Global Internet Governance: The Road Ahead

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United Nations General Assembly 2015

United Nations, New York, December 17, 2015 – Yesterday our esteemed colleague, Parminder Jeet Singh of ICT for Change, presented a speech before the United Nations General Assembly on global Internet governance. He began by asking,

The Internet is fundamentally transforming our world. These changes will be no less far-reaching than those of the industrial revolution.

The question then is: is the world today politically more mature, than it was in that distant past, to be able to better guide this transformation towards our common goals?

He then presented a three pronged path for answering this question.

First of all, we must give up the idea of Internet exceptionalism…

Next; the fully justified fear of possible statist abuse of the Internet has to be addressed by putting robust checks and balances into its governance mechanisms…

And thirdly, Madam President, a so-called tension between multilateralism and multistakeholderism must be resolved – through the test of democracy.

See the 5 minute video at http://www.itforchange.net/UNGA_WSIS10 and the full text http://justnetcoalition.org/2015/to_UN_GA.pdf.

Our thanks and congratulations go to Mr. Singh.

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25 Things I Want For My Neighborhood.nyc

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neighborhood cartoon picturesNovember 30, 2015, Jackson Hts., NYC – My neighborhood is the place where most all my needs are me. It’s where I eat, I work, I sleep, I play – where I live. Not all the time – my work and vacations draw me away, and Manhattan’s wonders tempt me all too often – but most of the time. And as I’m getting up there in years, I’m beginning to think (hope?) that it’s the place where I’ll end my days (more on this below).

Next to my health, my family and my friends, my neighborhood is probably the most important thing in my life. And I’m blessed to live in a wonderful one – Jackson Heights.

In two days (now passed) I’m heading to a meeting at Queens Borough Hall to discuss what could be an important addition to my neighborhood, JacksonHeights.nyc and the vast potential it offers. It’s something I’ve thought about for 15 yeas, and now it’s just around the corner. Here’s what “I want” to happen to my neighborhood as a consequence of the development of the neighborhood domain name.

  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to add more community to my neighborhood. (For background, a neighborhood is a geographic area and a community is connections, friendships, shared interests, and support. It can be local or global.)
  • I want “adding more community” to be a priority requirement for any entity that’s given the license to run JacksonHeights.nyc.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to help create a more collaborative and caring neighborhood – both on and offline.
  • I want it to expose and highlight needs and opportunities and facilitate collaborations. .
  • I want it to empower residents to organize and address these needs.
  • I want it to facilitate the creation of caring communities that focus on the needs of have nots.
  • I want it to offer a great decision-making tool, one that helps form a majority without crushing the minority.
  • I want a JacksonHeights.nyc that’s organized and governed as a common, with a collaborative decision making process engaging all the neighborhood’s stakeholders.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to help existing organizations (for and nonprofits) achieve their missions.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to pay its way and create a local job or two.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to be the first choice for local businesses online advertising dollars.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to be the place where residents turn for recommendations for dentists, doctors, electricians, plumbers, restaurants…
  • I want it to have a neighborhood calendar I can plan my life around, with a calendar having a check box that allows me “Invite the world” or “Just for the neighborhood.”
  • I want it to show 311 and 911 calls, showing respect for privacy of course.
  • I want it to help residents organize to resolve issues raised by these calls.
  • I want Jackson Heights.nyc to create a neighborhood where residents respond and adapt to climate change.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to be a safe place to conduct my online life. That means it must have DNSSEC and DANE (technical protocols) and be part of a citywide security and privacy effort.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to present all the information about the neighborhood that I or any visitor might want. This is information we  know collectively and should be presented by wiki-style.
  • I want the operator of JacksonHeights.nyc to serve residents via desktops, phones, tablets, etc.
  • I want all the software used on JacksonHeights.nyc to be open source.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to share its riches with other city neighborhoods.
  • And I want our neighborhood’s residents and institutions to train everyone interested in effectively using JacksonHeights.nyc.

