davebriggs + mozilla   14

The Mozilla Manifesto
Increasingly I'm thinking that Mozilla is getting more and more important.
mozilla  manifesto  openweb 
may 2013 by davebriggs
The Journal News Gun Map: Open vs. Personal Data
As many readers are likely aware two weeks ago The Journal News, a newspaper just outside of New York city, published a map showing the addresses and names of handgun owners in Westchester and Rockland counties. The map, which was part of a story responding to the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was constructed with data the paper acquired through Freedom of Information requests. Since their publication the story has generated enormous public interest, including a tremendous amount of anger from gun owners and supporters. The newspaper and its staff have received death threats, had their home addresses published and details of where their kids attend school published. Today the newspapers headquarters are guarded by… armed guards.

While there is a temptation to talk about this even in terms of open data, I don’t think this is a debate about open data. This is a debate about privacy and policy.

Let me clarify.

There is lots of information governments collect about people – the vast majority of which is not, and should not be available. As both an open data advocate and a gov 2.0 advocate I’m strongly interested in ensuring that – around any given data set – peoples sense of privacy is preserved. There are of course interests that benefit from information being made inaccessible, just as there are interests that benefit from it being made accessible, but when it comes to individually identifying pieces of information, I prefer to be cautious.

So, from my perspective, it is critical that this debate not get sloppy. This is not about open data. It is about personable identifiable data – and what governments should and should not do with it. Obviously “open” and “personal identifiable” data can overlap, but they are not the same. A great deal of open data has nothing to do with individuals. However, if we allow the two to become synonymous… well… expect a backlash against open data. No one ever gave anyone a blank check to make any and everything open. I don’t expect my personal healthcare or student record to be downloadable by anyone – I suspect you don’t either.

This is why – when I advise governments – I try to focus on data that is the least contentious (e.g. not even at risk of being personally identifying) since this gives public servants, politicians and the public some time to build knowledge and capacity around understand the issues.

This is not to say that no personalbly identifiable data should be made available – the question is, to what end? And the question matters. I suspect privacy played a big part if the outcry and reaction to the Journal’s gun map. But I suspect that for many – particularly strong pro-gun advocates – there was a recognition that this data was being used as a device (of VERY unclear efficacy) to accelerate public support for stricter gun laws. So they object not just to the issue of privacy, but to the usage.

In the case of guns, I don’t know what the right answer is. But here is an example I feel more confident about. Personally I (and many others) believe businesses license data should be open, including personal identifiable data. But again, these are issues that need to be hammered out, debated and the public given choices. This is not where the open data discussion needs to start, and this is certainly not how it should be defined in the public, as it is much, much more that that and includes touches many issues that are far, far less contentious. But we need to be building the capacity – in the public, among politicians and among public servants – to have these conversations, because disclosure, or the lack thereof, will increasingly be a political and policy choice.

And many of these questions will be tricky. I also believe data should be made available in aggregate. While I understand there are risks I believe  researchers should be allowed to use large data sets to try to find out how age or other factors might effective a terrible medical condition, or to gain insights into how graduation rates of at risk groups might be improved. These are big benefits that are – again, for me, worth the risk. But they will of course need to constantly be weighed and debated. What personal data should also be allowed to become open data, under what circumstances and to whose benefit… these are big questions.

So, if you are an open data advocates out there – please don’t let people confuse Open Data with Personal Data. The two can and almost certainly will overlap at times. But that does not make them the same thing. If these two terms become synonymous in the public’s mind in ANY way, it could take years to recover. So educate yourself on privacy issues, and be sure to educate the people you work with. But above all, help them get ready for these debates. More are coming.



Some additional Thoughts

Of course, when it comes to data, if you are really worried about personally identifiable stuff, there is a lot more to fear that isn’t maintained by governments. The world of free and purchasable data contains a lot of goodies (think maps, stock prices, etc…) but there is also plenty of overlap with personal data as well.

Indeed, much of the retaliatory data about the employees of The Journal News was data that was personally identifiable and readily available. A simple look at who I follow on twitter would likely reveal a fair bit about my social graph to anyone. And this isn’t even the juicy stuff. One wonders how many people realize just how much about them can be purchased. Indeed accessing some information has become so common place people don’t even think about it anymore: my understanding is that almost anyone can get a copy of your credit score, right?

That siad, I recognize the difference between data the state forces you to disclose (gun ownership) and that which you “voluntarily” submit and cede control over so as to take part in a service (facebook friends). I don’t always like the latter, but I recognize it is different from the government – it is one thing to have a monopoly on violence it is another to have a terrible EULA. That said, I suspect that many people would  be disturbed if they saw exactly how many people were tracking all of the things they do online. Mozilla’s Collusion project is a fun – if ultimately fruitless – tool for getting a sense of this. It is worth doing for a day just to see who is watching what you watch and do online.

