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S05E24 of Connection Problem: Ambient privacy & participation at the (smart) street level

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I’ve been writing a newsletter for a few years now that I just rarely feature here, and usually just mention every now and then. At a recent conference, conversations with Ton Zylstra, Elmine Wijnia, Peter Rukavina and others all reminded me of the value of creating a more permanent archive that you host yourself (to a degree) rather than just relying on something as potentially impermanent as a commercial newsletter provided. (Ton blogged about it, too.) It is in that spirit that I’ll try for a bit to cross-post (most) of my newsletter here.

Please note that (for workflow and time saving reasons) this is a copy & paste of a pre-final draft; the final corrections and edits happen within Tinyletter, the email service. So there might be a few typos here that aren’t in the newsletter itself.

The preferred way to receive this (preferred by the author at least) is most certainly the newsletter, but here’s the archived version for those who prefer a different format. Also, take it as a sample/teaser. And if you think this is for you, why don’t you come along for the ride:

Subscribe to my newsletter Connection Problem here.

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Ambient privacy & participation at the (smart) street level

“Sustainability always looks like underutilization when compared to resource extraction”
— Deb Chachra, Metafoundry

In Berlin, we’re coming off of the tail end of a massive heat wave with somewhere near 40C peak yesterday. A small stretch of forest burned on the city’s edge, a much larger one just south of the city. The latter included a former military training ground; ordnance was involved. There were warnings of strange smells wafting through the city. Stay calm, everyone. This is just the new normal.

Today’s pieces mostly run along the thread of privacy & how to make sure we can all have enough to see democracy thrive: From the macro level through the smart city lens down to the issue of microphones embedded in our kitchens. Enjoy!

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Personal-ish stuff

Starting a new fellowship. I mentioned if briefly before, but am happy to announce officially: Edgeryders invited me to be a fellow as part of their Internet of Humans program, exploring some questions around how to make smart cities work for citizens first and foremost (as opposed to vendors or administration first). I’m honored and grateful; this helps me dig deeper into these issues that — as you know well if you’re reading this — have been on the top of my mind for some time.

The network provides. For Zephyr Berlin, our apparel staples side project that we’ve been engaged in since 2016, I reached out to Twitter to see if anyone could hook me up with some recommendations/leads/pointers to learn more about how and where to produce something with merino wool in Europe. And lo and behold, we got so many excellent leads — thank you! (You know who you are.) I’m not sure what might come out of this, if anything, but I know it’s more than just fun to learn more and experiment with new ideas.

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Ambient Privacy

One of my favorite writers online — especially about travel and the internet industry — is the ever brilliant Maciej Ceg?owski, founder of Pinboard and Tech Solidarity and an outspoken tech critic from within, so to speak. He just wrote a long-ish piece on what he coins “ambient privacy”, i.e. the idea that our privacy is impacted not just by the things we actively choose to share through, for example, social media; but also by the environments we move through, from other people’s social media use to sensors and GPS and the internet watching us through surveillance ads and all that jazz. It’s essentially an inversion of our traditional perspective of privacy as a default to non-privacy as a default (not a desirable outcome one, to be sure!) — or the shift from individual data rights to a collective data rights in the words of Martine Tisné (linked a few times before).

If you read one thing today, make it this one, I urge you. I loved it so much, I kind of want to quote the whole thing. Instead, a few snippets as teasers more than anything (highlights mine):

“This requires us to talk about a different kind of privacy, one that we haven’t needed to give a name to before. For the purposes of this essay, I’ll call it ‘ambient privacy’—the understanding that there is value in having our everyday interactions with one another remain outside the reach of monitoring, and that the small details of our daily lives should pass by unremembered. What we do at home, work, church, school, or in our leisure time does not belong in a permanent record. Not every conversation needs to be a deposition. (…) Ambient privacy is not a property of people, or of their data, but of the world around us. Just like you can’t drop out of the oil economy by refusing to drive a car, you can’t opt out of the surveillance economy by forswearing technology (and for many people, that choice is not an option). While there may be worthy reasons to take your life off the grid, the infrastructure will go up around you whether you use it or not.”