The city’s extensive and well thought out application for the neighborhood domain names leads me to think the administration shares these thoughts. But it will surely take the engagement and support of many to make them a reality. I hope many of you will be in Borough Hall, Room 200 on Wednesday morning at 9:30 (see invite post here) to add your Wants to this list.

Best,

Tom Lowenhaupt

 

For more on the city’s dotNeighborhoods, see here.

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On Becoming An NGO

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New York, September 10, 2015 – In early 2014 we applied to the United Nations requesting that we be granted Special Consultative Status. A tad over a year later, on April 20, 2015, we received a message from the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations saying “your organization’s application for consultative status by the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations will take place during its 2015 Resumed Session in New York, scheduled for 26 May – 3 June 2015.”

UN Resumed Session May 2015The email went on to say “Your presence is not mandatory and will not in any way affect the consideration of your application” and that “given the large volume of new and deferred applications for the Committee’s consideration, it is not possible to determine the exact date at which your application will be reviewed during the session.”

Despite the indefinite review date, we thought that, being located in New York, I’d attend the meeting in the hope that I might be available to contribute to the review process. Minimally I’d get to spend a day at the UN which always inspires me. So I wrote the NGO Committee that I’d be there for the afternoon session on May 28.

Everything worked out well that day and we’re now an NGO. But a friend thought the story of my experience on the 28th was amusing and suggested I share it. Here goes.

At about noon on the 28th, as I was preparing to depart for the UN, an email arrived from the NGO Committee inquiring about the response we’d submitted to question #11, which asked if Connecting.nyc Inc. was an international organization. I responded with some clarifying detail and headed out to the UN.

At the UN I found the Committee meeting in Conference Room 4, a very impressive room (pictured above). Near the entrance I found an official and explained my situation. She checked her computer and noted that my response to question #11 had already made its way through the review process and was available for the members for consideration. I asked if there was  anything further I could do to aide my application. She asked if I would be available for the Q&A which began at 5 PM. Not clear what that was, but eager to please, I said sure. She concluded with “5 PM no earlier.”

There was another meeting nearby that interested me and I left Conference Room 4 for about 1/2 an hour. Returning at 20 of 5, I took a seat at the rear. Seconds after settling into my seat the chair, speaking Spanish, said something that seemed to conclude with “Connecting.nyc.” Startled, I slowly stood, tried to imagine what he might have said, and listened intently a few seconds later when he repeated the statement that clearly included “Connecting.nyc.”

Unclear as to what to do, I looked around for guidance. The woman at the entry desk motioned to say “Yes it is related to you” and urged me to move toward a desk closer to the front. As I approached that desk the fellow there waved me on, to continue toward the front. Looking ahead I saw yet another desk just to the right of the dais, and felt sure my answer would be found there. But as I reached it the two occupants waved me forward. With no desks ahead I stood motionless. Then a woman just on the dais whispered that I was to “sit there” and motioned to the rightmost chair near her.

So within 30 seconds of hearing “Connecting.nyc” I found myself seated on the dais and wondering what was next.

Shortly the chair stated, in English, that I had 10 minutes to address the Committee’s 19 members. With nothing prepared I conjured an impromptu brief about our history and goals, and clarified our botched response to question #11. Q&A followed with the representative form Nicaragua asking how we expected to deliver our services to the member states. I indicated that our web presence would be primary, but that we hoped to reach nation states and their cities through our special consultative status. I then awaited another question. A few seconds passed and the chair said “Any more questions?” Receiving no response he nodded for me to leave.

As I rose and turned to depart the woman who had directed me to my seat said “Congratulations”. I must have looked perplexed, and she followed with “You’ve been approved.” And indeed, the Committee had recommended granting special consultative status to the organization. (Several weeks later Economic and Social Council formalized the approval.)

As I walked back to my seat in the rear I was stopped by two others who offered their congratulations and I began to realize what a remarkable few minutes I’d spent in good old Conference Room 4.

