Elizabeth Renieris and Dazza Greenwood give different words to my previously expressed concerns about the narrative frame of personal ownership of data and selling it as a tool to counteract the data krakens like Facebook. The key difference is in tying it to different regulatory frameworks, and when each of those comes into play. Property law versus human rights law.

I feel the human rights angle also will serve us better in coming to terms with the geopolitical character of data (and one that the EU is baking into its geopolitical proposition concerning data). In the final paragraph they point to the ‘basic social compact’ that needs explicit support. That I connect to my notion of how so much personal data is also more like communal data, not immediately created or left by me as an individual, but the traces I leave acting in public. At Techfestival Aza Raskin pointed to fiduciary roles for those holding data on those publicly left personal data traces, and Martin von Haller mentioned how those personal data traces also can serve communal purposes and create communal value, placing it in yet another legal setting (that of weighing privacy versus public interest)

Read Do we really want to “sell” ourselves? The risks of a property law paradigm for personal data ownership. (Medium)

….viewing this data as property that is capable of being bought, sold, and owned by others is in large part how we ended up with a broken internet funded by advertising — or the “ad tech model” of the Internet. A property law-based, ownership model of our data risks extending this broken ad tech model of the Internet to all other facets of our digital identity and digital lives expressed through data. While new technology solutions are emerging to address the use of our data online, the threat is not solved with technology alone. Rather, it is time for our attitudes and legal frameworks to catch up. The basic social compact should be explicitly supported and reflected by our business models, legal frameworks and technology architectures, not silently eroded and replaced by them.

“But that’s politics!” One of the other participants in our group discussing progress in tech said this to me during our work as the Copenhagen 150. “You sound like a politician”. I was making a second attempt summarising our discussion, trying to formulate our key points, after a first summary by someone else in the group.

The remark stood out for me, because of two reasons.

First, it surprised me that it seemed a new notion for the other person, as I think tech is inherently political. Tech shapes society, and society in turn shapes tech development. Tech in the way it creates or diminishes agency, creates affordances, deals with aspects like access, power (a)symmetries, externalisation of costs, in the way it gets deployed, is all about ethics. And ethics, as the practical expression of values and morals, is deeply political. Maybe less in a party political way, the politics as horse race we see play out daily in the news. That comparison might have been the source of surprise for the other participant. But definitely in the shape of a societal debate about desirability, impacts and intended and unintended consequences. At the start we had a great conversation with Denmarks ambassador to the tech industry (photo), which is a very clear expression of the political weight of tech, and just before the Copenhagen 150 I listened to a very good conversation between Casper Klynge, the tech ambassador, and former Dutch MEP / now Stanford international policy director Marietje Schaake, which rightly and firmly put tech discussions in the geopolitical arena.

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Second, the “you make it sound like politics” bit stood out for me, because it gave me a jolt realising that I should behave more purposefully on a political level. Some 25 years ago I briefly engaged in local city politics, but soon realised such games weren’t for me, and that a faster way to change is to start creating the little impacts you want to see. Not of the ‘move fast and break things’ type, but out of the belief that if you create new effective behaviours those will be contagious, and in aggregate lead to culture changes. It is how I ended up in open data for instance, I was already working on open government but not particularly getting anywhere, and then realised open data as a newly emerging topic provided a much better inroad to changing governance. It was seen as a tech-only topic by most politicians and thus unthreatening to the status quo, whereas it was clear to me that if you start pulling the strings of how data gets shared, you soon start pulling over the entire processes that lead to the creation and usage of that data, as its publication creates new realities that generates responses. Politics obviously always plays a role concerning internal relations within a client. A large part of my international work is about diplomacy and cultural sensitivity too. But treating it as a political endeavour in its own right is different. I realise I may be in a place in my work where that deserves to have a much more deliberate role.

Last week danah boyd was presented with an EFF award. She gave a great acceptance speech titled Facing the Great Reckoning Head-On, that contains a plethora of quotes to highlight. Exploring how to make sense of the entire context and dynamics, in which the MIT Media Lab scandal of funding from a badly tainted source could take place (which I previously mentioned here, here and here.) So it’s best to just go read the entire thing.

In stark contrast, Lawrence Lessig’s ‘exploration’ makes no sense to me, and comes across as tone deaf, spending hundreds of words putting forward a straw man that if you accept tainted funding it always should be anonymous, while saying he personally wouldn’t accept such funding. That might well be, but has no real bearing on the case. Instead of putting forward how hard it is to raise funding, he could just as well have argued that higher education should be publicly funded, and funded well to avoid situations like at MIT Media Lab. A model that works well around the globe. Lessig wrote a book against corruption, meaning the funding focus of US politics, but doesn’t here call out the private funding of higher education on the same terms, even though the negative consequences are the same.