“In the eyes of regulators, privacy still means what it did in the eighteenth century—protecting specific categories of personal data, or communications between individuals, from unauthorized disclosure. Third parties that are given access to our personal data have a duty to protect it, and to the extent that they discharge this duty, they are respecting our privacy. (…) The question we need to ask is not whether our data is safe, but why there is suddenly so much of it that needs protecting. The problem with the dragon, after all, is not its stockpile stewardship, but its appetite.

“Because our laws frame privacy as an individual right, we don’t have a mechanism for deciding whether we want to live in a surveillance society.“ (…) “Telling people that they own their data, and should decide what to do with it, is just another way of disempowering them.”

“The large tech companies point to our willing use of their services as proof that people don’t really care about their privacy. But this is like arguing that inmates are happy to be in jail because they use the prison library. Confronted with the reality of a monitored world, people make the rational decision to make the best of it.”

“When all discussion takes place under the eye of software, in a for-profit medium working to shape the participants’ behavior, it may not be possible to create the consensus and shared sense of reality that is a prerequisite for self-government. If that is true, then the move away from ambient privacy will be an irreversible change, because it will remove our ability to function as a democracy.

And, last but not least:

“Our discourse around privacy needs to expand to address foundational questions about the role of automation: To what extent is living in a surveillance-saturated world compatible with pluralism and democracy? What are the consequences of raising a generation of children whose every action feeds into a corporate database? What does it mean to be manipulated from an early age by machine learning algorithms that adaptively learn to shape our behavior?”

Ok, so I did end up quoting at great length. But really, I think it’s that good and important.

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Your blender is listening

There was fun news — for some definition of fun! — coming out of France this week. A group of hackers discovered a connected blender had shipped with a microphone built in and with bad security practices. So this blender could be used to spy on very much unsuspecting buyers.

But let’s start at the beginning (also available on Twitter), because this is exactly the kind of irresponsible stuff that we at ThingsCon try to fight every day. Here’s the blender we’re talking about, on the right side:

[Image not embedded]

See the knobs on the blender? It’s a little hard to tell on the photo but these are virtual buttons, it’s a touch screen. (Insert your own joke about virtual buttons emulating physical buttons.) Also note that it says “Ausverkauft” under the product — sold out.

So what’s the story here? Lidl, the big chain discounter, sold the Monsieur Cuisine Connect. The connected blender is described in some articles as a Thermomix rival/clone, sold at a fraction of the price.

“Designed in Germany and produced in China, it has a seven-inch touch screen that can be connected via wifi to download recipes for free. And like any device connected to the network, it is susceptible to being hacked. That is precisely what two techies have done, who have disemboweled the robot and discovered important security and privacy issues. The device has a small microphone and a speaker and, in addition, is equipped with Android 6.0, a version that is not updated since October 2017.”

The articles quotes Lidl’s ED of marketing in France to say: “The supermarket chain defended itself arguing that they had foreseen that ‘the device could be controlled by voice and eventually by Alexa, we left the micro, but it is totally inactive and it is impossible to activate it remotely’”.

So what we see here is an undisclosed microphone in a blender, and a machine running an outdated, long insecure OS version. On their website, the manufacturer doesn’t even acknowledge the issue, let alone address it meaningfully. Instead they just set the product to “sold out” in their online shop, which seems a dubious claim at best. It’s a really instructive case study for the field of product development for connected products and IoT in general. Should be (and might become!) mandatory reading for students.

When I first tweeted about this, I claimed — somewhat over-excitedly — that it’s shoddy practice to keep too many feature options open for the future, that this was a main attack vector. I think it’s not totally off, but I want to thank Jeff Katz (always helpful & well informed: a rare, excellent mix of characteristics indeed!) for correcting me and keeping me honest when he pointed out that it’s normal, even good practice in hardware products to put in all the enabling technologies if you have the intention to use it, but you need to be transparent: “The fuckup was not disclosing that it was there, at all (…) Being opaque and shipping old software is far more common an attack vector.” Which is a good point, well made ?

