Each week we will bring you a summary of what happened this week on our site, on Twitter, and in the wider world of civic data. Suggest stories on Twitter with #ThisWeekInData.
NEW YORK TIMES: A.I. EXPERTS QUESTION AMAZON'S FACIAL-RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY
Approximately 25 artificial-intelligence researchers have signed a letter this week demanding Amazon stop selling its facial-recognition technology, Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies out of concerns the program is biased against people of color and women. The publicly released letter expressed an increasing concern in academia and the tech industry that bias in facial-recognition technology is a systemic problem, and argues that the technology cannot be properly controlled without government regulation. Earlier this year, two researchers at MIT published a peer-reviewed study providing evidence that Amazon’s Rekognition software had more inaccuracies identifying the gender of darker-skinned and female faces in photos than similar programs by Microsoft and IBM.
In an interview with Tech Crunch, France’s newly appointed Minister for the Digital Economy, Cédric O, discussed his goals for the “French tech ecosystem.” In response to the recent challenges of moderating content on social platforms, O stated that he wanted to implement a new regulatory framework--but only after the government takes the time to understand how social network platforms moderate content. Additionally, O says he wants to change the “bad reputation” the start up community has gained in France, facing questions of digital inclusion. “There’s one thing we need to change and it’s going to be my message for the coming days — the French tech ecosystem is important. If we want our children, our grandchildren to get jobs, we can’t do it without startups,” said O.
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) has seized upon an opportunity from the booming popularity of dockless scooters on city streets. Mobility Data Specification, or MDS, is a digital tool developed by LADOT to collect anonymized data from trips on all types of vehicles. In Los Angeles, MDS has been used on dockless scooters to collect information on riders’ patterns of movement. The collected data can help shape policy decisions, like ensuring low-income residents can have access to dockless vehicles or determining where to put a protected bike lane; the software’s usage has spread to other cities across the country.
In a massive effort requiring the participation of nearly 60 city agencies, Philadelphia city officials published data pertaining to more than $4 billion in payments the city made during the 2017 fiscal year. The data is housed at opendataphilly.org and is the first published breakdown of individual departments’ financial activity. The published data also includes context for each payment, including paying department, date, vendor name, purpose of payment--enabling residents to see how tax money is being spent “in a level of detail that has never before been readily available.”
Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced new legislation called the Digital Service Act in March that would give state and local governments federal funding for investing in technology and modernization efforts. If the legislation passes, the Digital Service Act would direct $50 million to the United States Digital Service (USDS), a federal agency that helps improve how government uses technology, in addition to $15 million to support grants for state and local government digital services. The grants would require 50% of the money to be spent on hiring talent as opposed to buying technology.
CODE FOR AMERICA: EXPANDING AUTOMATIC RECORD CLEARANCE IN CALIFORNIA
The Los Angeles and San Joaquin County District Attorneys teamed up with Code for America earlier this week to announce a criminal justice reform partnership to automatically clear more than 50,000 eligible cannabis convictions under Proposition 64. This is a pilot program that identifies convictions qualifying for resentencing or dismissal under the initiative voters approved in November 2016. The counties have been working with Code for America since July 2018 to develop a system that examines cannabis convictions, showing an appetite for technology-assisted record clearance in California. The original petition-based process for clearance was not designed for the digital age, and the new automatic process will help accomplish record clearance quickly, equitably and at scale.