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First POST: The Politics of Open

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, February 5 2013

Door-knocking for dollars? Dems consider data sale

  • TargetSmart Communications CEO Drew Brighton, an approved vendor for access to voter data compiled by state Democratic parties, told ProPublica's Lois Beckett: "Over the next six months, we are going to go ahead and make the rounds with some corporate prospects."

    In other words: what people told Democratic volunteers in the context of an election might be used by in the service of for-profit companies, Beckett reports.

More noise than signal in "public WiFi" deal

  • The Hill's Brendan Sasso follows up on a Washington Post story from yesterday saying that feds were considering a deal that might create public WiFi networks across the country:

    The FCC plan described in the Post story is not new. Last September, the Commission voted to move forward with a plan to encourage TV stations to sell-off their spectrum—the frequencies that carry all wireless signals. Congress authorized the plan as part of a payroll tax cut extension one year ago.

    The rights to most of that TV spectrum will be auctioned to cellphone service providers, which have struggled to accumulate enough airwaves to meet their customers' growing appetite for streaming videos and downloading apps.

Hype alarm, cont'd

  • Slate is over the moon for Silent Circle, mobile phone-based encryption software that began as a chat client and will, their Ryan Gallagher reports, now allow users to transmit encrypted files as well.

Questioning "open government"

  • Nathaniel Tkacz, an academic, writes that "open government" really "looks, at best, like a new twist in the continuing march of market principles into government."

    In his essay for Aeon magazine, Tkacz makes the point that while "open government" is often framed in apolitical terms, it has expressly political origins: The concept of "open source" is derived from the more political free software movement, which might also sometimes be called the user rights movement. And collaborative commons like Wikipedia take on the politics of their participants — in Wikipedia's case, a very small group of largely male contributors. The "Talk" page on any reasonably important article reveals that there is quite a lot of politics involved in creating and maintaining a Wikipedia page.

    Mr. Open Government Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media, responds in the comments: "One thing that distresses me about this discussion is the notion that somehow, if open government doesn't solve every problem, or creates new problems as it solves others, it is a failed movement. The world doesn't go forward in a straight line!"

    And Tkacz offers a rebuttal: He isn't declaring "open government" to be a failed concept. He's pointing out that technology, software, and software development are all political — with political repercussions that need to be understood rather than denied:

    The point I am making is that these projects from which open government draws inspiration have their own political dimensions that we are still trying to get our head around. Importing these models also means importing some of their political and organisational dimensions. We are kidding ourselves if we think that these platforms are some kind of ideal marketplaces, and even if they were, that this would somehow solve the problems of government.

Around the web

  • Are radical Internet freedom activists creating heat for more respectable fellow travelers?

  • The Sunlight Foundation, where techPresident's Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej are senior advisers, recaps the results of a recent hackathon. Among the projects: A team that converted data analysis into sound and a tool to look for suspicious activity in county-level spending.

  • The House will hold hearings on Internet governance today. (No link)

  • Open government advocates in Germany are critical of the government's data releases.

  • Data nerds rejoice: the Open Knowledge Foundation has just posted a list of projects that make it easier to do data visualization or build access-to-information tools, as well as examples of tech-enabled transparency.

News Briefs

RSS Feed thursday >

NYC Open Data Advocates Focus on Quality And Value Over Quantity

The New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications plans to publish more than double the amount of datasets this year than it published to the portal last year, new Commissioner Anne Roest wrote last week in an annual report mandated by the city's open data law, with 135 datasets scheduled to be released this year, and almost 100 more to come in 2015. But as preparations are underway for City Council open data oversight hearings in the fall, what matters more to advocates than the absolute number of the datasets is their quality. GO

Civic Tech and Engagement: Announcing a New Series on What Makes it "Thick"

Announcing a new series of feature articles that we will be publishing over the next several months, thanks to the support of the Rita Allen Foundation. Our focus is on digitally-enabled civic engagement, and in particular, how and under what conditions "thick" digital civic engagement occurs. What we're after is answers to this question: When does a tech tool or platform enable actual people to make ongoing and significant contributions to each other, to a place or cause, at a scale that produces demonstrable change? GO

monday >

Tweets2Rue Helps Homeless to Help Themselves Through Twitter

While most solutions to homelessness focus on addressing physical needs -- a roof over the head and food to eat -- one initiative in France known as Tweets2Rue knows that for the homeless, a house is still not a home, so to speak: the homeless are often entrenched in a viscous cycle of social isolation that keeps them invisible and powerless. GO

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