A Data Futures Lab Update: June

By Anouk Ruhaak | June 9, 2021 | Insights

In March, we officially launched our Data Futures Lab and we already have lots to update you on.

First off, we are excited to have Champika Fernando join as the Data Futures Lab Lead. Champika has been working at the intersection of technology, creativity, and community for many years, most recently as the interim Executive Director of the Scratch Foundation. We are thrilled to have them on board!

Meanwhile our first cohort of grantees continued their fight for the data and privacy rights of workers, consumers and activists:

Worker Info Exchange:

  • WIE won an instrumental court case against Uber. A court in the Netherlands ordered six former Uber drivers to be reinstated and paid damages, after the drivers had been wrongfully fired based on automated decisions by Uber's algorithms.
  • In a second case, a court in Amsterdam validated that WIE has the right to represent drivers and make subject access requests on their behalf. It further ordered Uber and Ola (a ridesharing company based in India) to provide insight into its surveillance systems and hand over critical data.
  • WIE sent a new batch of subject access requests using FIDO third-party verification to request data from Uber on behalf of Uber drivers.

As WIE continues to request data on behalf of drivers from Uber, questions around the governance of the retrieved data will become more urgent. Over the last month Worker Info Exchange started conversations around the design of a governance model. While drivers should have ultimate control over data about them, it is important to understand how this data could be made available for collective purposes - such as to gain insights into the workings of Uber’s algorithms. One avenue would be for the trade unions that represent the workers’ labor rights to also help decide on the collective use of worker data. In addition, there is a need to understand what further training is needed to allow both drivers and unions to inform and/or make decisions about data.

SignalBoost

  • SignalBoost conducted a series of user experience interviews to gain greater insights into who makes use of their service and what additional functionalities might be desired.
  • SignalBoost is working on a new library to sit between Signal and the client side. This library will be made available as open source software soon.

On the data governance side, SignalBoost’s largest concern is to keep data about its users safe and out of the hands of third parties. In order to provide its anonymous service, the platform needs to store a list of the phone numbers of admins and subscribers for each channel on its servers. Last month, SignalBoost started working with a Mozilla security engineer to understand how to encrypt this data at rest. In addition, SignalBoost is exploring how it may allow its community of users to hold the platform accountable. That is, rather than merely promising that data is stored securely and that only strictly necessary data is collected, SignalBoost would like to allow for an independent third party or community group to be able to verify these claims. A community audit could be one model to achieve this.

Consumer Reports

  • Earlier this year Consumer Reports completed an open source onboarding for an authorized agent. This tool automates the process of granting Consumer Reports permission to submit a subject access request on behalf of a consumer. Under the California data protection law (the CCPA) all residents of the state are allowed to ask companies to hand over a copy of the data collected about them. However, rather than making consumers go through the arduous process of sending requests to companies one by one, Consumer Reports wants to take on the work and thus reduce friction for consumers submitting requests. This tool will help them do that. Using the tool will also help Consumer Reports assess how willing companies are to hand over this data.

  • Consumer Reports, together with other parties, is working to shape a technical specification for how data subject access requests should be exchanged between consumers, agents, and companies.

Once Consumer Reports starts to retrieve data for consumers, questions around how that data might be used for collective purposes will become more urgent. To start mapping out how this data can better empower consumers, as well as novel ways of governing the data, Consumer Reports is collaborating with design firm Simply Secure to design narratives around potential future consumer data co-ops or trusts. They hope to present the results of this exploration soon.

Finally, to gain more insight into the work of our grantees, have a look at their MozFest presentations!