As someone who spent a lot of time and too much money on connected speakers specifically so they would be not Alexa-ready (read: we wanted microphone free speakers), I always find it a little traumatizing to learn about all the embedded mics. But I’m not going to lie: this feels like a losing battle at the moment.

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Microphones at the street level

Ok, a strained segue if ever there was one, but here you have it. Brain still in heat meltdown mode! The Globe and Mail covers Sidewalk Labs’ new development plan for the Toronto waterfront they’d like to develop. Spoiler alert: This poster child of smart city development has become the lightning rod for all the opponents of smart cities. They’re facing a lot of push back. (For the record: Rightly so, in my opinion.)

The author identifies multiple issues, from the very concrete to the very meta: Apparently the 1.500+ page document doesn’t answer the big picture questions of what Sidewalk Labs wants in Toronto: What do they really offer, what do they ask for in return?

“It’s remarkable that, after 20 months of public presentations, lobbying and “consultations” by the company – a process that gave it access to public officials that other real estate companies never get – I still don’t know, really, what [Sidewalk Labs chief executive] Doctoroff means.”

Also, given that this is an Alphabet company — and I’d like to stress both Alphabet as the lead actor as well as company as the underlying economic model — the question of handling data is front and center:

“Questions of data privacy and of the economic benefits of neighbourhood-scale data are exceptionally difficult to answer here.”

Smart city scholar (and critic) Anthony Townsend takes it a step further in this direction:

“Data governance has been a lightning rod because its new and scary. Early on, Sidewalk put more energy into figuring out how the robot trash chutes would work than how to control data it and others would collect in the proposed district. As part of Alphabet, you’d think this would have been a source of unique added value versus say, a conventional development. Not so? (…)”

Zooming out, he also wonders if the old narrative of attracting big businesses to boost the local economy for all, sustainably, might have run its course:

The kinds of companies that want to set up shop in cities, today, the flagships of “surveillance capitalism” as Shoshanna Zuboff calls it, no longer operate like the industrial engines of the past. They source talent and services from all over the world, wherever its cheapest. Being near a big population is more useful because it supports a big airport, than because it provides a big pool of workers. (…) Google, Amazon, and their ilk are more like knowledge blackholes. Ideas and talent go in and they don’t come up, at least in a form usable to others. Seen another way?— it is precisely their ability to contain knowledge spillovers that has powered their success.

And mayors go along with it, for now, because desperation, digging their own holes deeper and deeper:

“Economic development in cities today is a lot like hunting whales. Mayors try to land big deals that promise lots of jobs. They wield extensive tools, explicitly designed to operate outside of local legislative control, to make the needed concessions to outbid other cities. It’s in many ways a race to the bottom. They all hate it, but they do it.”

I have no answers to any of this. All I can offer is a few pointers that might lead to better approaches over time:

  • Put citizens first, administrations second, and vendors a distant third
  • Participatory practices and decision making are key here, and not window dressing

Together, they just might allow us to shift perspective enough to strengthen rather than erode democracy in our cities and beyond.

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Currently “reading” with minimal progress: How to Do Nothing in the Attention Economy (Jenny Odell), Exhalations (Ted Chiang), Netter is Better (Thomas Hermann)

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If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability, so let’s have a chat!

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What’s next?

Next week, before heading off on a summer break, will be the season finale for this newsletter, before picking back up after the summer. In the meantime, it’s a week of crunch time to get everything to a place where I can leave and the teams I’m working with have what they need from me. So, heads down, and onward.

Have a lovely end of the week!

Yours truly,
Peter

Know someone who might enjoy this newsletter or benefit from it? A shout out to tinyletter.com/pbihr or a forward is appreciated!

Pictures: my own

What I learned from launching a consumer trustmark for IoT

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Throughout 2018, we developed the Trustable Technology Mark, a consumer trustmark for IoT, that our non-profit ThingsCon administers. As the project lead on this Trustmark, I spent countless hours in discussions and meetings, at workshops and conferences, and doing research about other relevant consumer labels, trustmarks and certifications that might offer us some useful paths forward. I thought it might be interesting to share what I’ve learned along the way.

