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Investigathon: Helping investigative journalists access information through the Investigative Dashboard

Google Public Policy BLOG - Wed, 2014/11/12 - 11:43
As the old saying goes, “News is something somebody wants to suppress. All the rest is advertising.” We agree: Investigative journalism is a crucial pillar of free societies. That’s why we’re holding an “Investigathon” in New York City to share and practice new ways to make investigations more powerful.
It all starts with data. With the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, we’ve built the Investigative Dashboard to help investigators trace shell company ownership around the world. At the Investigathon, 100 investigators of all stripes will spend the afternoon learning to use the Dashboard and other datasets to trace Eastern European money laundering activities. So many public records are already available to search, sometimes it’s just a question of knowing how to look.
Data only goes so far without tools. That’s why we’ve also been working with Overview Project to make it easier to sift through huge volumes of business records. The world doesn’t need more isolated platforms, so Overview Project will soon have standardized APIs to integrate directly into the Investigative Dashboard, Visual Investigative Scenarios, and beyond.
Finally, knowledge spreads through personal relationships based on trust, so we’re hoping to play a small role in strengthening the investigative journalism community on the East Coast. When we held our inaugural Investigathon in London, there was so much enthusiasm that Hacks/Hackers, Bellingcat, and OCCRP decided to run six-month series of follow-up workshops and convenings to support the work we started there.
The challenges of investigative journalists are immense, and the forces arranged against them are formidable. But if people are to have free and open access to the truths about their societies, investigators must stay one step ahead of those who would want to suppress that information. We aim to help, one step at a time.
Posted by Justin Kosslyn, Product Manager, Google Ideas

Competition Matters: New Study Supports Government Policy Focused on Fourth Wireless Player

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Wed, 2014/11/12 - 11:17

Last year’s explosive battle over the potential entry of wireless giant Verizon into the Canadian market may be a distant memory, but the debate over the state of wireless competition remains very much alive. Industry Minister James Moore has pointed to a modest decline in consumer pricing and complaints as evidence that government policies aimed at fostering a more competitive market are working.

The big three wireless carriers remain adamant that the Canadian market is competitive and that while pricing may be high relative to some other countries, that is a function of the quality of their networks. In other words, you get what you pay for.

There is seemingly no major international entrant on the horizon, but the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is currently grappling with an assortment of policy measures aimed at improving the competitiveness of new entrants and facilitating the development of a more robust market for virtual operators who could enhance consumer choice. Moreover, the government is planning another spectrum auction early next year that would benefit new entrants.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that at the heart of the debate is whether creating a fourth national carrier is a legitimate policy goal or a mirage that will do little to decrease pricing or create market innovation. The major carriers argue that the Canadian market is too small to support a fourth national carrier and that competitiveness is not directly correlated to the number of national operators.

Conversely, the government, supported by independent analysis from the Competition Bureau, believes that more competition is needed given the “market power” wielded by the big three incumbents. The creation of fourth national wireless carrier is often cited as an important target that would alter the competitive dynamic.

The government’s position received a major boost last week with the release of a new study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a leading international governmental body that counts most developed economy countries as members. The OECD report focused specifically on whether the number of carriers within member countries is linked to consumer pricing or marketplace innovation.

After reviewing the recent experience in eleven OECD countries, it concluded that a fourth carrier makes a difference. The study finds that with four or more competitors “there is a higher likelihood of more competitive and innovative services being introduced and maintained.”

For example, France and Israel experienced price reductions and the introduction of unlimited usage plans with the entry of a fourth carrier. In the Netherlands, the study finds that the imminent launch of a fourth carrier has led to more competitive consumer offers, including Europe-wide roaming.

The study also identifies other areas where new competitors have had a significant impact on marketplace dynamics. Fourth carriers have often the been source of better international roaming offers, forcing the established players to respond by reducing their own prices or enhancing their plans. Similarly, virtual operators have targeted niche markets by expanding access to pre-paid plans more aggressively than established carriers.

Just as more competition helps, reduced competition can hurt. For example, the study notes that a 2009 Australian merger that decreased the number of wireless competitors has led to less vigorous retail competition.