A few months later we received official confirmation of our acceptance as an NGO with special consultative status.

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Mapping New York City’s Civic Commons

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Winston Churchill(Note: A later, and in some ways  improved, version of this post “City Must Use .NYC to Create a Real Civic Commons” was published by CityLimits on September 14th.)

New York, August 20, 2015 – Churchill nailed it in 1947 when he said “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others which have been tried from time to time.” For decades thereafter traditional Western Democracy was the tarnished global standard.

But with the Internet’s ascent people began to believe something better was possible. That belief fueled our advocacy for the .nyc TLD. Through it we imagined more open, transparent, and accountable governance processes, a post-Churchillian democracy where connected residents could more readily participate in decision making. One foundation for that was a civic commons.

[Background: The term commons refers to cultural and natural resources accessible to everyone, such as air, language, water, and a habitable earth. Commons are not owned by the private sector or government. With the activation of the .nyc TLD a new civic commons became possible, one formed around domain names such as issues.nyc and voting.nyc. More on this below.]

A lack of meaningful support for .nyc from City Hall diminished our expectations for our city’s TLD and for the civic commons. In recent months, we’ve been turning our attention elsewhere. But two recent reports highlighted the need for an improved civic commons and jerked our attention back to .nyc. The first was an article in Science reporting on research demonstrating how the Internet exerts a massive influence on voting and elections. The second, a New York Times article detailing the opacity of algorithms (invisible computer code that determines who sees what in searches), and how they sometimes result in the de facto placement of gender and racially biased ads.

After taking a fresh look at these and other challenges brought on by digitization, we decided to present this review of the role and advantages a robust digital commons would have on our city’s operation and quality of life. But first a look at those reports in Science and the Times.

Biased Algorithms

The Science article reported on work by Robert Epstein that conclusively demonstrated what most of us know intuitively: The higher a candidate’s rank on a page of Internet search results, the more likely voters are to choose them. Summarized his finding Epstein said: “What we’re talking about here is a means of mind control on a massive scale that there is no precedent for in human history.”

That’s a strong claim. Let’s take a look at his research.

In one experiment, Epstein, a research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research in Vista, California, and his associates recruited three groups of 102 volunteers. The researchers built a fake search engine they called Kadoodle that responded to search inquiries by returning a list of 30 websites, 15 for each of the candidates. What the volunteers didn’t know was that the search engine had been rigged to display biased results. For example, in one scenario a subject would see a list of 15 websites with information about one candidate followed by 15 similar results for the opponent. Predictably, the subjects spent far more time reading Web pages near the top of the list. Before and after questionnaires detailed the impact of the biased presentation: in one instance the rigged search results increased the number of undecided voters choosing the favored candidate by 48%.Mind control contraption with monitor and pipes

Interestingly, the subjects who noticed they were being manipulated were more likely to vote in line with the biased results. Of these voters Epstein says, “What they’re saying is, ‘Well yes, I see the bias and that’s telling me … the search engine is doing its job.’”

In a second experiment the scientists recruited 2,100 participants through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The large sample allowed them to pinpoint the demographics of those most vulnerable to search engine manipulation: the divorced, Republicans, and subjects who reported low familiarity with the candidates. From these results, Epstein concluded:

“In a two-person race, a candidate can only count on getting half of the uncommitted votes, which is worthless. With the help of biased search rankings, a candidate might be able to get 90% of the uncommitted votes [in select demographics].”

Other research by Epstein revealed that a search engine doesn’t have to intentionally manipulate for a biased effect to manifest. Search algorithms put one candidate’s name higher on the list based on factors like “relevance” and “credibility.” But the meaning and impact of these terms on displayed results are closely guarded by the developers at Google and other major search engines.

