Data, democracy & power

On to an early morning meeting called “Data, democracy & power”, hosted by the Fabian Society. This was chaired by Jemima Kiss of the Guardian who alluded to the pervasive nature of modern ICT. Chi Onawaruh MP spoke combining a statement of inclusive values with insight into the nature of progressive change; how only a movement informed by visions of socialist equality can ensure that the internet act as a tool for freedom and empowerment. Digital Government needs to continue, and she spoke of the feelings of frustration raised by her constituents that many government, both national and local, services were not available online, such as signing on for Job Seekers Allowance. While paying what seems to be mandatory praises to the Government Digital Services she noted that it has no policy on digital inclusion and that this mustn’t be forgotten.

She also pointed out that Ed Miliband in a recent speech had committed Labour to the principle that a person’s data belonged to them and stated that this commitment was in the National Policy draft document agreed at Warwick. If so, this is important because with pan European data protection principles, of consent for purpose, retaining only while needed and keeping it safe, we have a set of principles for a rock solid privacy regime. She pointed out that the Tory Government has no data strategy, in some case looking to sell our data, and in others publishing for free use, although I have to add, rarely acting as a privacy guardian .

Dominic Campbell of futuregov in a short contribution started with his elevator pitch, that we’re doing I.T. all wrong, and that it needs to be pulled down and replaced with “Digital by Design”. He stated that as a consultant, he finds that he works more effectively with Tory local authorities. He accused Labour Councils of having a “muncipalist top down mindset” and was challenged by Onawaruh. I think we should listen, he gave an example of where a council had re-engineered their meals on wheels service by replacing the service with a “share a meal” service building a social network of meal providers and consumers encouraging citizens to share their meals with neighbours. He argued that it allowed an increase in the quality of meals and transformed the council from a transactional service provider to that of a community organiser. He also argued that it increased the service quality. It sounds a bit “Big Society” to me, and leaves questions about how to ensure the coverage required of the policy i.e. how do we ensure that every one that needs a meal get one but it is a good example of the potential nature of transformational projects.It also seems to me that it doesn’t answer Onawaruh’s critiques relating to inclusion and coverage. It is however a call to do better. He repeated the view that data & analytics are not neutral, policy makers and citizens must insert value.

The internet has been built by private companies, on the back of public intellectual property; although only because the US demands that public money buts public domain. The private asset ownership isolates individuals and appropriates certain roles and functions to those companies and in some case, though not many governments. Can these organisational models be challenged and changed.

Karin Christiansen, of the Co-Op party started her speech by placing the Co-Op movement as a method of collective organising as alternatives to the privately owned internet; ; it started as a baker ensuring that food quality was safe. Unfortunately they’re a bit busy at the moment to play any role in short term internet governance. Christiansen’s contribution importantly alluded to the changing economic models best illustrated today by AirBnB & Uber, but also by borrowmydoggy.com; sharing economy entities. There is massive controversy about the morality and justice of the way in which these organisations appropriate value.  Obviously Co-ops are looking to ensure that those that create the value are appropriately rewarded, where as companies prioritise the entrepreneurs and their VC funders. Co-ops look to their members, workers or consumers or both. I have occasionally thought that Co-Ops are good way of organising and sharing ownership in the internet age and that ISPs and identity assurance providers would be best done by some form of public & collective ownership; some of which we see in the municipal digital initiatives which follow in the tradition of public libraries. None of this is helped by the Government local government cuts which are putting massive pressure on Library and all local government services. The inhibiting factor for ISP start-ups is the capital requirements and/or option cost for capacity although with the vertical disintegration occurring in the data centre market this might be less important than once thought.

In passing, she mentioned the idea of rewarding those that create value by liking pages on facebook, or equivalent actions on other social sites. It’s clear that people other than Zuckerberg, Brin and Paige create value, and I have been pointed at these emerging theories around human capital by Anne Barron in her paper, ‘Free Software Production as Critical Social Practice’. Oddly, the following day, I came across this article at Zero Hedge, which briefly documents some research about the existence and behaviour of facebook “like farms”, where it is suggested that some advertisers will pay for ‘likes’ on their pages fulfilled by people or ‘bots. It just goes to show, that even today, at least some people are being paid to contribute to social media sites. The research abstract is publicised by the Cornell University archive, and posted here. The bottom line is that the fake likes can be detected by forms of pattern recognition, the authors recommend that filters should be built; to me it’s a bit like the argument about drugs in sport. Even if drugged, athletes have performed, although we need to discount the Canadian Snowboarder stripped of his medal for using cannabis.There’s also room to learn form the wordpress spammers that write and say how wonderful the blog is and how they expect to learn much from the blog. It’s clear that advertising & marketing will fund both content and likes & links.

ooOOOoo

During the Q&A one person, raised the use of FOI requests and Onawaruh & Christiansen took the opportunity to state that where FOI requests are aimed at obtaining data the responses should be in open data formats, critically usable, since so often they are returned as .pdf

The featured picture is Ian S at flickr and published under a CC BY-NC-ND 2007

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