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Archive for October, 2014

Terms and Conditions May Apply…….

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

As I said in one of my first posts, “Bike Stealing” is the “number one sport (I mean “crime” …)” in Berkeley and particularly in the campus.

Just a few days after my arrival I got my bike seat stolen…. this time was the whole bike….  It happened a few days ago, on Friday evening, while I was at the fitness premises between 20:00 and 21:00 in a well-lighted place close to the entrance of the Recreation Center.  Nearly every day I see U locks broken, thick cables cut, front wheels attached to the poles…without the frame  … etc. I am now part of the “statistics”. Lessons learnt.. I bought a second hand one on and spend 100 $ in locks and cables…. :-((

UC Berkeley has its own police for the campus and an officer was at the Recreation Center to take note of my declaration. Since I had registered my bike with the police (they put labels on the framework and  gave me a paper record of the registration), I told it to the officer and he said that it was good but……. “do you have the paper record at hand”? I said yes and he asked me to scan it and send it by mail because otherwise he would have to ” look into a pile of papers”….

This made me think about my research project which deals with “co-production of digital public services” ….. Why? Because all the bikers could contribute to the co-delivery of the “research service” …. In fact, at the moment of the registration the police,  identified me with my CalID card….. they could have given me a sort of personal one-time token valid for a couple of days, I could have completed the full registration of the bike and if they did it with all the bikers, they would have had the whole bike database “co-built” (i.e. co-produced)  with them !!!!

But this is not the main topic of my post for this week….

It is well know that USA TV channels either focus mostly on local news or they are subsidized by the most varied types of organizations. The very little time I was in front of the TV the programmes were for me very boring.

Having bought an Apple TV device to connect my devices to the Smart TV , I also had access to a number of paying services and it gave me the possibility to test Netflix , one of the biggest Internet Service Providers for movies and documentaries, for one month.

I started to watch documentaries and very soon I came across one whose title matches the title of this post: “Terms and Conditions May Apply” . This is a documentary produced and directed by Cullen Hoback and released in 2013. It presents and analyses in a clear way how corporations and the government utilize the information provided by users when agreeing to browse a website, install an application or purchase goods online.

I was attracted by this documentary because here at UC Berkeley some people have asked about the future “Data Protection Regulation” and they have the impression that the “right to be forgotten” is going to have an impact on the usage of the Internet.

I have watched three times the documentary and the truth is that one has the impression that “privacy is dead”.

In his declaration in front of one of the USA Congress Committes,  one officer from one of the investigation and secret services in the USA Government told that “the arrival of the social networks and the possibility to access the information provided by the users and collected and managed by the major internet services providers and telecommunication companies has provided us with a wealth of data that we could have had never dreamt about”….. !!!

According to the documentary, if users had to read every Terms and Conditions of the sites they access, they would spend a full month per year of their time. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal estimated that “consumers lose over 250 M$ per year due to what is hidden in the agreements …”. Internet services are , sometimes,  presented as free but after knowing the data above….. this proves that “there is no such thing as a free lunch”….. !!!!

Very few people read the full text of Terms and Conditions and Privacy Statement; they use legal, non transparent language for the normal user, the text is writtn with font types and that discourage the reading. The Terms and Conditions are changed  frequently and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know what has really changed and the impact on users and consumers. One gaming site modified the Terms and Conditions to include a clause “giving to the company the exclusive and permanent right to own the user’s soul” and maintained it for more than a week… nobody realized it and users continued clicking on ” I Agree”.

In the documentary, the CEO of a well-known social network explained that they have changed their terms and conditions to go from kind of “opt-in” approach to de facto kind of “opt-out” and when asked about it he replied that “we decided that from that moment on this would be the NEW NORMAL” . Take it or leave it ….. !!!!!

One Austrian user of that same “well-known social network” asked the company, based on the current European and national legislation on data protection, to provide him with a copy of all the information stored in their servers about him. It took a long time for him to get (part) of the information he requested and , despite the fact that he had been using the social network for less than 18 months and not being very active, the printed copy of the information was of some 2000 pages, was 35cm thick and weighted 4 kg……

I strongly recommend all the readers to watch the documentary because is very revealing of the reality of privacy on the internet today.

