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Airbnb Tries To Be a Model Corporate Citizen With Shared City

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, March 27 2014

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in 2011 Photo credit: @Kmeron

Yesterday in a post on Medium, Brian Chesky, the CEO of short term rental platform Airbnb announced a new city based company initiative in Portland, Oregon called “Shared City.” The initiative is an an effort by Airbnb to become a model corporate citizen, and also to atone for subverting civic regulations which helped grow the company into the $10 billion goliath it is today. Read More

Chat Fights Back: XMPP Aims for Ubiquitous Encryption

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, March 13 2014

Chat is a cornerstone of online communication. And it has been since the days when the allure of AOL chatrooms could justify a household's purchase of a second phone line (i.e. the mid to late '90s). But like any other online communication technology, the potential for chats to be eavesdropped, by hackers or governments, has kept pace with the growth of bandwidth. After Snowden, no one can assume otherwise. There are countermeasures available; Tor for instance is planning its own hyper secure messaging service. But its use will be confined to the technically super literate. The vast majority of chats will remain as vulnerable as ever. Read More

Minnesota Announces Civic Tech Legislation

BY Sam Roudman | Friday, March 7 2014

Can civic innovation be managed statewide? A bill in Minnesota is betting yes. It is looking to grab some of the state's $1.2 billion surplus to fund open data, open government, and civic technology. Openminnesota.org, a site set up to promote and explain the bill, says the following: "Open Minnesota will build an engine for public open data use, civic technology creation engaging start-up companies and technology volunteers, and help hundreds more government units get cost-effectively connected to the best global open government lessons for local adaptation." Read More

Civic Crowdfunding Looks to Bigger Projects with Phased Campaigns

BY Sam Roudman | Wednesday, March 5 2014

Civic crowdfunding dreamed big but started small. The platform Neighbor.ly grabbed attention for a 2012 campaign to help fund a multi-million dollar rail car in Kansas City, but only raised $3,775 of its $10 million goal. The early campaigns of both Neighbor.ly and Citizinvestor that were actually successful reached for modest goals, usually less than $15,000. A look at the campaign pages of either platform today shows larger projects, in the tens or hundreds of thousands, creeping in as well. Civic crowdfunding is growing. To facilitate and attract more large projects Citizinvestor this week announced a plan to crowdfund projects in phases. Read More

The Server Fights Back: Calyx Foundation Bakes in Security With Experiment

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, February 13 2014

Nick Merrill of the Calyx Institute

Secure communication online is possible; it’s still just really hard. Take for instance secure chat tools. Jabber (aka XMPP) is a chat protocol that has been a part of facebook chat and gchat over the years, but although it features a number of extensions that allow for encryption, there’s no guarantee they’ll get used, or that users will even know they exist. A server experiment by Nick Merrill at the Calyx Institute hints that the secret to greater adoption might be a matter of employing a behavioral insight enunciated by noted technology scholars DEVO in 1980: freedom of choice is what you got, freedom from choice is what you want. Read More

Innovator's Dilemma: How SF's Rajiv Bhatia Pioneered Open Health Data and Ruffled Feathers

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, February 6 2014

Rajiv Bhatia

During his fifteen-year tenure at San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, Dr. Rajiv Bhatia excelled. By measuring the health impacts of proposed laws and policies, he created powerful tools to advocate on behalf of the disadvantaged. Gentrification is innately distasteful to many: Bhatia showed how it could be harmful. His work contributed to today’s civic obsession with open data and transparency before those words began to buzz in the ears of bureaucrats, civic hackers and entrepreneurs. He looked at data politically, and searched for political fights to deploy it in. At least he did until June of last year. Read More

Mesh Networks Not Necessarily Secure Networks

BY Sam Roudman | Friday, January 17 2014

Mesh networks are good at providing connectivity to communities without having to rely on traditional internet service providers. They can be resilient enough to provide some baseline of services under even the most adverse conditions. But that doesn’t guarantee they’ll protect you from the NSA, even if some headlines suggest otherwise. Read More

With More Than 7 Million Searchable Records, Citizen Audit Makes Nonprofit Transparency Easy

