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Showing posts from March, 2014

New Ideas at TED2014

I just returned from a spectacular week at this year’s TED conference in Vancouver, Canada. TED gives me the chance to brainstorm with loads of people who gather to discuss ways to change the world through technology and design. Beyond debating the stimulating topics of major talks—such as Edward Snowden’s appearance by telepresence robot and the response to it by Rick Ledgett, the Deputy Director of the NSA—I spent much of my time speaking about my favorite topic: technology for social good. Of course, that included getting new ideas for software for social good!

Idea One: Tackle Indoor Pollution  First, I sat down with the controversial Bjorn Lomberg, also known as the “Skeptical Environmentalist.” Bjorn has gotten a lot of attention for his recommendations to combat climate change by focusing on improved humanitarian efforts. As an economist, he stresses the need to quantify the impact of humanitarian interventions: for instance, whether a certain effort will bring $59 of benefit …

Snowden and Techies: First Do No Harm!

Snowden taught us that governments are vacuuming up every shred of communications they can. As techies, we need to first do no harm. As we collect sensitive information about health, ethnicity, LGBT identity, refugee status, experience of violence, we need to encrypt that information, to avoid making the people we serve, targets or victims by current or future governments!



TED2014 attendees were asked to reflect on their reactions to the Snowden appearance on stage. I delivered the exhortation above from the TED main stage tonight to my fellow technologists, about our responsibility to secure sensitive information. My comments were based on the recent HuffPo op-ed authored by Enrique Piracés and me, entitled Human Rights and the Duty to Protect Sensitive Data.



Our experience working with human rights defenders, especially LGBT and Tibetan groups, give us direct insights into these challenges.  As software developers entrusted with sensitive information, we have a duty to protect t…

Human Rights and the Duty to Protect Sensitive Data

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Co-authored with Enrique Piracés, Benetech VP, Human Rights.

Consider this: when you visit your doctor about a medical issue in the United States, you can be reasonably confident that it won't shortly be on the front page of the local newspaper. Privacy protections that ensure your doctor treats your information securely were mandated under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Yet, when humanitarian and social justice workers venture into the developing world to gather sensitive information, elementary privacy protections are often neglected.

Don't victims of human rights abuse, refugees, LGBT individuals, and survivors of gender-based violence deserve the same kind of respect for their sensitive information as you expect when you visit a clinic?

Unfortunately, there is no HIPAA equivalent for international human rights and humanitarian information. And this creates serious personal threats in an era where numerous organizations…

Data and the Human Touch

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Meet Kevin and “Sophia” (who anonymously shared her story with my team).

When Kevin was in kindergarten he had an organic brain injury, which forced him to have to relearn everything from walking to using the bathroom. There were several years where Kevin struggled in school because his vision was blurry and this made reading normal size print grueling. He could no longer keep up with his peers in the classroom.

One day when Sophia was in fifth grade, she suddenly went blind from an inexplicable disease. Sophia and her family were left confused and concerned about her future in the classroom. Braille books saved her from isolation and she became an insatiable reader. However, she soon encountered the frustrating “accessible book famine” because very few books available were available in Braille.

This reality changed when both Kevin and Sophia learned about the accessible online library Bookshare, an initiative of Silicon Valley technology nonprofit Benetech. With its rapid…