RightsCon 2014 – Responsible data for advocacy session

/ March 6, 2014

We just wrapped up the session on Responsible Data for Advocacy, part of the Responsible Data Program, on stage at RightsCon in San Francisco.  This session, co-facilitated by Allen Gunn from Aspiration and Christopher, served as a brief but intense flyover of the most germane areas of potentially risky data collection. The participants grouped themselves in themes like geo-referenced data, social media, mobile and video, and specific geographic issue areas. The groups fleshed out lists of practical, concrete risks that information collection in these areas might pose.

RightsCon 2014

Some highlights are the aggressive (and obligatory) Terms of Service policieswhen opening online accounts, over-zealous data collection from online services (“Why does Yelp need the list of my friends’ birthdays to suggest a good sandwich place?”), unintentional, collateral data in video (such as background actions, clothes and locations, as well as meta-data) putting at-risk communities on a public map, online tools that are inaccessible to communities, and lack of ownership of our mobile devices.

The groups then went further to define ways to answer these challenges, through practical solutions such as providing courses in digital hygiene, making sure to delete unneeded data (keeping audio but deleting video and meta-data, for example), hardware on-off switches for digital devices (as of now, powering down a device is a software function), per-country default settings (like disabling GPS), as well as positive advocacy campaigns to mitigate negative bias, and investing in sustained, continued data update processes.
Lastly, the final take-away in the room was to remember to practice what we preach: make sure we approach data collection processes (whatever and wherever they are) with risk awareness.

This one-hour session was an excellently productive opening and conversation-starter with fellow RightsCon participants that we’ll greatly expand upon during the first Responsible Data Forum in Oakland on Thursday, March 6th, right after RightsCon.

About the contributor

Tom started out writing and editing for newspapers, consultancies and think tanks on topics including politics and corruption in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, then moved into designing and managing election-related projects in countries including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Bolivia. After getting interested in what data and technology could add in those areas and elsewhere, he made a beeline for The Engine Room. Tom is trying to read all of the Internet, but mostly spends his time picking out useful resources and trends for organisations using technology in their work.

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