Technogreed

Ben Mason talks civic tech and refugees in Germany; voting records for sale on dark web; and more.


  • This is civic tech: Ben Mason of betterplace labs presented findings from a report on civic technology and the “refugee crisis” in Germany at Civic Hall earlier this week, and his comments have been edited and posted at Civicist. Keep your eyes peeled for parallels with the U.S. civic tech space, and in particular the “movement moment” we’ve experienced since the election.

  • U.S. Army veteran, founding member of the NYC Veterans Alliance, and Civic Hall member Kristen Rouse went on the Brian Lehrer Show yesterday morning to discuss the president’s tweets declaring transgender individuals will not be allowed to serve in the military. “Transgender service matters,” Rouse said. “We need to express this as an American value, diversity and inclusion makes us stronger.”

    Related: The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief arguing that the Civic Rights Act doesn’t protect gay and bisexual employees, Mark Joseph Stern reports for Slate.

  • Tech and politics: A new study shows the potential impact “dark ads” on Facebook could have on an election, Timothy Revell reports for New Scientist. “Though Facebook doesn’t explicitly provide the tools to target people based on political opinions, the new study shows how the platform can be exploited,” Revell writes. “Using combinations of people’s interests, demographics, and survey data it’s possible to direct campaigns at individuals based on their agreement with ideas and policies. This could have a big impact on the success of campaigns.”

  • More than 40 million voter records from at least nine states have been put up for sale on a dark web forum, AJ Vicens reports for Mother Jones, and databases from Arkansas and Ohio have already been sold for a pittance.

  • Brave new world: Investigators have broken into at least eight of the phones confiscated from the protestors arrested on January 20 and are trying to use their browsing history, communications, and photos as evidence, Kelly Weill reports for The Daily Beast.

  • The digital rights group Access Now is petitioning Blackstone Group to not invest in the Israeli spyware maker NSO Group, the sellers of the software that the Mexican government has used to target activists and journalists, according to a Reuters report.

    “In our more than six years of working on surveillance technology, this is the most egregious example of investors openly flaunting human rights norms in pursuit of profit,” Deji Bryce Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now, said in a press release. “Blackstone is making a clear statement to its investors that it’s willing to trample on human rights defenders. The deal represents the worst excesses of New York finance combined with Silicon Valley technogreed.”

  • Slate’s April Glaser has a good recap of the tech industry’s difficult position, caught between its desire to “stand up to Trump and sit down with him.”

  • Media matters: DocumentCloud is going to start asking news organizations to contribute to help sustain the tool as it transitions to an independent nonprofit, Christine Schmidt reports for Nieman Lab.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Remember Facebook’s Free Basics service, the “on ramp” to the internet in which a certain few services are free, but the rest is not? When it was announced it was widely panned as a digital landgrab by the social media company, but I hadn’t heard about it in a while. In case you were wondering what happened to it, Global Voices has you covered: A new report looks at the service for usability and open internet benchmarks. The report finds that Free Basics falls short in several ways, including accessibility and relevance to target users, and it also is predatory in the way it vacuums up data and violates net neutrality principles.

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