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, January 9 2014

“An enormous segment of the economy is exempt from taxes, which means they kind of have a burden to have increased transparency,” says Luke Rosiak, an investigative reporter at the Washington Examiner. Despite the clear public interest in making the tax forms of nonprofits readily available, and the fact that the IRS has nonprofits submit their 990 tax forms electronically, which should make them easy to post directly online, Rosiak says the IRS does not release them “in any meaningful way.” Instead, journalists, researchers, and those who work in nonprofits have to bumble through The Foundation Center’s 990 finder for scanned PDFs, or pony up serious money for easier access to the still-hard-to-sift through PDFs with Guidestar. To accomplish what Rosiak thinks the IRS should probably doing already, he started a project called Citizen Audit. The site takes over a decade of nonprofit tax forms and puts them online, and is in the process of running them through computationally intensive optical recognition software, to makes them fully searchable. Read More

Detroit Ledger Tracks Detroit's Civic Foundation Complex

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, December 17 2013

Screenshot from Detroit Ledger

Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy ever in July, but for years now private foundations have attempted to fill the city’s public service gap with their own money, and their own agendas. Foundations like Ford, Knight, Kresge, and Skillman are investing hundreds of millions dollars to address the city’s failing schools, starving economy, and rescue its orphaned art collection. While foundational cash is preferable to a public service vacuum, it raises questions about access, influence, and accountability. Read More

MileMesh Looks to Make Hoboken a Beacon for U.S. Mesh Networks

BY Sam Roudman | Wednesday, December 11 2013

Hoboken, jewel of the Hudson. Credit: Flickr http://bit.ly/IFB50v

When Hurricane Sandy slammed the northeast in October of 2012, it was particularly unkind to the city of Hoboken, New Jersey. The storm knocked out power throughout most of the city for a week. Many of the town’s 50,000 residents crowded two blocks spared from the outage by a separate grid to juice up their phones and computers from power strips slung out of residents' front doors onto their stoops. Even after power returned, Internet and mobile service remained unreliable. Now a group of volunteers are trying to build out a mesh network that would be more resilient. “We’re not starting a company, we’re not starting a project,” says Anthony Townsend, who has experience providing public wifi hotspots through his work with NYCwireless, “we’re trying to start a movement.” Read More

News Briefs

RSS Feed wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

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The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

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tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

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Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

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monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

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friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO

thursday >

In Pakistan, A Hypocritical Gov't Ignores Calls To End YouTube Ban

YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan by executive order since September 2012, after the “blasphemous” video Innocence of Muslims started riots in the Middle East. Since then, civil society organizations and Internet rights advocacy groups like Bolo Bhi and Bytes for All have been working to lift the ban. Last August the return of YouTube seemed imminent—the then-new IT Minister Anusha Rehman spoke optimistically and her party, which had won the majority a few months before, was said to be “seriously contemplating” ending the ban. And yet since then, Rehman and her party, the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), have done everything in their power to maintain the status quo.

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The #NotABugSplat Campaign Aims to Give Drone Operators Pause Before They Strike

In the #NotABugSplat campaign that launched this week, a group of American, French and Pakistani artists sought to raise awareness of the effects of drone strikes by placing a field-sized image of a young girl, orphaned when a drone strike killed her family, in a heavily targeted region of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Its giant size is visible to those who operate drone strikes as well as in satellite imagery. GO

Boston and Cambridge Move Towards More Open Data

The Boston City Council is now considering an ordinance which would require Boston city agencies and departments to make government data available online using open standards. Boston City Councilor At Large Michelle Wu, who introduced the legislation Wednesday, officially announced her proposal Monday, the same day Boston Mayor Martin Walsh issued an executive order establishing an open data policy under which all city departments are directed to publish appropriate data sets under established accessibility, API and format standards. GO

YouTube Still Blocked In Turkey, Even After Courts Rule It Violates Human Rights, Infringes on Free Speech

Reuters reports that even after a Turkish court ruled to lift the ban on YouTube, Turkey's telecommunications companies continue to block the video sharing site.

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