“It’s easy to point the finger at the algorithm because it’s this supposedly inert thing, but there are a lot of people behind the algorithm,” commented Nicholas Diakopoulos, an independent computer scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park. “I think that it does pose a threat to the legitimacy of the democracy that we have. We desperately need to have a public conversation about the role of these systems in the democratic processes.”

The New York Times article, When Algorithms Discriminate, talked about two forms of biased search algorithms that deter advancement by women into executive positions. In one instance job search sites offer more good jobs to men than to women. In another image searches for CEO’s exaggerate men’s occupancy in top positions.

Upon close examination it’s clear that some code is negatively influencing our fundamental rights and beliefs. In one instance decades of progress on expanding and enhancing the quality of the vote is being lost by the haphazard replacement of traditional candidate evaluation systems by new technology. In another, gender and racial equality are silently being eroded by invisible filters that insufficiently respect our cultural norms.

We need to be more vigilant about protecting our hard won standards for human and social rights. Luckily there’s a commons within the .nyc where these and other civic issues can be addressed.

The Civic Commons

commons cooperation  One of the empowering features of a city TLD is the new “space” it creates. It’s not as tangible as the land upon which housing and office space are created, but in a digital era it offers enormous opportunity. It’s time civil society identify and develop the commons space within the .nyc TLD. Here are a few examples of domain names that will support a civic commons:

  • Search.nyc – To address the voting issues discussed above we should craft the “search.nyc” domain name to provide fair returns on candidate searches. Designed with impartiality and transparency in mind, it can foster fair and trusted elections.
  • Voter.nyc – The voter.nyc name set (voter.nyc, voting.nyc, voters.nyc, candidates.nyc) is another part of the civic commons that should be crafted to facilitate elections and election time decisions.
  • Issues.nyc – Long and short term discussions of citywide import should be addressed in a thoughtfully organized issues.nyc space. Potential solutions identified here could feed into the voter.nyc name set.
  • Neighborhoods.nyc – A most useful set of commons spaces is being made available through the neighborhoods name set. Nearly 400 names have been reserved to empower local residents to address the concerns of everyday life. For the first time ever New Yorkers could have access to an effective local communication system.
  • Meta Names – Intuitive names that facilitate locating these sites need to be identified, developed, and promoted for example, CivicCommons.nyc, NewYorkCommons.nyc, and CommonsIndex.nyc.

Note: A robust commons advantages all sectors of society. For example, the “level playing field” created by search.nyc also provides advantages for city businesses and visitors.

Creating The Civic Commons

In creating our civic commons we can draw upon the success of commons in other realms such as fisheries and farm irrigation systems. And important lessons on governing a digital commons are available from the success of Wikipedia.

Nobel Prize winning economist Elinore Ostrom detailed four factors that define areas where commons can succeed, and with a city TLD meeting them all, we should confident as we approach the task. Those factors:

  • A definable boundary – This is certainly true of the intuitive domain names that comprise our commons. Each is a unique name within the well defined boundaries of the Internet’s domain name system.
  • Difficulty of substitution – One can easily create a BestSearch.nyc or ImportantIssues.nyc, but once claimed and coherently marketed as the city’s patrimony, it becomes clear that there is but one commons.
  • Presence of a community – While a big, great city, New York is but 1/10th of 1% of the world’s population living on a 450 square mile spec of planet Earth. Its residents have a common interest in assuring the social and economic betterment of their city.
  • A final condition is that there be appropriate community-based rules and procedures in place with built-in incentives for responsible use and punishments for misuse. Crafting these rules is a key challenge. But we’ve 400 years experience creating a city of laws and regulations, and with recent precedents from the likes of Wikipedia, the task should be doable.

The planning, design, funding, and oversight of the civic commons will best be achieved using a multi-stakeholder engagement model involving academia, business, civic society, government, residents, and the technical community. This outreach philosophy is having success in areas such as Internet governance, and combined with our traditional governance system, should facilitate a successful undertaking.

