Collective Health

Civic tech responds to Hurricane Florence, people-centered smart cities, & more


  • This is civic tech: Check out FlorenceResponse, built by members of the Code for America brigades in North Carolina with help from developers from California, Texas, Florida and elsewhere. The site came together after Chris Whitaker of Code for America contacted brigade members in the Triangle and suggested they redeploy some of the code developed last year in response to hurricane in Houston and South Florida, as Chris Matthews writes for OpenPass. The site has near-to-realtime information on local shelters; developers expect to do more intensive work on it at this weekend’s Civic Camp in Raleigh.

  • This morning, the Knight Foundation announced a major five-year $5.25 million initiative that puts residents at the center of self-driving vehicle pilot projects happening in five U.S. cities: Detroit; Long Beach, California; Miami; San Jose, California; and Pittsburgh. The effort is the largest of the foundation’s initiative to develop what it calls “people-centered Smart Cities.” Lilian Coral, Knight’s director for national strategy and technology innovation, said in a press release announcing the program: “Autonomous vehicles are one of the most disruptive technologies of our time, holding significant implications for the way we move, work and interact within communities. Important conversations are happening among government and industry on what these changes mean for the future, but residents have largely been left from the table. Without their input, we risk designing cities for new kinds of cars, rather than for people.”

  • Related: Chad Marlow of the ACLU and Maryiam Saifuddin of the Sunlight Foundation write on Medium how to stop smart cities from becoming surveillance cities. One key step they suggest: legislation fostering community control over police surveillance.

  • The annual Code for Pennsylvania event, coming up this weekend, is expanding to four cities and taking on a focus on the opioid crisis, Zack Quaintance reports for GovTech.

  • Nigeria’s Civic Media Lab has launched a mobile election monitoring app called ZABE, SaharaReporters reports.

  • Chen Ting-Yen of g0v.news looks at the similarities between Kosovo and Taiwan, asking “Can Kosovo Be a Civic Tech Role Model for Taiwan?

  • Attend: Personal Democracy Forum Ukraine has announced its conference theme, “Re:Forming Ukraine Through Civic Tech” and posted its preliminary agenda. The conference is October 25-26 in Kharkiv.

  • NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen spent an hour in conversation with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and here are some of the highlights (from the transcript posted by Recode): Dorsey says that in his private conversations with conservatives, the issue of “shadow banning” doesn’t come up as much as it has in public settings. And while many people see Twitter as a public square, Dorsey says “I don’t have expectations accordingly” but then goes on to discuss how Twitter is “going to make it our objective to increase the collective health.”

  • Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne Benioff are buying Time magazine for $190 million in cash, Cristiano Lima reports for Politico.

  • Blockchain journalism startup Civil is opening up its token sale today. 100 percent of token sale net proceeds will go to the Civil Foundation, an independent not-for-profit organization that will make grants to news organizations.

  • Information Disorder: Citing two legitimate Twitter messaging campaigns, one to support SNAP benefits and one backing Senator Ted Cruz, misinformation researcher Renee DiResta writes in Wired that bots are ruining clicktivism by making it near impossible to tell the difference between authentic organic campaigns and fake accounts that join in on the same hashtag.

  • A bipartisan group of three members of the US House, Adam Schiff (D-CA), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Carlos Curbelo (R-Fl) are calling on the intelligence community to assess the threat to national security that may be caused by the rise of the “hyper-realistic digital forgeries” known as “deep fakes,” James Vincent reports for The Verge.

  • After initially only inviting Republican state attorneys general, the Justice Department is now inviting a bipartisan group of 24 to meet with US attorney general Jeff Sessions to discuss concerns about political bias on social media platforms, John McKinnon reports for The Wall Street Journal.

  • Some employees of Amazon, especially in China but also in the US, are reportedly selling the ability to delete negative product reviews as well as information on users who have posted reviews, and the company is conducting an internal investigation, Jon Emont, Laura Stevens and Robert McMillan report for The Wall Street Journal. They write, “The practice, which violates company policy, is particularly pronounced in China, according to some of these people, because the number of sellers there is skyrocketing. As well, Amazon employees in China have relatively small salaries, which might embolden them to take risks.”

  • The AP’s Raphael Satter reports that back in late November 2010 WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange authorized a friend of his, Israel Shamir, to seek a visa from the Russian Consulate in London, a very early sign of his budding relationship with Moscow.

  • Google has built a prototype of a censored search engine for China that would link user searches to their personal phone numbers, making it easier for the Chinese government to monitor its citizens, Ryan Gallagher reports for The Intercept.

  • Life in Facebookistan: The Reuters Institute has released a detailed report on changing patterns in Facebook usage in Brazil, the US, the UK and Germany, finding that the percentage of people accessing the platform each week to get news has started to decline, dropped from 57% to 52% in Brazil in the last year, and 48% to 39% in the US.

  • Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, has announced a pilot program to expand protections for users associated with American political campaigns ahead of the 2018 election.

  • Health officials in India are worried that a blood donation tool offered by Facebook that allows people to request donations on short notice may be fueling a black market for blood, the Daily Sabah reports.

  • Facebook is looking to hire a product policy director for human rights who would coordinate company-wide efforts to address human rights abuses by state and non state actors.

  • It’s the end of the road for Path, a social networking platform that had positioned itself as a more private alternative to Facebook. Despite raising roughly $70 million and garnering about 50 million users, it’s shutting down, Jon Russell reports for TechCrunch.