Orwell, Huxley, Banksy

Last month two new Banksy installations emerged, and they have something important to say about what we choose to fear in the age of the Internet. In the first piece, a stone-wall mural near the headquarters of GCHQ (Britain’s equivalent of the NSA), three special agents in trench coats and fedoras attempt to surveil a derelict phone booth. In the second, on a wood panel screwed into a stone wall in Bristol, a man and woman embrace in darkness, each halfway breaking their hug to check a glowing smartphone held behind the other’s head. Neither piece was, in itself, very notable. In fact, there was […]

Could You Afford Facebook Messenger in Cameroon? A Global Map of Mobile Broadband Prices

This post is by Frank Hangler and Gili Vidan, and is adapted from a post on Frank’s personal blog. For Open Data Hack Day in Oxford, we decided to play around with data from the International Broadband Pricing Study released last year by Google. We decided to look at mobile broadband prices around the world: in which countries can you obtain data on your mobile device for the least money, relative to your purchasing power in that country? The study collects information on consumer mobile plans sold by major carriers in each country, so we had to do some data aggregation […]

Fighting Diseases with Smart Phones

Can South Africans tackle heart disease with the help of an egg cup and a Android phone? In their talk at the Martin School on Feb 6, Dr Fred Hersch and Professor Gari Clifford answered with a qualified, but hopeful, “yes.” Dumb sensors, smart phones Hersch and Clifford’s work focuses on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in low- and middle-income countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines NCDs as diseases that are “not passed from person to person,” such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, and diabetes. A paucity of doctors and under-resourced health systems mean that in low- and middle-income countries, […]

Data, Knowledge, and Knowing Through Data

We live in a world ruled by data in all realms, not just the scientific or mathematical but the political and the personal. This comes with both benefits and costs. The benefits are well known. The unprecedented access to evidence allows for more detailed analysis and more informed research, for instance. The costs, on the other hand, are typically tied to ethical problems raised by data collection regarding invasion of privacy, digital dossiers, and database misuse. The influx of data and our increasing willingness to turn to it, however, generates a more pernicious problem closely associated what makes our surplus […]

The Dance of Twitter-plomacy

UPDATE: One day after this post was published, Michael McFaul announced his resignation from the post. The New York Times wrote a frank article about him, where his  Twitter skills took front and center. It is good to see mainstream publications are recognizing government talent in digital skills!   Contemporary communication brings a need for diplomacy to even seemingly trivial channels. Case in point: a few days ago, the US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul posted the following tweet about the upcoming Olympics in Sochi: McFaul is in an interesting position on this. On the one hand, the Olympics are an inherently […]

The New ‘Power of Now’ and the Perils of the Hyper-Present

With modern technology, living life ‘in the moment’ has never been easier. But this new nowness is far from what earlier advocates had in mind, and might only be distracting us from the planet’s ever more pressing challenges. Last week’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos saw a host of political and business leaders facing up to an ever-growing roster of pressing global problems. But a new article from Douglas Rushkoff suggests that one of the primary challenges these pioneers face relates to the very process of getting things done in the modern age, the result of […]

“internet” vs. “Internet”: The Consequence of Capitalization

Read enough about digital developments and you’re bound to run into a subtle inconsistency: the capitalization of the word “internet.” Some scholars do, some scholars don’t. This may lead you to ask a fairly natural question: which version is right? Many default to “Internet” with a capital “I,” but this choice is far from universal. The New York Times, Chicago Manual of Style, and AP swear by the capital letter. The Guardian, the Economist, and Wired do not. Commentaries and academic articles vary, as do personal blogs and social media posts (themselves perhaps governed by a different sort of lexical […]

Exploring the Geography of WorldBank.org

 “Once we become critical of the assumption that the Web is a neutral repository of information, the structure of the Web becomes much more interesting.” – M.H Jackson, 1997 Absences speak volumes, and yet, interpreting information gaps online has produced only muffled truths. Studies on the geographical origin of Internet content have shown old divides between rich and poor countries repeat themselves online. For example, the vast majority of the shares of Google’s user generated content, academic journal citations and authorship of Wikipedia entries tilt to the wealthier global north. Admittedly, exploring digital landscapes is far less adventurous than the globetrotting variety. However, these journeys allow us to […]

Your Voice–Your Vote?

Facebook is updating its privacy policy and its users can vote which policy version they actually want to have. Considering the torrent of criticism about Facebook’s general approach to privacy, that sounds like a good idea. Except it is not. It presents itself as a democratic procedure but is far away from the standards of an actual referendum. A chance to enhance the self-regulation process has been wasted. Who should get to decide how long Facebook should keep personal data or how they should deploy targeted advertising? The future of privacy will be decided by little tweaks in the phrasing of regulation terminology and users are […]

Network Effects–We Missed the Inframarginals

When discussing the internet, the economic concept that seems to have made the largest dispersion into popular discourse is the concept of ‘network effects’. “Facebook  is unconquerable because of positive network externalities.” “Product X must reach the tipping point so that network effects can take over,” etc. This sub-field is often treated as if it is more-or-less mature (and it may well be), but there is a serious theoretical ambiguity within the economic literature about exactly what a network effect is based upon. The original incarnation of the term deals with a good whose value increases as the number of […]