Seating Arrangements

The FTC stirs; political bots blur; pot convictions get expunged; and more


  • This is civic tech: The San Francisco district attorney’s office has expunged (or reduced) more than 8,000 marijuana related convictions working with the help of Code for America’s “Clear My Record” algorithm which helped in rapidly identifying eligible cases, Paul Elias reports for the Associated Press. (Here’s more background on the project from Code for America.)

  • Two years late, the Trump Administration has published its updated version of its National Action Plan for Open Government, something it is obligated to do as a member of the international Open Government Partnership, veteran open government-watcher Alex Howard reports. He notes, “The new ‘national action plan’ is notable for its lack of ambition, specificity or relevance to backsliding on democracy in the USA under the Trump administration.”

  • The Sunlight Foundation’s board has announced the results of an in-depth review of the organization’s policies, culture and staffing related to allegations of misconduct. It writes, “The review showed there were fundamental issues with the Foundation’s culture and processes that contributed to a toxic culture. This had a profound impact on the people associated with the organization. It is also clear that the Board did not consistently uphold its governance responsibilities. We are truly sorry for the pain this caused and any it continues to cause. We are committed to taking action to build a culture where everyone who is part of the Sunlight Foundation family feels safe, empowered, and heard.”

  • Some pioneering government innovation labs around the world are closing down or getting radically restructured in response to domestic political shifts, Jennifer Guay reports for Apolitical.

  • Participate: The city of Buffalo, NY has announced a day-long “Civic Innovation Eco Challenge” with $12,000 in prize money for the winners.

  • Apply: The city of Pittsburgh is looking to hire a senior software engineer for its Digital Services Studio.

  • One more Amazon post-mortem: New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, speaking to Christine Chung and Josefa Velasquez of New York magazine, on how the process of developing its NY HQ2 deal differed from the company’s Virginia HQ2 decision: “Starting at the end of 2017, I could not get a phone call returned (from state officials). Three or four times I tried. I was trying to get information and express myself as to what might be necessary to be part of this thing before it was too late, and there was no willingness to engage. Virginia, by contrast, had a very different process. It’s instructive to look at what they did. They established a committee that included members of the legislature, stakeholders; it wasn’t just the governor and the mayor. They were involved in creating the bid, in proposing the bid, and so there was a lot more buy-in with the relevant people in that state all along the way. That did not happen here. This was a deal done in secret that was then presented as take it or leave it.”

  • Here’s what it’s like to work at Amazon Australia, as reported by Margaret Burin for ABC Australia.

  • Information disorder: The rising presence of political bots in online conversations has African-American activists worried that they will be drowned out as the 2020 presidential primaries heat up, Ryan Brooks reports for BuzzFeed News. At issue, the American Descendants of Slaves #ADOS movement, which has been around since 2015 and which seeks reparations for slavery, and which also appears to have been targeted by fake accounts seeking to fan flames. As Shireen Mitchell, the founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women remarked, “There are real black people criticizing these candidates rightfully, but there are also fake accounts out there just looking to take advantage of any tension they can find in the community. Everybody is a ‘bot’ now and no one can have a real conversation.”

  • As the 2018 midterm elections crested, the U.S. military took down Internet access to the Internet Research Agency of St. Petersburg, Ellen Nakashima reports for The Washington Post, the first news we have of the U.S. taking offensive actions against the Russian troll farm.

  • The Federal Trade Commission is launching a task force to monitor competition in the US tech industry, Makena Kelly reports for The Verge.

  • Independent observers are divided on whether this is a big deal, with former FTC chief technologist Ashkan Soltani praising the announcing, and Matt Stoller, a fellow at the anti-monopoly think tank Open Market Institute telling Issie Lapowsky of Wired, “I’m scornful of the new seating arrangements, because the FTC has consistently proven they do not want to wield power. They want to hold hearings. They want to get their friend economists and antitrust lawyers to fly into DC and talk to each other. They don’t want to do their No. 1 job, which is to police markets for unfair and anticompetitive behavior.”

  • The FTC has fined social media app Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, $5.7 million for violating the law intended to protect the privacy of children under the age of 13, Craig Timberg and Tony Romm report for The Washington Post.