Bad Data. Bad!

Many angry over false viewership numbers from Facebook video ads; NYC Mayors Office sent 400,000 mailers to ‘inactive voters’, many of whom were active; and more


  • This is civic tech: Say hello to the Luminate Group, the new name of the Omidyar Network’s Governance and Civic Engagement Initiative, which has now been spun out as its own independent foundation. The group has supported 236 organizations in 18 countries (including Civic Hall) with $314 million in funding to date. Should we start calling their staff the Luminati?

  • Erik Hersman, the co-founder of BRCK, which builds hardened, off-the-grid portable Wi-Fi devices for frontier markets in Africa and elsewhere where connectivity is poor, reflects on what he and his colleagues have learned in their first five years. Here’s a taste:

     It was only in late December 2014, after we had shipped the BRCK v1 to 50+ countries, that we realized we were only partially on the right track. It turns out the problem isn’t in making the best hardware for connectivity in difficult environments. Sure, that’s part of the equation – making sure that you have the right tools for people to connect to the internet. But the bigger question involves people, who is connecting to the internet and who isn’t? If, after many years of building BRCK, we had built the best, most rugged and reliable solution for internet connectivity, that would be something we could pat each other on our backs for. However, if the problem instead was “How do we get the rest of Africa online?”, and we were able to solve that problem, then that was a legacy we’d be proud to tell our children about one day.

  • Apply: The Oakland-based TechEquity Collaborative, run by Civic Hall friend Catherine Bracy, is looking to hire a director of South Bay programming.

  • New York City has a new chief analytics officer, Kelly Jin, who comes to the role having previously led the Laura and John Arnold Foundation’s Data-Driven Justice project, worked in the Obama White House as a policy advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Chief Data Scientist, and built and co-led Boston’s data analytics team.

  • Not related: Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s Democracy NYC initiative sent out 400,000 mailers in an effort to inform voters that their registration status might be inactive because they hadn’t voted recently, but the effort appears to have confused many people who in fact were still active and thought they were being scammed. The letter led to at least 1,600 calls to the Board of Elections, according to Jillian Jorgensen of The Daily News.

  • The city got its list of supposedly inactive voters from Civis Analytics, which readers may recognize as a political data firm started by Dan Wagner, who ran data analytics for the 2008 Obama campaign, and backed by Google chairman Eric Schmidt. The city comptroller, Scott Stringer, has written to the city’s new Chief Democracy Officer, Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, asking why the city paid $20,000 to Civis for the list when it could have gotten it from the Board of Elections for free.

  • Information disorder: Deep-fake videos are now good enough to upend an election, warns Jennifer Finney Boylan in a New York Times oped.

  • On the other hand, deep-fake tech will make it possible for all of us to dance like Bruno Mars.

  • Twitter is releasing all the accounts and related content associated with “potential information operations” that it has found since 2016, to enable more independent research on the problem, the company announced yesterday.

  • Here’s a nifty timeline of last year’s avalanche of data breaches, courtesy of Kate Crawford of the AI Now Institute.

  • What sharing economy? A new study from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority has found that ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft have been responsible for more than half the overall increase in the city’s traffic delays from 2010 to 2016, Aarian Marshall reports for Wired.

  • Life in Facebookistan: The digital media world is buzzing with anger at Facebook for allegedly not telling publishers for more than a year that its system for measuring viewership of video ads on its platform was badly flawed and drastically overestimating actual viewership numbers, as Suzanne Vranica reports for The Wall Street Journal. The company gets about 1/4 of the roughly $28 billion spent each year on such ads in the U.S. alone.

  • Among the commenters: Maya Kosoff, a tech writer for Vanity Fair, who tweeted, “can’t stop thinking about how many people in this industry were laid off bc of pivots to video and the sheer number of newsroom resources dedicated to chasing three seconds’ worth of video views in recent years.” And media writer Tom Scocca adds, “It’s true that lots of writers lost their jobs when publishers followed Facebook’s fraudulent traffic numbers and switched to video but it’s also true lots of video people who were hired to replace writers lost THEIR jobs a little further along in the same fraud cycle.”

  • Facebook’s new political ad transparency effort only goes so far, since advertisers can make up whatever name they want when they fill in the form the company now requires. And as Alexis Madrigal reports for The Atlantic, one of the biggest advertisers is a secretive company called News for Democracy that is tied to MotiveAI, a Denver-based startup backed by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman which is using highly refined techniques for micro targeting some very precise voter segments in places like Arkansas and Kansas. (And our old pal Adam Mordecai, the genius behind Upworthy’s “you’ll never guess what happened next!” virality, works there!)

  • More than half of 100 veteran-focused Facebook pages sharing divisive misinformation aimed at American vets originated in foreign countries. That’s just one of many worrisome findings of Kris Goldsmath, an employee of Vietnam Veterans of America, who—according to Ben Kesling and Dustin Volz‘s story in the Wall Street Journal—has spent untold hours campaigning to get Facebook to close fake pages targeting vets.

  • Here are some practical steps that WhatsApp could take to reduce the spread of misinformation, as proposed by Brazilian researchers Cristina Tardáguila, Fabrício Benevenuto and Pablo Ortellado in The New York Times.

  • Some major investors in Facebook, including Scott Stringer, NYC’s Comptroller and overseer of the city’s $160 billion pension fund, are pushing for the company to remove CEO Mark Zuckerberg as chairman. But as Sara Salinas reports for CNBC, the push is largely symbolic, since Zuckerberg has absolute control of the company.

  • Tech and politics: There’s a green wave of dollars cresting as the 2018 mid-term election reaches its endpoint, as Michael Scherer and David Weigel report for The Washington Post. They note, “ActBlue, a central conduit for Democratic campaign contributions, has recorded 4.5 million contributors so far in the 2018 cycle, with about 61 percent of the money coming from women. That compares with 1.5 million donations in the 2014 cycle, when about 52 percent of the money came from women.”

  • Ryan Grim of The Intercept reports on how Data for Progress’s moneyball approach is making it rain for a targeted group of state legislative candidates.

  • Former President Obama brings just about every Internet reference possible to this short PSA urging young people to vote. My favorite: “Elections aren’t boring. You know what’s boring? Scrolling through Instagram and watching endless pictures of you’re eating.”