New research project exploring tensions between open data, data protection and privacy

I’m pleased to announce a new research project exploring the tensions between open data, data protection and privacy. The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Institute for Information Law (IVIR) and the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI) at the University of Amsterdam. It is funded by the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology.

I’m involved in the project as an issue expert on open data (through my work as Director of Policy and Research at Open Knowledge), as well as as an Associate Researcher at the Digital Methods Initiative.

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Deadly Crossings: the Berlin Wall and the US-Mexico border

Inspired by a social media post from the historian Richard Drayton comparing fatalities from crossing the Berlin Wall and the US-Mexico border, I decided to have a quick look into the numbers and created this quick chart using Infogram.

Starting with Wikipedia articles on deaths from crossing the Berlin Wall and the US-Mexico border, the data was largely sourced from estimates from the Centre for Contemporary History in Potsdam (ZZF), the United States Border Patrol, the Mexican Government as well as via this report from the International Organization for Migration in Geneva.

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Interview on Russia Today about social spending in UK

Following is a clip from a live TV interview I recently gave on RT (formerly “Russia Today”) about the gap between public perceptions and the numbers on benefit fraud and social spending in the UK.

Interview on Russia Today about social spending in UK from Jonathan Gray on Vimeo.

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Book Review: Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future by Martin Eve

The following piece is cross-posted from LSE Review of Books.

Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future. Martin Eve. Cambridge University Press. 2014.

The dream of “universal access to all knowledge” (as the Internet Archive puts it) is, of course, not unique to our age. Aspirations to enable ever more people to partake in the fruits of human knowledge evolve in tandem with the practises, epistemologies and mythologies of the day – from magical and mathematical languages to universal library catalogues, hubristically epic corporate scanning empires to climate controlled bunkers for endangered books.

The advent of the internet has given this kind of dream a level of traction and tangibility that it may have lacked when the primary infrastructure of global knowledge transfer consisted of paper, pigeons, and postal systems. The spread of information technologies and communication networks have given rise to bright-eyed new narratives of sharing knowledge at what economists call “the marginal cost of reproduction”, which, in principle, could give everyone with an internet connection access at close to zero cost.

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Slides from talk at Utrecht Data School: “An Epistemological Experiment: Issue Mapping, Data Journalism and the Public Understanding of Complex Issues”

Following are the slides for the talk that Liliana Bounegru and I gave today at the University of Utrecht’s Data School about our work at the Tow Center of Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

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Talk on Digital Methods and Data Journalism at the Data School, University of Utrecht, 27th November 2014

Liliana Bounegru and I will be giving a talk next week at the University of Utrecht’s Data School about our work at the Tow Center of Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

Further details about the talk are on the Data School’s website, and copied below.

The Utrecht Data School is proud to announce a guest lecture by Liliana Bounegru and Jonathan Gray. Their lecture will examine how new tools and methods from internet research and the social sciences might be used by digital journalists to improve coverage of complex issues. The talk is based on their work on this area as Fellows at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University.

The lecture will be held on Monday, 27 October 2014, 11.30 am to 12.30 am at Drift 21, Sweelinckzaal (room 0.05).

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Slides and video for talk on “Mapping Issues with the Web: An Introduction to Digital Methods”, Columbia University

Following are the slides for the talk that Liliana Bounegru and I gave on “Mapping Issues with the Web: An Introduction to Digital Methods” at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University.

Leading sociologist Bruno Latour acted as respondent for the talk, and joined us for subsequent discussion.

A video recording from the talk is available here.

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Talk: “Mapping Issues with the Web: An Introduction to Digital Methods”, Columbia University, 23rd September 2014

Update, 18th September 2014: Professor Bruno Latour has offered to act as respondent to our talk, and will also join us for subsequent discussion. The abstract below has been updated accordingly.

Later this month Liliana Bounegru and I will be giving a talk at Columbia University in New York about how to use digital methods for social and cultural research.

While it will focus on the potential of journalists utilising digital methods to improve coverage of complex issues, events and controversies – the tools and methods we will present can be used in a wide variety of different disciplines and contexts.

The talk, hosted by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, coincides with a week of public talks, seminars, performances and other activities with leading sociologist Bruno Latour.

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Paper on “Open Data and the Politics of Transparency” at European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference 2014, University of Glasgow

Last week I gave a paper on “Open Data and the Politics of Transparency” at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference 2014 at the University of Glasgow.

The original abstract for the talk was as follows:

In just a few years, open data has been established as a fundamental cornerstone of official transparency and accountability initiatives around the world – from US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s respective open government programmes, to the Open Government Partnership, to the G8 Open Data Charter launched in June 2013.

This paper will look at how open data initiatives are shaping the way that government and civil society actors think and talk about transparency – in particular examining at the political visions and theories of change which they promote. Through interviews with key actors and close readings of speeches, reports and other materials, it will look at how open data advocacy has contributed to a shift in official transparency discourse away from social justice and the needs of citizens, and towards technological innovation, public sector efficiency and economic growth.

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Secret government contracts stop citizens knowing if outsourcing works

The following piece is cross-posted from The Guardian.

The past few months have seen a significant backlash against government outsourcing and the privatisation of public services.

A series of high profile controversies around outsourcing giants such as Atos, G4S and Serco have shaken the public’s faith in politicians’ claims that privatisation gives citizens a better deal.

While its advocates continue to argue that outsourcing leads to increased competition, greater efficiency, reduced costs and better public services, citizens are currently deprived of the evidence that they’d need to be able to evaluate whether or not this is true for particular contracts.

Unfortunately it is very difficult to know what actually happens with a public contract unless you are the contractor or the budget holder as the paper trail of documents surrounding most outsourced projects are shrouded in secrecy.

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