They Know Where You’ve Been

The "location economy" revealed; bias in hiring algorithms; voter data wars; and more.


  • This is civic tech: A new report from Upturn looks at how hiring algorithms affect economic opportunity, finding that “without active measures to mitigate them, bias will arise in predictive hiring tools by default.”

  • Microsoft president Brad Smith is calling on governments to start adopting laws to regular the use of facial recognition technology, writing “Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues.”

  • The folks at Democracy Ouverte in Paris are proposing to effectively crowdsource a new constitution for France (well, they call it an “update of our democratic software”) in response to the Yellow Vest protest movement.

  • Apply: Nava, a public benefit corporation that specializes in civic tech, is looking to hire…lots of people!

  • Apply: Proposals for talks or workshops for Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019 are due this Friday.

  • Food for thought: Vincent Stehle, the executive director of Media Impact Funders, argues in the Chronicle of Philanthropy that non-profit information platforms like Wikipedia and the Mozilla Foundation, as well as social enterprises like Craiglist, demonstrate that philanthropy can do more to change media culture than we realize.

  • In the same vein, Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, says that instead of bashing Facebook, we should be paying more attention to efforts to create media “that’s under personal control, plural in purpose, public in spirit and participatory in governance.” And he gives some examples, like Gobo.social and Parlio.

  • Brave new world: Welcome to the “location economy,” where at least 75 companies collect and sell anonymous, precise data from apps that up to 200 million mobile devices owned in the US are generating, largely without the awareness of their owners. As reported by Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Natasha Singer, Michael Keller and Aaron Krolik for The New York Times and beautifully illustrated by the Times’ data visualization gurus, the information available “reveals people’s travels in startling detail, accurate to within a few yards and in some cases updated more than 14,000 times a day.” I guarantee you that after you read this article, you will immediate want to go change the location privacy settings on all your phone apps; I know I did.

  • One company, Tell All Digital, uses location data to run ad campaigns for personal injury lawyers seeking to target people in emergency rooms. Another, Fysical, used location data to determine that three times as many people attended the Washington DC Women’s March in 2017 as attended President Trump‘s inauguration the day before. The collection, sale and use of location data is largely unregulated in the US.

  • As privacy expert Thomas Rid notes on Twitter, the Times’ story doesn’t even mention the collection and sale of personal data by the cell phone carriers.

  • Oh, and guess what, Facebook has filed patent applications for tech that will use your location data to predict where you will be going in the future, Nicole Nguyen reports for BuzzFeed News.

  • Speaking of locations, here’s a map of 206 known proposals for Amazon’s HQ2, along with a collection of 81 bid documents that have been released either preemptively or as a result of records requests, collected by the good folks at MuckRock, the transparency news site.

  • Life in Facebookistan: BuzzFeed News reporters Ryan Broderick and Jules Darmanin argue that Facebook has played a big role in the intensification of the Yellow Vests protests in France, asserting that the street protests have been more chaotic than typical French movements because of Facebook’s viral effects.

  • Max Read of New York magazine says they’re overstating the role of Facebook in France’s protests, writing that “the idea that popular outrage is more about ‘the power of social networks’ than actual French politics…seems very wrong, and more than a little irresponsible.”

  • Today, Google CEO Sundar Pichai is testifying before Congress for the first time, and the Washington Post’s Tony Romm has a good preview of what’s at stake.

  • More than 60 human rights organizations have signed an open letter urging Pichai to drop Project Dragonfly and any plans to launch a censored app in China, Colin Lecher reports for The Verge.

  • Related: YouTube, an Alphabet (Google) subsidiary, is still harboring and recommending hateful and conspiratorial videos willy-nilly, a year after its CEO promised to curb “problematic” videos, Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Tony Romm, and Andrew Ba Tran report for The Washington Post.

  • Tech and politics: LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman is working with Todd Park, President Obama‘s former CTO, along with US Digital Service veterans Haley Van Dyck and Mikey Dickerson, to create a for-profit voter file “that would store all of the progressive community’s voter data,” Alex Thompson reports for Politico. Hoffman is reportedly putting close to $35 million into the company in its first year.

  • This news comes in the wake of a report four days ago by Thompson that the DNC was seeking to set up a massive database combining state party voter files, stirring up dissent among some state party leaders.

  • Heads up: Stay tuned for an email from us inviting you, yes you!, to an experiment in end-of-the-year list-making…