Beto Tester

Beto O'Rourke's tech chops surface; digital services go local; and more


  • This is civic tech: Jukay Hsu and his team at Pursuit, the Queens-based nonprofit tech training center, gets a glowing profile in The New York Times by Steve Lohr that looks at how well they are propelling people with the highest need and potential into well-paying tech jobs in NYC. More than half of Pursuit’s fellows are on public assistance and nearly half are women. (This is the second time in a few months that the Times has covered local civic tech, by the way. W00t!)

  • Follow the #TICTeC hashtag today and tomorrow for the buzz from the fifth annual international conference focused on the Impacts of Civic Tech.

  • This is not civic tech: Also in the New York Times, tech and media reporter John Herrman digs into Citizen, a street-level information sharing app built on top of freely available emergency radio transmissions from police, fire and emergency personnel that used to be called Vigilante, until it was banned from Apple’s App Store. As Hermann shows, the app is still creepy and borderline racist in how it plays on people’s fears of crime, but it has been rebranded in subtle ways. For example, Vigilante’s #CrimeNoMore hashtag is now called #ProtectTheWorld. Seed money for Citizen has come from, yes of course, Peter Thiel‘s Founders Fund, Herrman notes.

  • Related (as in not civic tech): Related Hudson Yards, the primary developer of the new “smart city” that just opened on New York City’s West Side, hasn’t been quiet about its plans to use sensor technologies, in partnership with Google’s Intersection, to engineer life in its new megaplorium. As David Jeans reports for The Real Deal, a real estate site, some details are beginning to emerge, including a “content management system” made up of 30 kiosks spread across the 26 acre site with interactive touch screens that can be used to book restaurants, buy tickets to the Vessel, or get directions and alerts. Cameras in the sides of the kiosks will be used to tell advertisers things like “how many people looked at the ad, for how long did they seem interested, bored, were they smiling,” Jay Cross of Related, told Jeans.

  • Visitors to the Vessel, a seemingly benign piece of seemingly public art standing in the middle of Hudson Yards, have to accept a Terms of Conditions statement that not only absolves Hudson Yards of any liability should they injure themselves while visiting, it also asserts the company shall have the unrestricted rights to any digital creation (photo, audio, video) they make while visiting it, as Ben Yakas reports for Gothamist.

  • Cities aren’t computers, and people aren’t data sources. That’s a snippet from Aimee Whitcroft‘s recent talk on the relationship between smart cities and civic tech.

  • Tech and politics: Finally, a major presidential candidate who should be able to tell the difference between a server and a waiter. Joseph Menn, author of the forthcoming book “Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World,” reports for Reuters that former Texas congressman  was, while a tech, a member of the group that invented the word “hacktivism.” O’Rourke tells Menn the experience taught him the value of “being able to be apart from the system and look at it critically and have fun while you’re doing it,” and ““I understand the democratizing power of the internet, and how transformative it was for me personally, and how it leveraged the extraordinary intelligence of these people all over the country who were sharing ideas and techniques.” O’Rourke has leaned on his connections from CdC in his political campaigns, holding fundraisers in San Francisco hosted by fellow members Adam O’Donnell of Cisco Systems and Alex Stamos, until recently the chief security officer at Facebook.

  • Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), another Democratic presidential candidate, has introduced the Digital Service Act of 2019, Issie Lapowsky reports for Wired. The bill would create a pool of $15 million a year for state and local efforts to set up tech teams modeled on the federal US Digital Service, in addition to allocating $50 million a year for USDS. The funding is supposed to go toward tools that make accessing government services easier, not routine IT maintenance. As Lapowsky notes, Harris’ bill was developed in consultation with Code for America, whose founder Jen Pahlka also helped create USDS.

  • On Twitter, Abhi Nemani, a former co-executive director of Code for America who is currently the CIO of the cit of Sacramento, comments, “Love this bill’s direction, but concerned about the math. To put this in perspective, we had a $10M innovation fund at the City of Sacramento. $15M for 300,000,000 doesn’t really add up.” (Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time a presidential candidate made big promises about tech and failed to back them up.)

  • Raffi Krikorian, the Silicon Valley veteran who was hired to revamp the Democratic National Committee’s tech operation, is stepping down as CTO to return to California to work for Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, Ruby Cramer reports for BuzzFeed News. She notes that he was most successful at improving the DNC’s security protocols, but her story makes no mention of his early hopes to consolidate and modernize the party’s approach to voter data.

  • Life in Facebookistan: “Today In,” Facebook’s year-old effort to amplify local news, is struggling to find good sources of locally generated coverage, the AP reports. Forty percent of Americans, it found, live in places where there aren’t enough original local news stories to support the service.

  • Don’t show or tell: In the first 24 hours after the Christchurch attack on two mosques, Facebook removed 1.5 million postings of the gunman’s video. As Joan Donovan, an expert on tech and the media at the Shorenstein Center, writes in the Atlantic, it’s long past time that we all changed our habits around highly triggering content. She says, “Withholding details runs counter to the usual rules of storytelling—show, don’t tell—but it also helps slow down the spread of white-supremacist keywords. Journalists and regular internet users need to be cognizant of their role in spreading these ideas, especially because the platform companies haven’t recognized theirs.”

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