Digitally Literate #213


The Price of Data
Digitally Lit #213 – 9/7/2019

Hi all, my name is Ian O’Byrne and welcome to issue #213 of Digitally Literate.

In this newsletter I distill the news of the week in technology into an easy-to-read resource. Thank you for reading. Please subscribe if you haven’t already.

This week I shared the following:


Danah Boyd on the Spread of Conspiracies and Hate Online (18:42)

Danah Boyd is a senior researcher at Microsoft and founder of the research institute “Data & Society,” where she studies how media manipulators may be responsible for mass shootings and other crisis events. She sat down with Hari Sreenivasan to explain how digital media amplifies the spread of false information.


How an elite university research center concealed its relationship with Jeffrey Epstein

Scandal has been swirling around the MIT Media Lab because of its ties to Jeffrey Epstein, with the prestigious research lab apologizing for taking $800,000 from the accused sex trafficker and several researchers quitting in protest.

But the outcry is about to get much louder after a bombshell report by The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow reveals the financial relationship was more deeply entangled than previously known—so much so that Epstein’s donations were kept anonymous and the lab ignored pushback from its staffers to keep the money rolling in.

We started talking about this in issue 211 of this newsletter. More will come out now that this article was released. We will also need to contend with questions about the relationship between power and money.

Centering Civil Rights in the Privacy Debate

As we adjust to these new, digital spaces, it is critical that we discuss and understand issues of privacy and security. This discussion has focused on framing data rights as human rights as we try to make sense of long term consequences.

This report from New America highlights key questions regarding privacy, digital rights, and civil rights. Specifically they address:

  • What role does technology play in our society?
  • How are marginalized communities disproportionately harmed by data practices and privacy infringements?
  • What are some of the ongoing efforts and interventions to address these concerns?

Why does this matter? Increasingly we are seeing issues of “algorithmic discrimination.” Algorithms present opportunities to use machine learning to use features in datasets to find patterns in the data. Malicious actors can develop algorithms to functionally redline individuals and groups without them even knowing.

When it comes to new technology and civil rights, we must be extra cautious to ensure that we do not misuse technology to repeat or accelerate the mistakes of the past.

Amazon’s doorbell camera Ring is working with police – and controlling what they say

I live in a new neighborhood and smart doorbells are everywhere. These devices are beneficial when something happens in the neighborhood, and we all try to go back and see what occurred.

Earlier this month, Motherboard reported on partnerships and promotional agreements between one of the largest manufacturers of video doorbells (Ring) and local public officials and police departments.

Why does this matter? Ring was recently purchased by Amazon. One of the features from the Ring doorbell app (and security ecosystem products) is the ability to join the Ring Neighbors network. Apparently Amazon is offering local municipalities, and police offices access to data from the Ring Neighbors network if they promote and give away these doorbells to citizens. This raises enormous concerns about the privacy and security issues with this data now…and in the future.

For Ride-Hailing Drivers, Data is Power

Uber drivers in Europe and the US are fighting for access to their personal data. The winner of this battle can reframe the terms in the upcoming “gig economy.”

When you use a ride hailing service like Uber, the app records where the driver went, how long they stayed, how much money they made, and how many stars they was given by passengers. It notes how many rides they accepted and how many were cancelled. This provides maps where trips started and ended, and how long it takes to wind through traffic around the city.

The gig economy is reshaping careers for the next generation as we we focus on pools of independent contractors or consultants. These temporary jobs can be a great opportunity for individuals to make some extra cash on the side. But, with large portions of the population facing unemployment or underemployment, individuals are cobbling these gigs together to scrape by.

In the lead story for this section, we follow the story of James Farrar, an Uber driver in London that is suing Uber for access to his data. Farrar and colleagues are being represented by Ravi Naik, the attorney that is also representing David Carroll and others in data privacy cases against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

The outcome of these court battles will determine how much ownership these individuals have of their data…and futures.

A Decade of Music Is Lost on Your iPod. These Are The Deleted Years. Now Let Us Praise Them.

I love listening to new music, and crafting playlists for a variety of purposes. In fact, in some of my online bios, I indicate that I’m an “award winning online DJ.” Most people give this an odd look, and then move on. This is a reference to the playlists that I created and shared on 8tracks…many of which have gone gold. 🙂

Dave Holmes in Esquire laments the “deleted” decade of music that occurred as we moved from compact discs to streaming services. Holmes even shares a list of the greatest hits from this period.

This story is a great analogy of the challenges we have as a society when our sources of information move from print to pixel. Preservation of history becomes a challenge when the process of printing no longer occurs.


Savory Dutch Baby

This week Hurricane Dorian came through our local area. As a result, everything was shut down, and we prepared to use up perishable materials if needed.

One easy way to fill up everyone and use up food before it goes stale is to make this baked pancake of goodness.

Pro Tip: You don’t need to wait for the next natural disaster. Cook this up instead of scrambled eggs for those that you love.

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Being oppressed means the absence of choices.

bell hooks

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Already thinking about the upcoming holiday season?!?! Nope. It’s not even Halloween season.

Mozilla wants you to help them prepare for their Privacy Not Included buyers guide by sharing the products you want reviewed.

Digitally Literate is a summary of all the great stuff from the Internet this week in technology, education, & literacy. Say hey with a note at or on the social network of your choice.

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