The Civic Commons 2There’s good news to start. The de Blasio Administration took some positive steps early on by setting aside some commons names on a reserved list. Nearly 400 neighborhood names – GreenwichVillage.nyc, Harlem.nyc, etc. – were on the list along with search.nyc and vote.nyc. Identification and acquisition of other names should take place early while the name price is low.

City officials are currently looking for a business and governance model to support the operation of the neighborhood names. The adventurous can go today to neighborhoods.nyc and begin the process of acquiring a neighborhood domain name. Working out the details of a governance model will perhaps be the most difficult task.

Beyond governance there are design and technical issues, exemplified perhaps by search.nyc. We’ve posted on that particular name on our Transparent Search wiki page.

Success with the commons requires strong support from City Hall. Empowering city residents was a campaign theme of the de Blasio Administration so one might expect strong support for a stakeholder controlled civic commons. Tasks for City Hall include:

  • Advertise / Market / Outreach / Promote  – Getting the word out in New York City is an enormously expensive proposition. City Hall must promote the commons with the same vigor and persistence used for 911, 311, and nyc.gov. As an initial sign of support it should commit to moving the city’s website from nyc.gov to gov.nyc.
  • Convene – All stakeholders should be invited into the planning processes. A supportive organizational structure and staff should empower meaningful participation. A versatile civic entity such as the Municipal Art Society or perhaps the reborn City Club should have a role here.
  • Autonomy – City Hall must not micromanage the commons. While contracts controlling .nyc’s operation place ultimate authority in city hall, the stakeholder communities that oversee the various spaces (domain names) must have rule making and management authority – within our system of laws.
  • Funding – The sale of domain name is generating a surplus. These funds should be sufficient to support the development of the commons and should be channeled to a Commons Development Authority to facilitate implementation. Should additional funds be necessary, the Authority should be empowered to facilitate their acquisition.
  • Finally – .london, .paris, .tokyo and 30 other cities have been similarly empowered to create their own civic commons. But for lack of precedent and awareness they may miss the opportunity. Mayor de Blasio should collaborate with other global cities to develop governance processes and share best practices for their civic commons.

Read more:

  • Robert Epstein’s experiments in Science are available here.
  • See this Times article on gender and racially biased algorithms.
  • See our Transparent Search wiki page for starting points on building a city-friendly search engine.

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Our thanks for the use of their Creative Commons images to KraljAleksandar for Churchill, Jagarnot for Syndicated Mind Control, Victor Ponce for Tragedy, and Christine Prefontaine for What…

 

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Introducing dotNYC Explorer

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dotNYC Explorer #1Jackson Hts., New York, July 9, 2015 – Joel Natividad of Ontondia.com put together a dotNYC Explorer based on information on .nyc registrants provided by DoITT, the city agency with oversight of the .nyc TLD. Take a look.

It’s a great tool. Here are a couple of hints for getting the most out of Explorer:

  • When you get to Explorer’s birthplace on Beta.nyc, you’ll see the summary page, like the one above. Click on the blue “Launch Website” button on the left and interact with the live data on the tableau.com website. (While on Beta.nyc take a look around. Beta is a great civic organization, consider getting involved.)
  • After clicking Launch Website you’ll see essentially the same info on tableau.com, but now it’s live. Click a bar on one of the graphs and see the names in the List box on the left change. For example, in the “First Char” graph, click on the bar representing 5 characters and see the list of 5 character names presented in the List box. NOTE: This is kind of tricky – you must click on the bar above the horizontal line, not on the number 5 itself.
  • Drill down by clicking on 2 bars – the First Char and Length – to see specifics.
  • Finally, once you’ve drilled down, you can click on the names in the List box and be taken to a who.is site with lots of details about that domain name.

We’re hoping for a Version 2 in the near future that will include a mapping capacity enabling New Yorkers to readily discern if more names are registered in Coney Island or Canarsie.

Our thanks to Joel Natividad, Beta.nyc, and DoITT for making this possible.

 

 

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