Closing Windows

Whither UK civic tech; Social media summit at the White House; and more.


  • This is civic tech: MySociety has decided to freeze continued development of its global EveryPolitician database, which currently has structured data on more than 78,000 elected officials from 233 countries and territories. In this post, Mark Cridge, MySociety’s intrepid CEO, explains that the group had hoped to build a resource akin to Open Corporates for politicians, but that after five years of development EveryPolitician hadn’t attracted sufficient grant funding, and they hadn’t yet developed appropriate commercial services on top of the data to support its ongoing collection.

  • The United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service, once the pace-setter for the field, is drifting, according to a new report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Kat Hall reports for The Register. The report found that GDS’s role has “become increasingly unclear” and that it lacked the authority needed to encourage “necessary change across departments.” The committee report blamed a vacuum of leadership dating back to the departure of Cabinet Minister Frances Maude in 2015, who had been the original sponsor of GDS’ work.

  • Some news from the home front: We are thrilled to announce that Civic Hall has received a “transformational” gift of $5 million from Craig Newmark Philanthropies.

  • Apply: Here in NYC, the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics is working with the Queens Public Library and BetaNYC to recruit and train a cohort of 10-15 open data borough ambassadors who will help convene data literacy workshops in neighborhoods across the borough.

  • Tech and politics: The White House held a public forum on its federal data strategy on Tuesday, but if it wasn’t for Alex Howard who went to testify and report on the event, we would probably never have known. Howard writes, “For many months, this White House has not effectively engaged the public about either the open government plan or its formation, nor this strategy.”

  • In contrast, the White House is holding a “social media summit” today that will include some very fine people, indeed. As Oliver Darcy reports for CNN, while the invitee list has not been released, among the attendees who have shared the fact that they are going are a number of far-right internet trolls and conspiracy theorists, including a radio host who has promoted the QAnon conspiracy.

  • The dark side of tech: The “window to rein in facial recognition is closing,” Lily Hay Newman writes for Wired. She notes:

    Some municipalities—San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts, among them—have proactively banned law enforcement’s use of facial recognition. And more localized entities, like the New York State Education Department, have barred it in certain circumstances as well. And even police bodycam maker Axom has declined to incorporate it into its products. But the longer Congress declines to act on a broader level, the more entrenched the technology becomes and the harder it will be for opponents to overcome its inertia.

  • Related: Internet freedom group Fight for the Future has launched BanFacialRecognition.com in an effort to stop the technology in its tracks.

  • Sarah T. Roberts‘ new book, Behind the Screen, does a great job illuminating the burgeoning and disturbing new industry of commercial content moderation, and if you want a quick preview, read this interview she did with Isaac Chotiner in The New Yorker.

  • Next week we’ll be on vacation—read a book! 

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