(Please note that this is also the reason this blog post appears first on my website; it’s because if there’s anything problematic here, it’s my fault and doesn’t reflect ThingsCon positions.)

1) The label is the least important thing

Launching a Trustmark is not about the label but about everything else. I’ve encountered probably dozens of cool label concepts, like “nutritional” labels for tech, “fair trade” style privacy labels, and many more. While there were many really neat approaches, the challenges lie elsewhere entirely. Concretely, the main challenges I see are the following:

  • What goes into the label, i.e. where and how do you source the data? (Sources)
  • Who analyzes the data and decides? (Governance)
  • Who benefits from the Trustmark? (Stakeholders and possible conflicts of interest)
  • How to get to traction? (Reach & relevance)

We’ve solved some of these challenges, but not all. Our data sourcing has been working well. We’re doing well with our stakeholders and possible conflicts of interest (nobody gets paid, we don’t charge for applications/licenses, and it’s all open sourced: In other words, no conflicts of interest and very transparent stakeholders, but this raises sustainability challenges). We don’t yet have robust governance structures, need a bigger pool of experts for reviews, and haven’t built the reach and relevance yet that we’ll need eventually if this is to be a long term success.

2) Sometimes you need to re-invent the wheel

Going into the project, I naively thought there must be existing models we could just adapt. But turns out, new problem spaces don’t always work that way. The nature of Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices meant we faced a set of fairly new and unique challenges, and nobody had solved this issue. (For example, how to deal with ongoing software updates that could change the nature of a device multiple times without introducing a verification mechanism like reverse engineering that would be too cost intensive to be realistic.)

So we had to go back to the drawing board, and came out with a solution that I would say is far from perfect but better than anything else I’ve seen to date: Our human experts review applications that are based on information provided by the manufacturer/maker of the product, and this information is based on a fairly extensive & holistic questionnaire that includes aspects from feature level to general business practices to guarantees that the company makes on the record by using our Trustmark.

Based on that, our Trustmark offers a carrot; we leave it to others to be the stick.

That said, we did learn a lot from the good folks at the Open Source Hardware Association. (Thanks, OSHWA!)

3) Collaborate where possible

We tried to collaborate as closely as possible with a number of friendly organizations (shout-out to Better IoT & Consumers International!) but also had to concede that in a project as fast moving and iterative it’s tough to coordinate as closely as we would have liked to have. That’s on us — by which I mean, it’s mostly on me personally, and I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job aligning this even better.

For example, while I did manage to have regular backchannel exchanges with collaborators, more formal partnerships are a whole different beast. I had less than a year to get this out the door, so anything involving formalizing was tricky. I was all the happier that a bunch of the partners in the Network of Centres and some other academic organizations decided to take the leap and set up lightweight partnerships with us. This allows a global footprint with partners in Brazil, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, Turkey, India and China. Thank you!

4) Take a stand

One of the most important take aways for me, however, was this: You can’t please everyone, or solve every problem.

For every aspect we would include, we’d exclude a dozen others. Every method (assessment, enforcement, etc.) used means another not used. Certification or license? Carrot or stick? Third party verification or rely on provided data? Incorporate life cycle analysis or focus on privacy? Include cloud service providers for IoT, or autonomous vehicles, or drones? These are just a tiny, tiny fraction of the set of questions we needed to decide. In the end, I believe that in order to have a chance at succeeding means cutting out many if not most aspects in order to have as clear a focus as possible.

And it means making a stand: Choose the problem space, and your approach to solving it, so you can be proud of it and stand behind it.

For the Trustable Technology Mark that meant: We prioritized a certain purity of mission over watering down our criteria, while choosing pragmatic processes and mechanisms over those we thought would be more robust but unrealistic. In the words of our slide deck, the Trustmark should hard to earn, but easy to document. That way we figured we could find those gems of products that try out truly novel approaches that are more respectful of consumers rights than the broad majority of the field.

Is this for everyone, or for everything? Certainly not. But that’s ok: We can stand behind it. And should we learn we’re wrong about something then we’ll know we tried our best, and can own those mistakes, too. We’ve planted a flag, a goal post that we hope will shift the conversation by setting a higher goal than most others.

