Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

First POST: Big Data, Big Problems

BY Nick Judd | Monday, February 25 2013

Changing the Republican conversation

  • Top Romney for America strategist Stuart Stevens raised a straw man Sunday in a Washington Post op-ed that attacks "young, technology-focused Republican operatives who feel that the Republican Party should be doing more (which we should) and that, horrors of horrors, I chose not to tweet during the campaign. (For the record, I’ve had a Twitter account since shortly after the service launched and follow it perhaps a bit too obsessively.)"

    His unrepentant reply does little to bridge a growing generational rift in the GOP.

    Stevens' Twitter account was never what worried the younger operatives quoted in Robert Draper's New York Magazine piece from last week. Your First POST editor spoke to some of the same people in the course of reporting a piece that focused more precisely on the Republican Party's technology issues.

    They told techPresident — and techPresident reported — that the subpar state of the party's approach to social media, or any aspect of technology, was just a symptom of a disease endemic in Republican politics. Draper found this too, although we are obliged to point out that he did so about a week and a half after we reported much the same thing. The key paragraph from his piece is not the one that takes a swipe at Stevens for not playing the 140-character game. Instead, it's this one that sets the tone for the rest of the piece:

    The unnerving truth, which the Red Edge team and other younger conservatives worry that their leaders have yet to appreciate, is that the Republican Party’s technological deficiencies barely begin to explain why the G.O.P. has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. The party brand — which is to say, its message and its messengers — has become practically abhorrent to emerging demographic groups like Latinos and African-Americans, not to mention an entire generation of young voters. As one of the party’s most highly respected strategists told me: “It ought to concern people that the most Republican part of the electorate under Ronald Reagan were 18-to-29-year-olds. And today, people I know who are under 40 are embarrassed to say they’re Republicans. They’re embarrassed! They get harassed for it, the same way we used to give liberals a hard time.”

    There is a subtext here that analysts and operatives have been dancing around for months, and it is that fresh faces, and fresh ideas, are not given the same weight in the GOP that they have received in Democratic politics at least since the Howard Dean campaign.

"Big Data Without Context"

  • Nick Bilton joins us among the small cadre of journalists who have discovered that Google Flu Trends is not a predictor of a bad flu season. Bilton uses this to make the point that data without context is not very useful, and sketches out a little room for the traditional notepad-carrying scribe, applying shoe leather, asking questions, explaining what the numbers mean.

    We have a professional interest in Bilton's thesis being correct, in the perpetual necessity of the skeptical reporter (or insightful editor, natch). But as Miranda Neubauer reported earlier this year, in this case, the reporter may be replaced by a better algorithm. Google told us that Flu Trends was never meant to replace statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. And Umar Saif, a Pakistani computer scientist, told us that it someday could — with the application of additional algorithms designed to bend those numbers to the task.

Around the web

  • David E. Sanger's new analysis of the so-called American-Chinese "cyberwar" restates as fact a number of assertions that had heretofore been qualified as passed along by someone else. The administration, through Sanger, seems to have defined once and for all the ground truth of a hostile Internet in the service of setting the tone for the Beltway conversation:

    In the next few months, American officials say, there will be many private warnings delivered by Washington to Chinese leaders, including Xi Jinping, who will soon assume China’s presidency. Both Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, and Mrs. Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, have trips to China in the offing. Those private conversations are expected to make a case that the sheer size and sophistication of the attacks over the past few years threaten to erode support for China among the country’s biggest allies in Washington, the American business community.

  • Owen Scott reports from an Engineers Without Borders event: "Again and again during the discussion, the participants from African governments stressed the importance of finding relatively low tech solutions for communicating open information to citizens, with radio being a clear technology of choice."

  • India is pursuing increased access to the electronic communications of BlackBerry customers.

  • Mobile data will overtake voice as wireless companies' chief revenue driver by 2018, according to a new report.

  • The Mozilla Foundation has released new details about its upcoming open-source wireless handsets.

  • Event: The 2013 Public Knowledge Policy Symposium, Feb. 26 and 27 in Washington, D.C.

  • Report: Technologies for Transparency and Accountability, published by the Open Development Technology Alliance.

  • Local media in Myanmar reports the country has been invited to join the Open Government Partnership.

  • Early polls show that a center-left party is likely to take the lead in a new government. The controversial, populist Five-Star movement sits a distant third in the first look at a new division of power, per Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal.

  • The White House caused a stir with open-access advocates Friday when it responded to an online petition by announcing a new directive "that directs [agencies] with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months after original publication."

  • @Pontifex, the official Twitter account of Pope Benedict XVI, will lay dormant after the current pontiff's abdication until and unless the next pope decides to pick it up, the Vatican reports.

  • New York City agencies have until March 7 to consolidate their public datasets on the city's central open data portal, a first step in compliance with a new open data law that may signal exactly how serious — or unserious — Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration is about making 21st-century governance a part of the outgoing mayor's legacy.

News Briefs

RSS Feed 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


wednesday >

Everything You Need to Know About Social Media and India's General Election

The biggest democratic election in the world to date is taking place in India from April 7 to May 14, and, for the first time in India, the results might hinge on who runs a better social media campaign. The Mumbai research firm Iris Knowledge Foundation has said that Facebook will “wield a tremendous influence” but Indian politicians are not limiting their attentions to India's most popular social media platform. In addition to virtual campaigning are initiatives to inform, educate and encourage Indians to participate in their democracy.


EU Court Rejects Data Retention Law, But Data Retention Won't End Overnight

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg struck down a data retention law Tuesday that required telecoms to keep customers' communications data for up to two years, declaring it violated privacy rights. However, experts warn that the ruling will have no automatic effect on relevant laws in member states, which could lead to “messy consequences.”