The racism on Nextdoor; clever campaign finance maneuvering by Google’s Eric Schmidt; and more.
Tech and the presidentials: Adam Pasick and Tim Fernholz report for Quartz on The Groundwork, an until-now little-known tech vendor for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign that is funded by Google billionaire Eric Schmidt and run by Michael Slaby, the CTO of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. They write: “Groundwork has been tasked with building the technological infrastructure to ingest massive amounts of information about voters, and develop tools that will help the campaign target them for fundraising, advertising, outreach, and get-out-the-vote efforts—essentially to create a political version of a customer relationship management (CRM) system, like the one that Salesforce.com runs for commerce, but for prospective voters.” In other words, Groundwork is supposed to solve the data integration problem that has bedeviled modern campaigns since the dawn of time.
Pasick and Fernholz deftly point out that Schmidt’s investment in the Groundwork has allowed him to avoid the complex dance required of Super PACs that supposedly don’t coordinate with campaigns: “a well-connected donor like Schmidt can fund a startup to do top-grade work for a campaign, with the financial outlay structured as an investment, not a donation.”
The Irvine Foundation has published a new report, “Testing New Technologies in Mobilizing Voters of Color.” It found that personal contact is still the most effective way to turn out voters, beating texting voters or using Facebook ads to urge them to vote. (Is that really surprising?) The report notes that since the study took place in the context of the 2014 off-year election, voter attention was lower. The study did not look at how the use of voter targeting or mobile canvassing tools might improve voter turnout.
Brave new world: In the last ten years, social media usage by American adults has zoomed from 7 percent to 65 percent, Pew Research Center’s Andrew Perrin reports. The shift has been pronounced even among people over the age of 65, of whom 35 percent now use social media.
The internet is a mirror of the real world, sometimes making more visible what was invisible and sometimes amplifying our worst impulses. That’s the import of this long and incredibly detailed story by Sam Levin of the East Bay Express on how white Oakland residents are increasingly using Nextdoor.com to racially profile their black neighbors. Roughly 20 percent of all Nextdoor conversations in Oakland are about crime and safety, he reports. Levin’s story is nuanced enough to point out that the problem predates Nextdoor, noting that when listservs starting gaining usage in Oakland they also became hotbeds for rumor-mongering. He also notes that the company, which has more than $100 million in venture funding and has expanded rapidly in the city in recent years, isn’t responding to concerns that its neighborhood social networking sites are intensifying white racism. If anything, the company seems to like that it is becoming a de facto “neighborhood watch” platform.
Pulitzer-winning national security report Barton Gellman describes how the video a public talk on the NSA and Edward Snowden he gave at Purdue University in late September was “scrubbed” from the school’s website after someone reported to the Defense Security Service that a few of his slides were still officially classified even though they have been widely reported in the press.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Dave Maass is cheering the enactment of the state’s new Electronic Communications Privacy Act, saying that it will protect Californians by “by requiring a warrant for digital records, including emails and texts, as well as a user’s geographical location. These protections apply not only to your devices, but to online services that store your data. Only two other states have so far offered these protections: Maine and Utah.”
Boston’s data-driven city managers are now trying to combine all of their data on everything from crime to housing to Wi-Fi availability and turn it into a single numeric, called CityScore, reports Jess Bidgood for the New York Times. Anthony Townsend, the author of Smart Cities, says, “It seems to me like an unnecessary oversimplification.”