It’s an ongoing project

The Trustable Technology Mark is a project under active development, and we’ll be happy sharing our learnings as things develop. In the meantime, I hope this has been helpful.

If you’ve got anything to share, please send it to me personally (peter@thewavingcat.com) or to trustabletech@thingscon.org.

The Trustable Technology Mark was developed under the ThingsCon umbrella with support from the Mozilla Foundation.

Monthnotes for April 2019

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April brought a lot of intense input-output style work: Lots to digest, lots of writing.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q3 and Q4 2019.

Internet Freedom Festival

Earlier this month I got to participate in Valencia’s Internet Freedom Festival (IFF). I’d never been before, and it’s always great to join an event for the first time. Lots of interesting input there, and a great couple of sessions with both other foundation fellows as well as funders – a neat benefit of my Mozilla Fellowship.

Lectured at Hochschule Darmstadt

At the kind invitation of Prof. Andrea Krajewski I got to lecture for a day at Hochschule Darmstadt. With her students we explored responsible tech, ambient connected spaces, trust & tech. As part of the prep for this excellent day, I collected some resources for ethical and responsible tech development (blog post) which might turn out useful.

Focus areas for the next few months

I barely ever take part in tenders and mostly work based on client side requests. However, every now and then interesting stuff happens, and interesting stuff is happening right now, so I found myself participating in several consortia for tenders and project proposals. It’s quite unusual for me and also all around super as I’m excited by both the teams and the topic areas – it’s all around smart cities, ethical tech, AI, privacy, trust. So they’re right up my alley. More soon.

What’s next?

Lots of reading and writing. A ThingsCon Salon in Berlin (6 May). High-level workshops in Brussels and Berlin. A ThingsCon Unconf (24 May). Lots more writing.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q3 and Q4 2019.

Have a great Month!

Yours truly,
P.

Monthnotes for March 2019

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This installment of monthnotes features the wrap-up of a fellowship, updates on a PhD program I’ll be supervising for, a ThingsCon event, and an anniversary. Enjoy.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q3 and Q4 2019.

The Waving Cat turns 5

The Waving Cat just turned 5 officially. Which is still mind blowing to me. It’s been quite the ride, and 5 incredibly productive years.

In this time I’ve written 3 book-ish things and many reports, co-published multiple magazine-ish things and a proper academic paper. Co-chaired some amazing conferences like ThingsCon, Interaction16, UIKonf and more. Worked on strategy, policy and research across a pretty wide range of industries and clients from global tech to non-profit to governments. Was on a number of juries, and mentored a bunch of teams. Was a Mozilla Fellow. Launched a consumer trustmark. Helped kickstart a number of exciting projects including ThingsCon, Zephyr Berlin, Dearsouvenir and the Trustable Technology Mark. Spoke at about 40 events. Wrote, contributed or was quoted in about 60 articles.

So yeah, it’s been a good 5 years run. On to the next round of adventures.

(By the way, that anniversary is the company’s; the website & blog go way, way further back. All the way to like 2005.)

Wrapping up my Mozilla Fellowship

With the end of February, my Mozilla Fellowship officially wrapped up. (That is, the active part of the fellowship; Mozilla makes a point of the affiliation being for life.)

Technically this fellowship was about launching ThingsCon’s Trustable Technology Mark (which got so much great media coverage!) but it was so much more.

I’m glad and grateful for the opportunity to be warmly welcomed into this fantastic community and to meet and work with so many ambitious, smart, caring and overall awesome people.

Nothing could symbolize this better than the lovely ceremony the team put together for Julia Kloiber’s and my farewell. Unicorn gavels and flower crowns and laminated “for life” cards and bubbly were all involved. Thank you! ?

OpenDott is nearly ready

The collaboration with Mozilla isn’t ending anytime soon. OpenDott.org is a paid PhD program in responsible tech that is hosted by University of Dundee in collaboration with Mozilla and a host of smaller orgs including ThingsCon, and that I’ll supervising a PhD for.