I share all this not because I want to scare anyone – indeed I suspect these additional notes are old hat to anyone still reading, but recognize how complex the public’s relationship with data is. And as much as it will upset my privacy advocacy friends to hear me say this: my sense is that public is actually still quite comfortable with vast amounts of data about them being collected (Facebook seems to be able to do whatever it wants with almost no impact on usage). Where people get finicky is around how that data gets used. Apparently, be sold to more effectively doesn’t bother them all that much (although I wish some algorithm could figure out that I’ve already bought a fitbit so there ads need no longer follow me all over the web). However, try to use it to take away their guns… and some of them will get very angry. Somewhere in there a line has been drawn. It has all the makings of an epic public policy and corporate policy nightmare.
commentary  mozilla  open_data  public_policy  guns  opendata  from google
january 2013 by davebriggs
Hackathon: where art and technology run wild
When a group of creatives and programmers gathered for a 48-hour 'hackathon', the idea was to take data and turn it into something magical
Hacking comes in three varieties. The first two that came to our collective attention are bad. One is an invasion of privacy practised mainly by middle-aged men on celebrities and the vulnerable; the other is carried out mainly by teenage boys on the military-industrial complex. Both are well-documented and often result in a court appearance. But there's a third kind, a good kind, so far unfeatured on Newsnight and mainly practised mainly by young men with enthusiastic smiles and creative facial hair who know their Python from their Ruby on Rails (they're programming languages, dummy). The good kind is about taking something apart – a computer, a line of code, a set of data – and rebuilding it, hopefully making it better, giving it a new function, or just doing something surprising and disruptive.
When these good hackers meet up it's sometimes called a hackday or a codefest, but more often it's called a hackathon. These events have been around for a while: the word was coined back in 1999. Since then hackathons have flourished. Hackers love to meet other hackers, team up and collaborate – and then show off the results.
Here in the break-out area of the donated London headquarters of Mozilla – the maker of the Firefox web browser – nearly 80 people have assembled for an all-weekend hackathon. It's Friday evening, and the event doesn't end till 9pm on Sunday: many of the participants have come prepared with sleeping bags, energy snacks and anti-perspirant. The majority are male and under 30, dressed in check shirts or tees with geek-joke slogans, such as "Señor developer" or "Munch my data".
The event's organisers are called 3 Beards, though it turns out there are four of them and only three have significant bristles. They also organise a Friday-night meet-up for technology types in east London called the Silicon Drinkabout; a Dragons' Den-style event for tech startup businesses called Don't Pitch Me, Bro!, and something called the Digital Sizzle – a tech event with a barbecue as its defining feature. This is Digital Sizzle number 6: the first one that isn't free (tickets are £45) and the first one to take the form of a hack.
Hackathons come in many varieties: they can be themed around a particular programming language; focused on creating stuff for a particular platform, such as Android; or a company might invite hackers to build new things using its content – Yahoo! has run an open hack day since 2006. The 3 Beards thought London hackathons tended to concentrate on creating startups. "They are mainly focused on creating a business idea, then pitching it on the final evening, along with all the relevant trimmings – revenue plan, target market, etc," says 3 Beards's Michael Hobson. "We thought that by making the output purely artistic, it would foster more creativity and allow people to really run wild with their ideas."
So this hack has a theme: art meets tech. The aim of the weekend is to encourage the hackers to take some of the masses of data living on the internet, or even create some of their own (in one case with goldfish), and present it in new, unusual ways, to make something from it – a piece of music, an artwork, a machine, a game – something that brings the data to life. Not everyone here has a computing background: a smattering of artists, designers, musicians have signed up to collaborate.
Some hackers have come prepared with an idea. About a dozen take turns to explain their plan to the rest of the group, hoping to fire imaginations and recruit fellow hackers to their team.
Rachel Taylor, an artist, says she wants to make a dress from the social media generated by London Fashion Week. She would like to remind the nerds of the age- old link between weaving looms and the computer.
Stef Lewandowski describes himself as a hacker and knows how to work a crowd of geeks: "What we need is lasers!" gets a cheer. He's booked time on Saturday with a laser-cutting workshop. His plan is to turn tweets into wearable jewellery.
Developer Gavin Clark says he has two ideas. One is a "death clock", which will use basic personal information to calculate when and why you will die – and use a projector to display an image of, say, a heart attack on to your body. He also wants to make a machine that will reproduce the weather from somewhere else in the world using lights, fans and a hose.
Other hackers say they plan to do work with football data, or make art from Transport for London information. Another suggests turning "emotional data into liquid".
