Tipping Points

Unions at tech companies? Trouble inside OpenAI; Ring's creepy fans; and much more.


This is civic tech: About 53,000 more people will have their marijuana convictions expunged in Los Angeles county, thanks in part to Code for America’s algorithmic expungement program, Vanessa Romo reports for NPR.

New York City’s council has passed legislation sponsored by Councilmember Brad Lander creating an online public capital projects tracker, Gabriel Sandoval reports for The City. It’s worth noting that the project is an outgrowth of a district-wide tracker that Lander’s office has maintained to keep track of local projects supported through participatory budgeting since 2012. (h/t Jennifer Godzeno)

The schedule for the 2020 TICTeC (The Impacts of Civic Tech) conference is now up; tickets for the annual event are still available. Matt Stempeck and I will be giving a panel talk on “How to last in civic tech.”

Apply: LittleSis.org, the free open-source power mapping research site, is looking to hire a web developer.

With $1 billion in initial funding from backers like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, the nonprofit OpenAI project is trying to build artificial general intelligence safely and in ways that will benefit the world, but as Karen Hao reports for MIT Technology Review, “fierce competitiveness and mounting pressure for ever more funding [are eroding] its founding ideals of transparency, openness, and collaboration.”

Tech and labor: The staff of Kickstarter has voted to unionize, affiliating with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Kate Conger and Noam Scheiber report for The New York Times.

Google used to tell its employees to “act like owners” and speak up about their concerns, but as Noam Scheiber and Kate Conger report in a comprehensive piece for the New York Times Magazine, a year after a massive employee walkout, it is coming down hard on such Googley types.

Privacy, shmivacy: Owners of in-home and outdoor security camera systems like Ring say they don’t mind potential privacy violations or hacks, since they’re the ones getting to snoop on their neighbors, Drew Harwell reports for The Washington Post. ““Who hasn’t looked out and watched other people through their peephole? There’s a kind of morbid fascination to it,” Matthew Guariglia of the Electronic Frontier Foundation commented. “The problem is when it’s not just you behind a peephole but a camera that’s on at all times, saving to a cloud you don’t control.”

A NBC News investigation by Cyrus Farivar finds that there is little concrete evidence that law enforcement agencies that have partnered with Ring are seeing crime go down as a result.

Foreign correspondents’ phones are frequently being targeted by sophisticated spy-ware, Ahana Datta, the head of cybersecurity for the Financial Times writes for the Columbia Journalism Review.

Internet of Shit: If you drive your “smart” rental car too far from good cell service, you may get to experience what Kari Paul describes in this piece in the Guardian: a brick that you can’t get into, let alone drive, because it hasn’t been synced with the cloud.

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