Exit to Community?
Meetup's Future After WeWork; Loomio Reboots; Digital Census Plans; and much more.
This is civic tech: Here’s a daring and brilliant idea for making some civic lemonade from the rotten lemons exposed by WeWork’s implosion: to extract Meetup, which was acquired by WeWork in 2017, and turn it into a platform cooperative. As Jennifer Brandel, Astrid Scholz, Mara Zepeda, and Nathan Schneider write on Medium, “In our vision, organizers and individual members would help shape the pricing structure and be rewarded for the paid use of the platform by receiving dividends. With an exit to community, as per Nathan Schneider’s analysis, Meetup would share value with the people who create that value. Think of it as REI for community gatherings.” Read the whole thing, and let the authors know if you want to pitch in.
Our friend and Civic Hall network member Sascha Haselmayer, the co-founder of CityMart, writes on Medium that it’s time that cities stop saying that they want to support start-ups and get more focused on supporting “social entrepreneurs,” arguing that the difference is between helping start-up founders who are predominantly white, male and from privilege, while social enterprises are far more likely to be founded by women, have more diverse backgrounds and often have first-hand experience of the problem they are trying to solve.
Civic Hall senior researcher Matt Stempeck has a new piece in Fast Company about another one of his side-projects, tracking diversity in the public sphere. Here he uses the logos of many Big Tech companies to illustrate something they don’t want their users to know: how little their internal diversity stats have improved since they started promising roughly five years ago to change their ratios.
Tool you can use: Loomio, the online consensus-making tool that came out of the Occupy movement (and which I first wrote about back in 2013), has just rolled out a completely redesigned version.
The Digital Equity Lab has released “Preparing for the First Digital Census,” a manual for libraries, community-based organizations, and advocates. The curricula and tools in the manual are designed to help organizations create safe digital and non-digital pathways to participation for their patrons or community.
Apply: Our friends and backers at Luminate are looking to hire a US investment principal focused on building and supporting their existing portfolio.
Apply: Be the first to know when Coding it Forward starts accepting applications for its 2020 Civic Digital Fellows.
Tech and campaigns: Here are some common-sense prescriptions from Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Project at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, on how to roll back some of the negative effects of political advertising online without hurt advocacy groups: “1. Ads should be clearly marked as an advertisement & limited to sidebars.
2. If clicked on, a screen should appear that says who paid for the ad with a way to contact them directly, as well as the metadata on the ad including the $ spent on the ad.
3. All micro-targeting should be turned off, except by zip code when justifiable.
4. No more dark posts.
5. Spending caps ($25 million per candidate per platform for national/ $5 million for state). This would level the playing field.
6. No platform reps inside campaigns.”
I’m especially intrigued by the idea of limiting the reach of campaigns using online political platforms, giving how powerfully the platforms can micro-target individuals. It’s high time the campaign finance reform field developed a comprehensive approach to platform effects, the way it has tried to deal with broadcast ads, recognizing the many ways that companies like Facebook and Twitter can tilt the playing field.
Privacy, shmivacy: Since last year, Google’s “Project Nightingale” has been secretly partnering with St. Louis-based Ascension, the second-largest health care system in the US, collecting “lab results, doctor diagnoses and hospitalization records, among other categories, and amounts to a complete health history, including patient names and dates of birth,” Rob Copeland reports for the Wall Street Journal. He adds, “Neither patients nor doctors have been notified. At least 150 Google employees already have access to much of the data on tens of millions of patients, according to a person familiar with the matter and the documents.”
Neither patients nor doctors have been notified. Ah, Google, up to your usual tricks scarfing up data and not asking for permission. Apparently a loophole in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act allows hospitals to share data with business partners as long as the information is used “only to help the covered entity carry out its health care functions.” Google is doing the work with Ascension for free, which only reminds us if you’re not paying for something online, it’s because you’re the product.
Maybe this is a good time to dust off one of my favorite quotes from Shoshana Zuboff’s book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, from a software engineer at a major tech company:
Imagine you have a hammer. That’s machine learning. It helped you climb a grueling mountain to reach the summit. That’s machine learning’s dominance of online data. On the mountaintop you find a vast pile of nails, cheaper than anything previously imaginable. That’s the new smart sensor tech. An unbroken vista of virgin board stretches before you as far as you can see. That’s the whole dumb world. Then you learn that any time you plant a nail in a board with your machine learning hammer, you can extract value from that formerly dumb plank. That’s data monetization. What do you do? You start hammering like crazy and you never stop, unless somebody makes you stop. But there is nobody up here to make us stop. This is why the ‘internet of everything’ is inevitable.
If Amazon’s head scientist for Alexa, Rohit Prasad, has his way, the home computing interface that we anachronistically still refer to as “speaker” rather than a “listener” will “follow you everywhere, know a fair bit about what you’re up to at any given moment, and be the primary interface for how you coordinate your life,” Karen Hao reports for MIT Technology Review.
Related: Amazon’s Ring home surveillance product and Neighbors, its affiliated hyperlocal sharing platform, are turning actual neighbors into hyper-paranoid loners, Ronda Kaysen reports for The New York Times’ Real Estate section. “You don’t need to own a Ring to join Neighbors,” she notes. “Just enter your address and there you have it, a map of a five-mile radius of your home, littered with tags like ‘suspicious,’ ‘crime,’ and ‘unknown visitor.’” All of this comes at a time when crime is dropping across the US, but people are less likely to know and socialize with their nearby neighbors.
I like this Neighbors Link a lot better.
Brave new world: Designer babies are here, or at least this New Jersey startup has started selling a prediction tool for assessing the DNA of frozen embryos, purportedly to help prospective parents know if their blastula is likely to get any of 11 different common diseases, Antonio Regalado reports for MIT Tech Review.
Remember the sharing economy? Instacart workers have been holding coordinated actions to try to get the company to increase the default tip option for delivery services and to stop charging “service fees” that the company simply pockets, and in retaliation Instacart has cut their pay further, Sasha Perigo reports. Lauren Kori Gurley of Motherboard has more, including a reminder that it was Instacart that was caught earlier this year subtracting tips from its workers’ base pay.
End times: Need some inspiration? Here’s a lovely interview with longtime Civic Hall member Marya Stark on how she keeps going in dark times (and how the rest of us can too), done with Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.
You are reading First Post, a twice-a-week digest of news and analysis of the world of civic tech, brought to you by Civic Hall, NYC’s community center for civic tech. If you are reading this because someone forwarded it to you, please become a subscriber ($10/m) and support our work and support our work or sign up for our newsletter and stay connected with the #CivicTech community.