Ring Tones

Save Dot.org fight; Algorithms and work; Fear at your doorbell; and more.


This is civic tech: The city of Portland, Oregon is considering a total ban on the use of facial recognition by both government and private businesses in the city, Sean Captain reports for Fast Company. This would be the most restrictive law in the country if enacted.
 
 SaveDotOrg and NTEN are hosting a community call today at noon Pacific time. Join here.
 
 New York City’s first attempt at conducting an audit of its use of automated decision systems (aka algorithms) was a painful failure, Albert Fox Cahn writes in Fast Company. His boss was a member of a blue-chip task force set up by the City Council in 2017, and he says that the panel never got any information from the city on what automated decision systems it was using, leading to a final report that “holds the air of a college paper hastily prepared by a student the day before the deadline.” Cahn has since founded the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.
 
Former White House deputy CTO Nicole Wong offers some words of wisdom on building a pipeline of people expert in both public policy and tech.
 
Attend: The first-ever Code for Canada Summit is taking place on March 10-11 in Toronto.
 
Apply: The good folks at Everytown for Gun Safety are looking to hire a senior data scientist.
 
Apply: NYC’s Planning Labs is looking to hire a product manager.
 
Privacy, shmivacy: Ring, a subsidiary of Amazon, is building a privatized surveillance network across America in close partnership with local police forces, offering free devices to the police in exchange for getting local forces to promote the product, and selling customers on the product by whipping up fears of crime, Caroline Haskins reports for Motherboard. She notes that the “company that has hosted at least one company party where employees wore ‘FUCK CRIME’ shirts and racist costumes of Native and indigenous Americans.” She also reports that “Ring has coached police departments that have partnered with the company on how to obtain surveillance footage from residents without a warrant. The company also provides detailed scripts to police that dictate how departments are allowed to talk about the company on Neighbors, on other social media platforms, and in real life.”

As Haskins notes, Ring says it has partnerships with 600 local police forces already. On Halloween, it reported that its doorbells were rung more than 15.8 million times. And while the company’s blog emphasizes the cute and beneficial ways sharing local information can help people, it’s also fair to question if its business model promotes healthier civic life. A simple glance at its Neighbors app suggests that Ring is like a local TV news station, but without any editorial responsibility. Snippets of video showing “suspicious” people approaching private homes litter the site. Fear may sell, but hyping fear also makes people less willing to trust their neighbors and undermines civic trust.
 
Future of work? Emily Guendelsberger went undercover at three low-wage jobs: An Amazon warehouse, a call center and a McDonalds, and what she found is a workforce ruled by surveillance and algorithms. “Cyborg jobs,” she writes, “demand a workforce that can think, talk, feel, and pick stuff up like humans—but with as few needs outside of work as robots. They insist their workers amputate the messy human bits of themselves—family, hunger, thirst, emotions, the need to make rent, sickness, fatigue, boredom, depression, traffic.” Read Gabriel Winant’s New Republic review of her book On the Clock for more.
 
A group of Facebook moderators employed in Ireland is suing the company for “psychological trauma,” David Gilbert reports for Vice News.
 
Four Google employees recently fired for union organizing write on Medium that they are fighting back and filing an unfair labor practice complaint with the NLRB.

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