At the same time, I think that this situation represents a golden opportunity for Europe. Data Protection and Privacy are fundamental rights in Europe and the legislation protects both European and non-European citizens. If our ICT industry is able to provide services (telecommunication, cloud, etc) with a guarantee of respecting the privacy laws and directives, I am convinced that many customers around the world would come to Europe.

More interesting things to come !!!



On Participatory Budgeting (PB) ….

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago when speaking to James Holston ( , the co-director of the Application Social Lab @ CITRIS, about my research project on Co-production of Digital Public Services, he strongly recommended me to attend a conference in campus on Participatory Budgeting by a Professor of University of Coimbra called Giovanni Allegretti ( whose title was “25 Years of Participatory Budgeting: Analysing the Resilience of a Traveling Innovation” .

This would be my first contact with the subject and I was curious to see how a citizen participatory movement worked on the ground.

As stated in their web site ( , Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a different way to manage public money, and to engage people in government. It is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It enables taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives. As stated by the organizers of the movement

“PB gives ordinary people real power over real money.”

This process, conceived as a “ideoscape” (i.e., a model that travels around the world and becomes real only through local experiments) continuously changes as it is implemented locally. Despite these variations and the different meanings ascribed to it in different continents and cities, PB continues to be recognizable among other participatory innovations that dialogue with it.

The conference was based on the findings of the recently published “World Report on Participatory Budgeting” (2013), and the talk tried to understand the principles that guarantee the resilience, the sustainability, and the “scaling up” of this governance innovation in different corners of the planet, 25 years after the first experiments in Latin America, concretely in Brazil.

Big cities like Paris and New York have recently joined the movement. The budget that is submitted to consultation normally falls into the chapter of “Capital Investments” because in on this chapter where the cities have some flexibility on the investments with special focus on infrastructure or social projects.

After attending the conference, Jorge, one of my colleagues at the cubical at CITRIS, told me that he had been helping Tanja Aitamurto (   (who is Ph.D. and Deputy Director, Brown Fellow, postdoctoral at The Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Stanford Engineering, University of Stanford) to implement electronic voting for the Participatory Budgeting (PB) process for 2014 that was taking place at that moment at Vallejo.

Vallejo is a city with aprox. 100000 inhabitants, which is located 25 miles away from Berkeley. Tanja put me in touch with the Vallejo PB team and encouraged me to go and see the process in real.

I drove to Vallejo and this was a golden opportunity to allow me to follow live and get familiar with the selected projects for voting, meet the panel managing the voting process and speak to some of the voters.

But overall, the most interesting thing part was to have a long coffee with Alea Gage, a member of the team in charge of the Participatory Budgeting process at Vallejo. She told me about the origins of the project (2014 is the second year in a row the process takes place) the difficulties they have found and the lessons drawn from the 2013 process, the position on the subject of the members of the city council and the whole 10 month long process until the actual voting by the citizens. After the long process, 25 projects were selected for voting and every citizen could vote for a maximum of 5 projects.

Some 3000 citizens voted… it looks very few people to be representative…… but one should keep in mind that only 7%  of the Vallejo’s population participated in the election of the Major !!!

The IT environment setup for the on-premises, non-compulsory electronic voting (which included a non-compulsory fill-in of a survey) , was based on Chrome PCs (nice coloured ASUS ones whose shape looks like the Mac Book Air !!!) and the application was simple enough to proceed to voting smoothly.

I have just received the results and they are very , very interesting ….. !!!

I am trying to organize a Skype meeting with Prof. Allegretti for an exchange of views and possible collaboration on my research project and I have agreed to meet Tanja and her team at the University of Stanford beginning of November.

I am also reading some additional papers about Participatory Budgeting. I am particularly interested in the paper written by Eleonora S. M. Cunha, Giovanni Allegretti and Marisa Matias whose title is “Participatory Budgeting and the Use of Information and Communication Technologies: A Virtuous Cycle?”.

In this paper the authors discuss whether the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the Participatory Budgeting processes can promote more engaged forms of citizenship and democracy. The discussion is based on the analysis of a few examples from different countries, which show how the use of ICTs is framed by institutions. The inclusion of ICT in participation and decision-making processes can assume very different shapes. In some cases, they can be used within well-defined limits, as information tools or for monitoring the PB during the debate and the implementation phase; in other cases, a more advanced use of ICT potentialities can serve as support to political decision-making processes.

More to come on the subject, stay tuned … !!!