I’m not logistically involved in this stage but my understanding is that the final paperwork is being worked out with the 5 future PhDs right now: The last YES’s collected, the last forms being signed, etc. Can’t wait for this to kick off for real, even though I’ll be only marginally involved. I mean, come on – a PhD in responsible tech? How awesome is that.

ThingsCon

The new ThingsCon website, thingscon.org, is by now more or less up and running and complete. Just in time for a (for ThingsCon somewhat unusual) event in May: A small and intimate unconference in Berlin about responsible paths in tech, economy, and beyond. Details and how to apply here.

Zephyrs: going fast

We’ve been making our ultimate travel pants under the Zephyr Berlin brand for about 2 years now. I’m not sure what happened but we must have landed on a relevant recommendations list or two as we’ve been getting a pretty sharp spike in orders these last few weeks. This is fantastic and a lot of fun. But the women’s cut is almost out now. We don’t know if/when we’ll produce the next batch, so if you’re looking to score one of those, don’t wait too long.

The Newsletter Experiment, continued

As I’ve mentioned in the last monthnotes, over in my personal(ish) newsletter Connection Problem I started an experiment with memberships. The gist of it is, I publish about 100K words a year, most of which are critical-but-constructive takes about tech industry and how we can maximize responsible tech rather than exploitation. You can support this independent writing by joining the membership.

It’s all happening under the principle of “unlocked commons”, meaning members support writing that will be available in the commons, for free, continuously. You can learn more in the newsletter archive or on this page. It’s an exciting experiment for me, and hopefully the output is something that’s useful and enjoyable for you, too.

AI, ethics, smart cities

I was invited to Aspen Institute’s annual conference on artificial intelligence, Humanity Defined: Politics and Ethics in the AI Age. It’s a good event, bringing (mostly US based) AI experts to Germany and putting them onstage with (mostly German) policy experts to spark some debate. I’ve been to this since it started last year and enjoyed it. This time, my highlight was some background on the European High Level Group on AI Ethics Guidelines shared there by one of the group’s ethicists, Thomas Metzinger. He made a convincing case that this might be the best AI ethics doc currently, globally (it’s going to be published next week); and that it has glaring, painful shortcomings, especially as far as red lines are concerned – areas or types of AI applications that Europe would not engage in. These red lines are notably absent in the final document. Which seems… a shame? More on that soon.

I’m just mentioning this here because there are a few exciting projects coming up that will give me an opportunity to explore the intersection of smart cities, policy, AI/machine decision learning and how insights from creating the Trustable Technology Mark can lead to better, more responsible smart cities, tech governance, and applied AI ethics. More on that soon.

What’s next?

This week I’ll be at the Internet Freedom Festival (IFF) in Valencia, Spain. Then later in the month I’ll be teaching for a day about trustable tech at Hochschule Darmstadt at the kind invitation of Prof. Andrea Krajewski. Otherwise it’s drafting outlines, writing some project proposals, and lots of meetings and writing.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q3 and Q4 2019.

Have a great April!

Yours truly,
P.

Monthnotes for January 2019

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January was a month for admin, planning, and generally getting sorted. There was lots of admin, taxes, year planning, to take care of. I also tried to get my hands dirty by digging into machine learning some more and ran some experiments with deep fake generation (the non-sleazy kind, obviously); so far with little success, but some learning nonetheless. And the WEF featured ThingsCon and the Trustable Technology Mark!

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 and Q3 2019.

Trustable Technology Mark

The Trustable Technology Mark launched to lots of media attention. But still it was a pleasant surprise when the WEF called about an interview as part of a new program about the role of Civil Society in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. ThingsCon and the Trustable Technology Mark featured in the report by WEF (deep link to the PDF) that was just released in Davos and that kicks off that program. Thanks for featuring us! This blog post has all the links in an overview.

Throughout the month also lots of chats about the Trustmark and how it might be relevant for other areas. This month including AI, too!

ThingsCon

As we continue to further integrate the existing teams and infrastructures between Germany, Netherlands and Belgium into a larger European operation, we had some fiddling to do with the ThingsCon website. Going forward, thingscon.org is the place to follow.