For inspiration, the crowd watch a TED talk from Google data artist Aaron Koblin, whose team worked on the Arcade Fire/Chris Milk film for We Used to Wait, which allowed you to incorporate Google Street View images of your home town into the video – an exemplary instance of tech meeting art. Wrapping up, Benjamin Southworth an ex-3 Beard who is now deputy CEO of Tech City (what the government wants us to call Silicon Roundabout) implores the gathering to "take something that's raw and honest, turn it into magic".
Tonight the hackers have to go home, but, after they return at 9am on Saturday, they don't have to leave until Sunday night. The organisers have supplied everything a hacker could possibly need: powerful Hewlett Packard PCs, XBox Kinects, various bits of hardware they might need to add GPS, lighting and sound to their projects. There are mentors from cloud communication firm Twilo and social media monitoring specialists Brandwatch giving expert advice and access to their web services. There is a generous supply of beer, coffee, burgers and Mexican food. And there's one shower.
Yet participants aren't here for the new toys, diabetes-inducing diet and natural odours. A hackathon is about much more than that. As Michael Hobson explains: "The participants get an experience which is hard to find elsewhere. It's only in this high-pressure, time-sensitive environment that you can really come face-to-face with yourself, and see what you're capable of. People surprise themselves with what they can output over a weekend… At the very least, it can give them a thirst to be more productive in their day-to-day life."
There's also a brand of tech speed-dating going on. "As well as the 'inward' development," says Hobson, "they also form close bonds with the people they collaborate with. It can go either way – if you really get on with the person, you'll have a great friendship, but, if they get on your nerves, then it will come to the surface much quicker."
By Sunday, the sense of bonhomie is palpable and rather surprisingly the sense of body odour is not: these are clearly quite hygienic people. The 20 teams are given three minutes to present their hacks to the audience. Judges are going to select a number of the works for a one-night-only show at the Whitechapel gallery, who, like the Observer, are sponsoring the event.
Rachel Taylor and her team present their dress made entirely from Instagram and Flickr pictures, a mask made from faces, and a hat made from tweets – all grabbed from London Fashion Week. The death clock was jettisoned very early on, but Gavin Clark and his team have a rudimentary weather machine to show the crowd. It works like this: the audience vote by text for the city weather they would like to witness (Jakarta, New Delhi, Rio, Cape Town and Beijing are on offer), then, with the help of a lamp, a fan, a strobe light and pond pump that streams water down a plastic sheet, they get to see 10 days' worth of weather in 100 seconds. Beijing wins, and each time it rains there's a big cheer.
Stef Lewandowski (who worked alone; he calls this a "solo hack") asks for six women – which is most of the women in the room – to model his data jewellery. Some is in the form of coloured acrylic strands that hang from a necklace, some cut from felt and sitting on the collarbone. His wife's past 3,000 tweets are visualised as a necklace ("The length of the strands corresponds with how chatty she is in a given period"), while a "necklace of death" uses red acrylic strands to visualise how many people are talking about death on a given day, and includes an engraving of the name of someone who appeared in the Guardian obituaries that day. After some deliberation, the judges decide on three winners: Stef's necklaces, the See-Thru Planet iPad app, and the RSVP Network.
Ten days later, 600 people turn up to see the projects at the Whitechapel gallery in east London, not far from Silicon Roundabout. The teams have had a chance to polish their work and get it ready to show off in the gallery's vast white spaces.
Stef, a veteran of many hackathons, tells me that that is what made the Digital Sizzle hackathon unique. "This event raises the whole thing. Instead of making something that only my fellow hackers see, I'm making something that is worth someone else's time to look at."
Some of the projects have already attracted commercial interest. Stef has had orders for his necklaces, and "the wife of someone famous" has expressed an interest in investing. If that doesn't work out, he's thinking of raising funds when Kickstarter launches in the UK. The weather guys have set up meetings with Virgin Atlantic and Emirates, which are both interested in the idea of machines in airports that simulate the weather in travellers' destinations.
The tech-art culture clash has pleased Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel, who says: "We have been so impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit as well as the sheer speed at which the techies work. Everything is possible! The results demonstrate how the collaborative power of artists with technology experts can make us see our world with fresh eyes."
3 Beards's Bryce Keane is sipping on a well-earned raspberry beer. Plans are already being made to turn it into a annual event with a longer two-week exhibition. "I don't think we imagined it would be this successful, but we'… [more]
Digital_media  Social_media  Computing  Programming  Technology  Features  Internet  The_Observer  Hacking  Mozilla  Technology  from google
september 2012 by davebriggs
dria.org » Blog Archive » Field Guide to Firefox 3
Everything you need to know about the new version of everyone's favourite browser
firefox  firefox3  guide  browser  reference  mozilla  browsers  howto 
june 2008 by davebriggs
TwitBin - twitter your browser - twitbin.com
Great extension for FireFox that runs Twitter in a sidebar. Thanks to Jeremy Gould for the tip.
twitter  firefox  extension  mozilla 
january 2008 by davebriggs

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