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

In the Digital Age, An Unmapped Place Becomes a Forgotten Place

BY Julia Wetherell | Wednesday, February 13 2013

Today’s digital maps can showcase a world of hyperlocal data and history; as of this past month, even North Korea has been meticulously cataloged by Google Maps volunteers.  Yet while some locations maintain a robust digital presence – with Wikipedia, Google, and other geolocational initiatives reinforcing their virtual existence – blank spots on the world map can fall behind exponentially, running the risk for digital obscurity. 

Emily Badger tackled this “unmapped” side of the world in the Atlantic Wire last week.  Her conclusions show a digitally mapped Earth that contradicts many tenets of the maptivism movement – one that can serve to reinforce economic inequality and privilege certain information sources.  This can often come down to the level of accessibility to the open Internet available in an area; she points to one study that found Wikipedia edits coming from Israel over a three-month period were triple the number originating in other Middle East countries.

Unmapping can also reinforce itself from outside of the areas it affects.  Simply by not appearing in a Google search, an underutilized vacation spot can lose significant potential income.  Mark Graham, the Oxford researcher whose studies Badger cites, said he saw this kind of feedback loop in the story of a Kenyan tour operator who was looking to expand his business into Rwanda.  He based his business decisions on a Google search – ultimately, as Graham uncovered, on information that came from Wikipedia:

"I think in a very real way that was sort of shaping the flows of capital and people over quite large distances between Europe, where they were coming from, and Kenya, and then Rwanda,” Graham says, "simply because someone had written a Wikipedia article about that place and not another place."

As information technology expands into underserved markets, initiatives like Google’s Map Maker can work to combat these geo-knowledge gaps.  Yet looking at the balance of information privilege could help to build fairer, smarter maps. 

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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.

GO

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.

GO

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.

GO

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.

GO

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.

GO

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.

GO

More