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How Bike Share Data Can Share Your Identity Too

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, April 17 2014

Map of a London bike share commuter's travels made with public data.

One of the benefits of opening civic data is that it can provide a detailed picture of who is using what service. This can be a vital tool for planners and bureaucrats allocating ever scarcer resources, and a boon to ... Read More

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

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Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

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tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

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monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

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The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

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Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

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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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