Tools

"Talk about talk in civic tech"; Zuckerberg, tools, and the Whole Earth Catalog; and more.


  • The Irish high court found yesterday that there was “mass, indiscriminate processing of data” by U.S. authorities who got ahold of information of European citizens through their use of Facebook and Google, and as Henry Farrell explains in The Washington Post, this ruling threatens longstanding internatonal agreements allowing American tech companies to process Europeans’ data without violating their much tougher privacy laws.

  • The Washington Post’s Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly factchecked some of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s more important assertions in congressional testimony this week, and found some critical gaps. For example, you can’t download all the data Facebook has on you.

  • Facebook has decided to drop its opposition to the California Consumer Right to Privacy Act, a ballot initiative that aims to strengthen users’ ability to find out what information is being collected, sold or disclosed about them, NPR’s Sasha Ingber reports.

  • Moira Weigel riffs in The New Yorker on Mark Zuckerberg’s regular references to the “tools” Facebook gives users, noting that the word has deep roots in the counterculture’s rejection of politics, and arguing that beginning with Steward Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, “The idea that tools were preferable to politics found a ready audience in a decade of deregulation. The sense that the Web was somehow above or beyond politics justified laws that privatized Internet infrastructure and exempted sites from the kinds of oversight that governed traditional publishers. In other words, Brand’s philosophy helped create the climate in which Facebook, Google, and Twitter could become the vast monopolies that they are today—a climate in which dubious political ads on these platforms, and their casual attitudes toward sharing user data, could pass mostly unnoticed.”

  • Writing for Vox, Elana Souris and Hollie Russon Gilman make the case for a “participatory governance framework for civic data” that would help people understand the value of their own data, provide transparency to how that value is amplified by networks, and highlight the concerns of more vulnerable data users.

  • Speaking of helping people understand how their data may be used, Bernard Rudny of Torontoist reports that he tried, via FOI, to get a copy of the non-disclosure requirements in the Sidewalk Toronto framework agreement–arguing that just this section ought to be releasable—and was told by Waterfront Toronto that it couldn’t release it.

  • Good news: As Jamie Williams reports for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a DC district court has ruled that using automated tools to access publicly accessible information on the open web is not a crime, even if the website in question bans such use in its terms of service.

  • In the MIT Technology Review, Rachel Metz profiles Guillaume Chaslot, a former Google engineer who has built a website, AlgoTransparency, that allows you to see how YouTube’s recommendation engine works.

  • Google is quietly trying to win a $10 billion DOD contract to be the Pentagon’s cloud supplier, Patrick Tucker reports for Defense One, and the debate inside the company is said to be fierce.

  • The Federal Trade Commission is toughening its oversight of Uber’s privacy practices after the agency learned that the ride-sharing company failed to disclose a 2016 breach that exposed personal information of 25 million of its users, Dan Goodin reports for ArsTechnica.

  • Police forces are buying a relatively cheap tool called GrayKey to bypass the encryption on iPhones, Joseph Cox reports for Motherboard.

  • Andrew Schrock, author of a new book on civic tech, takes to Medium to “talk about talk in civic tech.” He argues that while consensus on an exact definition may be impossible, there appears to be wide agreement that it’s a response to “‘bad tech’ — technologies that exacerbate inequalities and appear out of control.”

  • Your moment of zen.