s an in-depth look at how Democratic and Republican candidates are faring on social media, courtesy of Kevin Roose and Keith Collins of The New York Times, using Crowdtangle to measure engagement. The quick takeaway: while Democrats are outpacing Republicans overall, much of their lead in online engagement comes from the popularity of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke, and once you subtract that, the two parties are roughly at par.

  • The right may not have anything like ActBlue, but as Natasha Singer and Nicholas Confessore report for The New York Times, there’s an alternative digital universe filled with Republican-leaning apps, much of it built by a company called uCampaign.

  • In The Atlantic, Edward-Isaac Dovere reports on the internal operations of Tom Steyer‘s Need to Impeach organization, which at six million people isn’t quite “the biggest voter list in politics” (as Dovere writes) but is still a big deal. (The Koch brothers-funded I360 list has an estimated 190 million voter records.)

  • Big questions “remain about how personal data continues to be collected and used to game not just the system, but ourselves as sovereign individuals and citizens,” writes Sue Halpern in a big story for The New Republic on how political campaigns use big data. She also compares recent efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to built a stronger ecosystem of data resources and tools that get broadly used by their candidates.

  • Life in Facebookistan: David Kirkpatrick, the CEO of the Techonomy conference and the author of a laudatory 2010 book called The Facebook Effect, is now one of the company’s toughest critics, as this new essay, “Facing Facebook’s Failure,” makes clear. Here’s a taste:

    In her September testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, COO Sheryl Sandberg bragged about being able to combat fake news and hate speech in 50 languages. That sounds good, except that Facebook operates in 133 languages. The company’s own initial reports in early 2017 suggested that only 10 million Americans had seen fake Russian campaign ads and disinformation about the presidential election. It later upped the figure to 126 million. In Sri Lanka, it took the government actually turning off the use of the service in the entire country for Facebook to respond to repeated desperate complaints from civil society activists and government officials about the service’s role in encouraging ethnic violence in early 2018. In Myanmar, it removed the ruling general’s Facebook account for promoting racist hatred, but only after the United Nations had issued a series of scathing reports and recommended the general be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.

  • Nick Clegg, the former head of the UK’s Liberal Democratic party, explains in The Guardian why he’s excited about his new job as its head of global affairs.

  • In Brazil, some young libertarians starting with some viral YouTube videos and a lot of Facebooking have built themselves up into the Movimento Brazil Livre (Free Brazil Movement), and as Ryan Broderick reports for BuzzFeed News, they’ve catapulted into the mainstream and seats in the country’s Congress.

  • What sharing economy? The parody Twitter account @BestofNextDoor has more followers than the official NextDoor account, and the company’s co-founder Nira Tolia is not amused, Devon Maloney reports for The Verge.

  • Here’s a video of author Anand Giriharadas talking about “The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” while at Google. Talk about embracing the awkwardness…

  • The news that someone left an explosive device in the mailbox of philanthropist George Soros‘ Westchester home is not good, folks.

  • End times: FoodHype generator, for when you need to understand why the blueberry buttered burrito is taking over.