Tender

I put together a small team and a tender for a super interesting public administration bid that my company was specifically invited to participate in. ?

The Next generation

Was happy to hosted a student group of IT security and entrepreneurship to give them a deep dive into trustable tech, tech ethics, and alternative business models (there’s not just the VC/hyper-growth model!)

PhD in Responsible Tech

OpenDott.org is a paid PhD program in responsible tech that is hosted by University of Dundee in collaboration with Mozilla and a host of smaller orgs including ThingsCon, so I’m involved in this, which is a true joy. This week we’re running a workshop to plan out the details and logistics of the program, and to help select the 5 PhDs from the pool of applications.

A Newsletter Experiment

Over in my personal(ish) newsletter Connection Problem I started an experiment with memberships. It’s all happening under the principle of “unlocked commons”, meaning members support writing that will be available in the commons, for free, continuously. You can learn more in the newsletter archive or on this page. The gist of it is: I publish about 100K words a year, most of which are critical-but-constructive takes about tech industry and how we can maximize responsible tech rather than exploitation. By joining the membership you can support this independent writing.

A huge thank you to those who signed up right away and for all the kind words of support. It’s been humbling in the best possible ways.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 and Q3 2019.

That’s it for January – have a great February!

Yours truly,
P.

WEF report features ThingsCon & the Trustable Technology Mark

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I was super happy to be interviewed about ThingsCon and the Trustable Technology Mark for a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) for their newly launched initiative Civil Society in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. You can download the full report here:

Civil Society in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Preparation and Response (PDF)

The report was just published at the WEF in Davos and it touches on a lot of areas that I think are highly relevant:

Grasping the opportunities and managing the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution require a thriving civil society deeply engaged with the development, use, and governance of emerging technologies. However, how have organizations in civil society been responding to the opportunities and challenges of digital and emerging technologies in society? What is the role of civil society in using these new powerful tools or responding to Fourth Industrial Revolution challenges to accountability, transparency, and fairness?
Following interviews, workshops, and consultations with civil society leaders from humanitarian, development, advocacy and labor organizations, the white paper addresses:
— How civil society has begun using digital and emerging technologies
— How civil society has demonstrated and advocated for responsible use of technology
— How civil society can participate and lead in a time of technological change
— How industry, philanthropy, the public sector and civil society can join together and invest in addressing new societal challenges in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Thanks for featuring our work so prominently in the report. You’ll find our bit as part of the section Cross-cutting considerations for civil society in an emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Monthnotes for December 2018

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Featuring the Trustable Technology Mark, ThingsCon Rotterdam, Smart Cities, and a Nordic Progressive Tech Agenda.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 and Q3 2019.

Trustable Technology Mark

The Trustable Technology Mark launched to great media reports. Now on to sign up companies!

I was incredibly psyched when I received my VaiKai Companion doll and it already shipped with the Trustmark!

The VaiKai Companion is one of the first products to carry the Trustable Technology Mark.

ThingsCon Rotterdam

In Rotterdam, we celebrated 5 years of our annual ThingsCon conference, and oh boy it was a blast. Videos forthcoming; in the meantime, here are some photos. We also have a new website at thingscon.org.

Smart Cities

Thanks to fellow Mozfellow Meghan McDermott and Aspen Institute I got to spend a few days in NYC discussing if and how the principles underlying the Trustable Technology Mark might be useful for the Smart City context. Namely, could they be applied to Smart City procurement or some other mechanism that provides leverage for quality control and for defending citizens’ rights?

A Nordic Progressive Tech Agenda

As part of some work with the good folks at FEPS, I headed on up to Oslo for a workshop with SAMAK and their Nordic allies to discuss what a Nordic agenda for tech and society might look like. So many things to explore there, I’m grateful to be part of this larger conversation.

What’s next?

A hopefully largely flight free Q1 as part of an experiment on more sustainable habits; lots of planning around ThingsCon and the Trustmark; more conversations around a European digital agenda and Smart Cities.

If you’d like to work with me in the upcoming months, I have very limited availability but am always happy to have a chat. I’m currently doing the planning for Q2 and Q3 2019.

Yours truly,
P.