On the other hand boyd’s speech addresses the multiple layers involved. One’s own role in a specific system, and in a specific institute, how privilege plays out. How the deeply personal, the emotional and the structures and systems we create relate to and mutually impact each other. Acknowledging and sketching out the complexity, and then to seek where meaningful boundaries are is much maturer way to take this on than Lessig’s highlighting a single dimension of a situation which seems minimally pertinent to it, and worse because of its ‘flatness’ is easily perceived to be actively denying the emotional strata involved and in dire need of recognition.

As said go read the entire speech, but I’ll pick out a few quotes nevertheless. They are pertinent to topics I blog about here, such as the recently launched TechPledge, the role of community, the keys to agency, and resonates with my entire take on technology.

The story of how I got to be standing here is rife with pain and I need to expose part of my story in order to make visible why we need to have a Great Reckoning in the tech industry. This award may be about me, but it’s also not. It should be about all of the women and other minorities who have been excluded from tech by people who thought they were helping.

I am here today in-no-small-part because I benefited from the generosity of men who tolerated and, in effect, enabled unethical, immoral, and criminal men. And because of that privilege, I managed to keep moving forward even as the collateral damage of patriarchy stifled the voices of so many others around me.

What’s happening at the Media Lab right now is emblematic of a broader set of issues plaguing the tech industry and society more generally. Tech prides itself in being better than other sectors. But often it’s not.

If change is going to happen, values and ethics need to have a seat in the boardroom. Corporate governance goes beyond protecting the interests of capitalism. Change also means that the ideas and concerns of all people need to be a part of the design phase and the auditing of systems, even if this slows down the process.

…whether we like it or not, the tech industry is now in the business of global governance.

“Move fast and break things” is an abomination if your goal is to create a healthy society…In a healthy society, we strategically design to increase social cohesion because binaries are machine logic not human logic.

…accountability without transformation is simply spectacle.

The goal shouldn’t be to avoid being evil; it should be to actively do good. But it’s not enough to say that we’re going to do good; we need to collectively define — and hold each other to — shared values and standards.

Human progress needs the the tech sector to be actively reflective, and to continuously scrutinise its ethics, the values and morals actually expressed in behaviour.

Today Lane Becker is celebrating his 46th birthday. To mark the occasion he is organising a conference in Austin, Texas.

Bringing together a cool line-up of speakers, he asked us to do a live video conversation at the start. To explain a bit about the history of how Lane came to doing birthday conferences. A few months ago I described that some the ripples of our birthday unconferences are more birthday conferences, such as Peter’s last June, and that also includes Lane’s events.

We had a live conversation at the start of Lane’s birthday conference, and described the history of how we came to do our first unconference for Elmine’s birthday in 2008, and then the subsequent events. We also tried share some of the main things that stand out to us.

That doing an unconference at home, which started as a fluke, brings a special vibe to it all. Everyone behaves informally, you’re a guest in our home, but still get into deep conversations and do workshops and sessions. How we learned at Reboot that bringing kids makes everything more real, more human. People talk less bs on stage if their kids are around 🙂

That it is quite amazing to bring together people from all our various networks, and see how well they hit it off.
There’s always a moment during an unconference when you look around you and see the energy and how everyone’s engaged, when it hits me how awesome it is to be the hosts to that. And how awesome it is that so many of our friends make the effort to travel to us.

That the 2014 Make Stuff That Matters was probably the best one yet, as it turned us from just doing sessions, to also letting participants learn new skills. And having a 14 meter mobile FabLab parked in front was pretty impressive too 🙂

And we talked about how some participants feel a birthday unconference can be life changing, pivotal. We suspect it has a lot to do with that it’s rare to spend time together and have deep conversations, without pressing needs yet tied to things of importance to your own life.

Happy birthday Lane, we hope you and your friends have a great event!

After ʻOumuamua in October 2017, now two years on Genaddy Borisov from the Crimea looked up and found a second interstellar interloper on a hyperbolic path, headed towards our sun.

Forbes says in the previous link “The discovery will be music to the ears of many who have been expecting more of these objects, too. Some estimates suggest that at least one interstellar object should be in our Solar System at any given time, while the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) plans to find many more of these objects. The European Space Agency (ESA), meanwhile, may even send a spacecraft to an interstellar visitor in the future.

That is indeed the significance I think. In between something occurring never, once, and often, there is not much probability attached to something just happening a few times, given the distances and time involved in the universe. The appearance of a 2nd something in space just two years after the first (which we almost missed, it was already flying away), likely means it is much more common, we just haven’t spotted much of it yet.

Below a simulation of the orbits of both objects, from Orbitsimulator.com

Not sure if it is a separate pattern, but I recognise the general gist of what Bryan Alexander writes. I suspect that ideas having come slightly before their time, until technological and societal circumstances are more conducive to an idea, is part of this. Thinking of speech technology as an example.

What data would we need to see if these patterns do occur. And where might that data already be available? I do like Bryan’s name for it: Bloom Bust Boom cycles.

Read When new ideas boom, bust, then come roaring back: around the U-bend (Bryan Alexander)

Lately I’m thinking about the re-emergence of ideas over time.  I’d like to get a better handle on that process, hopefully with a model, and so try to better anticipate when such a thin…