Civicist: Hearing on Algorithmic Transparency Reveals Rift in NYC Tech Community

In a packed room at City Hall on Monday, Council Member James Vacca heard testimony from city officials, technologists, and civil rights advocates on his proposed legislation for transparency in the use of algorithms for city services. Vacca said that the legislation is, to the best of his knowledge, the first of its kind in the United States. Although most of the testimony was in favor of the proposed legislation, the hearing revealed a schism between the tech community as represented by the trade nonprofit Tech.NYC—whose dozens of members include giants like Facebook and Google, as well as smaller companies like Meetup and Civic Hall—and the technologists who testified as individuals. Read more…

Civicist: How Meetup Counters Algorithmic Sexism

Bias against women in the technology sector is still unfortunately pervasive. In a recent survey, only eight percent of female technologists said that they had never experienced gender bias in the workplace. The same study cited other problems in the sector with regards to women, including underrepresentation and a lack of networking opportunities and mentorship. These biases can make their way into the systems that increasingly shape our world, but the technology company Meetup has tried to design their recommendation system so that women are not pigeonholed or left out because of their gender. Read more…

Civicist: Action Network Puts the Ladder of Engagement on Autopilot

Action Network, the progressive technology non-profit described as the “backbone” of the Resistance, launched a new feature today that automates many of the discreet components of digital organizing. Called “Ladders” in a nod to the “ladder of engagement” organizing model, the tool lets digital organizers design a campaign, set certain conditions—like signing a petition—which trigger certain responses—like emailing an invitation to contact your congressperson—and then sit back and relax. Although for-profits in the commercial space have long used similar tools to poke and prod consumers into buying things, Action Network says Ladders is the most sophisticated example in the online organizing space. Read more…

Civicist: A Sanctuary City for Data Privacy?

The New York City government is looking into ways to enforce stricter data privacy laws in the mold of the recently-scrapped FCC rules governing how internet service providers collect, store, and sell user information. The move sets New York City up to become a sanctuary for citizens looking for a little more privacy online. To start, the city has announced a new privacy policy for the free, public wi-fi kiosks that dot the city, one that clearly states that browsing history will not be stored or sold. Read more…

Civicist: In Ecuador, Waorani Communities Use Open-Source Tools to Collaboratively Map Their Territory

Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon is shaped like a mechanical claw, or the open jaws of a craggy, prehistoric reptile. It grasps in its mouth roughly half of the land titled to the Waorani, one of the country’s indigenous nationalities. Peering down at the Google Earth view it’s impossible to tell where one might begin and the other might end. Dark green tree cover obscures a web of settlements, hunting paths, fishing holes, and water sources, making the area appear nearly empty. The Waorani describe the government maps of the area as similarly empty or “dead.” Using low-connectivity tools, they have begun mapping their territory as they see it, both for their own edification, and in case they need to defend their land rights.

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