Sid Rao: One of the most pressing tech issues which civil society is facing is the invisible data problem.
[Sid Rao, Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellow, European Digital Rights. A bearded Indian man with a handlebar mustache, wearing a black t-shirt.]
Hi, I’m Sid Rao, and my superpower is to help you protect your digital privacy.
[A light blue animated cape and eye mask appears on Sid as he flexes his muscles. The cape says “digital privacy”.]
As part of my fellowship, I was based in European Digital Rights, 35 human rights organizations which are working in the digital space. Part of my main work was to work on projects related to privacy, how metadata can be exploited. As Internet end users, we don't know what we are signing up for. We don’t know how our personal data is used, how we are being tracked, and most importantly how all these things are impacting your personal life.
So what we did through Hakuna Metadata Project was, I built a tool which anyone can use to see how their Internet service providers can see what they’re doing, and how they can build a digital persona.
[An animated x-ray machine scans Sid’s body to reveal the words “attack”, and “privacy”.]
Example of which, if my Internet service providers start tracking what I do on the Internet and try to build a person of it, I am branded as a terrorist—mainly because one set of my metadata says I’m a brown guy, I'm from Global South, I’m from Southeast Asia. There’s one set of metadata, which is about how I look, and with a beard, and things like that. On the other hand, I’m a security and privacy researcher, and most of my academic papers start with attacking this protocol for something.
So, I built this tool, and I was surprised to see the very significant word in my profile, my digital persona, was the word “attack.” What if this data is sold to someone, for example, to the government agencies? And now I can relate that every time I go to the airport I'm called for random checks, probably this is the reason. So, using this tool everyone can see what is happening, how day-to-day Internet activities can be used for monetizing, can be used for tracking, can be used for profiling.
[Sid Rao transforms into a silhouette of blue and white data and numbers, with words such as “Attack”, “Security”, “Southeast Asia”, and “Privacy” forming inside his body outline.]
My freedom matters the most than anything else in my life, and I’m sure that it’s the same for everyone. And before it’s too late, I have to take a stand. I’m doing it for myself, but for everyone.
[Ford Foundation logo: a globe made up of a series of small, varied circles. Mozilla logo.]
[Sarita Gupta, Co-director, Jobs With Justice. A South Asian woman, wearing a mustard-yellow top and black pants.]
Public interest technology, from the realm of workers’ rights, it’s about being able to utilize technology in ways that truly improve jobs. For example, imagine for a moment, if you can’t predict your schedule at work, how do you budget appropriately or how do you plan for childcare or eldercare or let alone make appointments to see your own doctor should you need it? For too many working people in this country, the issue of scheduling is really challenging. We have an opportunity right now to engage with scheduling software companies to help us think about ways in which they can help distribute more equitable hours of work to more working people. What’s been interesting is the reaction of companies that actually do the scheduling technology. Companies like Paychex, who have said to us, “We can actually address this, and we can make this possible, but we never knew this was such an issue and such a need.”
I think technologists and working people, or organizations representing working people, need to be in the room together to really understand what problems we’re solving for and to collaborate and design systems and tools that will really benefit everybody. Another really great example—Clear My Records Project. Around the country, many groups have been winning Ban the Box campaigns to ensure that returning citizens are not discriminated against when seeking jobs. Through a partnership with technologists, they were able to create an app where returning citizens can actually delete the records themselves to ensure that their files are free of their criminal records and they’re able to seek a job and not face any kind of discrimination. So those are some of the kinds of examples of ways in which working people can harness technology in a way to either improve jobs or improve access to jobs. Public interest technology can fuel the imaginations and the creativity of social change leaders to think more boldly and expansively around the types of solutions that we need to meet the social needs of our time.
[This is tech at work for the public! Hashtag Public Interest Tech. Ford Foundation dot org forward slash tech. Ford Foundation logo: a globe made up of a series of small, varied circles.]