Notwithstanding fears that new entrants or virtual operators might reduce earnings and thereby the incentives to invest in new networks, the OECD data suggests those concerns are largely unfounded. Reviewing nearly 15 years of data, the study finds that investments in telecommunications networks has remained remarkably stable.

In other words, competition works. This finding will not come as surprise to most observers, but in the contentious world of Canadian telecom, where incumbents seemingly fear the prospect of new competitors as much as actual competition, the OECD report provides yet another reason for the government to maintain its policy approach and for the CRTC use its regulatory powers to foster a more competitive marketplace.

The post Competition Matters: New Study Supports Government Policy Focused on Fourth Wireless Player appeared first on Michael Geist.

PCLOB testimony on “Defining Privacy”

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2014/11/12 - 09:40
This morning I’m testifying at a hearing of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, on the topic of “Defining Privacy”. Here is the text of my oral testimony. (This is the text as prepared; there might be minor deviations when I deliver it.) [Update (Nov. 16): video stream of my panel is now available.] […]

It’s time to extend the US Privacy Act to EU citizens

Google Public Policy BLOG - Wed, 2014/11/12 - 09:07
Cross-posted from the Google Europe Blog 

Last summer’s Snowden revelations not only highlighted the urgent need for surveillance reform but also severely damaged relations between the US and Europe.

Google and many other technology companies have urged the US to take the lead and introduce reforms that ensure government surveillance activity is clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight. Sadly, we’ve seen little serious reform to date.

However, the US Government can signal a new attitude when representatives of the European Commission visit Washington DC tomorrow. Right now, European citizens do not have the right to challenge misuse of their data by the US government in US courts -- even though American citizens already enjoy this right in most European countries. It’s why Google supports legislation to extend the US Privacy Act to EU citizens. The Obama Administration has already pledged its support for this change and we look forward to to working with Congress to try and make this happen.

We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. The emergence of ISIS and other new threats have reminded us all of the dangers we face. But the balance in the US and many other countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As President Obama recently instructed his Intelligence agencies: “All persons should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality or wherever they might reside, and that all persons have legitimate privacy interests in the handling of their personal information.”

Posted by David Drummond Chief Legal Officer, Google

Audio from Seattle Hieroglyph event with Neal Stepehenson

Here's an MP3 of the audio from the Reigniting Society’s Ambition with Science Fiction event that I did with Neal Stephenson and Ed Finn at Seattle Town Hall on Oct 26, to promote the Hieroglyph anthology, designed to inspire optimistic technologies to solve the Earth's most urgent problems. I had a story in it called The Man Who Sold the Moon.

Stories are a fuggly hack

My latest Locus Magazine column is Stories Are a Fuggly Hack, in which I point out the limits of storytelling as an artform, and bemoan all the artists from other fields -- visual art, music -- who aspire to storytelling in order to make their art.

There are other media, much more abstract media, that seemingly manage to jump straight to the feels: painting, photography, poetry, sculpture, music. Not always – all of these things can tell stories, but they don’t need to in order to make you feel things. Instead, they seem to reach right inside your skull and tickle the feeling parts of you, trig­gering cascades of intense emotion that are all the more powerful for their inexplicable nature.

Now, this stuff is all very primal and non-rational and is hard to taxonomize and rationalize and turn into something repeatable. If I can’t tell you why ‘‘Guernica’’ makes me feel Guernica-ey, then how are you supposed to improve on it in a future iteration to fine-tune the emotive effect? At least with stories, you know that if you tell a scary story, and it works, the audience will experience fear. But the emotional oomph of non-narrative art is much more mysterious, more of an art, really, and though it may be harder to systematize, when it gets in the groove, look out.

Which is why, as a ‘‘storyteller,’’ I sometimes get a little impatient with people who are really good at those other media – none of which I have any talent for, incidentally – when they rhapsodize about sto­rytelling as a way of practicing their art. That’s not because I want to jealously guard my preserve here in storyland, but because making someone feel something without all that tedious making-stuff-up is a hell of an accomplishment and it’s heartbreaking to see brilliant artists turn their back on it.

Stories Are a Fuggly Hack [Cory Doctorow/Locus]

(Image: Großmutters Geschichten 19Jh, Public Domain)

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