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Projects 2016

Collaborative Projects from Fellows @ CTSP

Below are the collaborative projects for the 2015-2016 cycle. Learn more about proposing a project and becoming a fellow at CTSP.

Engineering Ethics

Situating Computational Research Ethics: History, Codes, and Context

Fellows: Anna Lauren Hoffmann, Luke Stark

This exploratory project investigates how codes of professional and research ethics in the computing, information science, and data analytics context have evolved over the past forty years, and how novel metaphors for thinking about data could help current professional ethics practices become more responsive to social need. The project is intended to inform our particular historical moment of rapid growth in data science and computational social science, both as professional fields and expert discourses. The project has three central goals: to review, and assess a corpus of relevant professional codes, both in data science and without; determine how these mobilize a variety of metaphors to consider professional ethics; and make concrete recommendations on how to update the language and principles of research ethics for contemporary data science practitioners.

A User-Centered Perspective on Algorithmic Personalization

Fellows: Emily Paul, G.S. Hans, Pavel Vanegas, Rena Coen

Algorithmic personalization drives much of the content we encounter online, from search results and movie recommendations to the ads we see and the prices we are offered. Much of this personalization saves us time and helps us find what we are looking for. However, personalization can also disadvantage individuals. Our research is aimed at improving understanding of how people think about online personalization and when people believe personalization becomes too targeted or discriminatory. By providing insight into how people feel about and understand algorithmic personalization, this research will contribute a user-centered perspective to guidelines that the Center for Democracy & Technology is developing for the fair and responsible use of algorithms.

This project is co-sponsored with the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity.

The Value of Respect: Reclaiming the Philosophical and Political Foundations of Informed Consent for the Era of Big “Things”

Fellows: Anna Lauren Hoffmann, Elaine Sedenberg

The proliferation of sensors, social networks, and massive data repositories presents an unprecedented opportunity to study human behavior. But this opportunity poses new challenges to the protection of individuals and groups by respecting privacy and autonomy, ensuring data security, and considering unforeseen consequences. Organizations have been left with research ethics frameworks and legacy consent processes that are poorly suited for modern data analyses and extended timescales. By marrying legal and policy analysis of informed consent with careful explication of respect itself, we plan to develop a penetrating discussion of 1) the ideal of respect for persons and 2) how informed consent has, at various point in its development, sought to operationalize this ideal in various contexts. Foregrounding the connection between respect and informed consent—and critically interrogating both—is, we argue, an integral step towards the development of a 21st century research ethic and actionable policy recommendations.

This project is co-sponsored with the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity.

Technology & Well-Being

Promoting Ethical Technical Cultures and Digital Citizenship for Low-Income and Minority Students in Richmond, California

Fellows: Anne Jonas, Jenna Burrell, Katherine Lo, Morgan G. Ames

Much of the world’s population uses information and communication technologies, but this diversity is not reflected in technology creators. This gendered, racial, geographical, and socioeconomic imbalance has deep ethical implications. Various initiatives aim at changing this balance, including a new “one-to-one” laptop program in Richmond, California. Using an action research approach, our project uses this one-to-one program as a site to teach critical perspectives on technology use, introduce computational concepts, and promote diversity in computing careers. Our efforts focus on the “Iron Triangle” area of Richmond, whose residents are predominantly low-income Latino or Black families. We use interviews and ethnographic observations in an underserved population and among engineering professionals to design workshops and other outreach that will work to overcome the structural, linguistic, and ideological barriers that marginalize populations like this from technological futures.

Room for Improvement: Can Migrant Support Services Augment Their Impact with Innovative Technological Solutions?

Fellows: Kristen Barta, Margaret Fesenmaier, Robyn Perry

This project has investigated the ways immigrant women utilize technology to access social support during resettlement and acculturation in the United States. Our preliminary findings, based on interviews with women migrants and the non-profit organizations that serve them in the SF Bay Area and Seattle, underscore the crucial role of technology in maintaining personal networks of support and in facilitating new connections. Our preliminary findings suggest the importance of cultural literacy, cultural translation by trusted interpreters, and informational support, as well as the maintenance of geographically-distant personal (often kin) relationships. A second phase of analysis is needed to realize the potential gaps in service provision, as reported by both immigrant women and service provider participants, that could be addressed through leveraging existing collaboration, resource-sharing, and technologies.

Infrastructure, Standards & Governance


Fellows: Charles Belle, Frank SmithKristine Gloria, Timothy Yim 

Municipal governments are under increasing pressure to craft effective policies to regulate UAS flying under 500 feet. This is especially important for UAS operated by municipal agencies. Unfortunately, many local lawmakers lack the data and expertise to navigate these critical issues when promulgating UAS policies.

The CityDrones project provides the technical, legal, and policy infrastructure to foster a conversation between critical stakeholders. Through a Roundtable, this Project convenes UAS subject matter experts and government policymakers charged with developing the legal framework. A Report will be published based on insights from the Roundtable.

The demand for dialogue about regulatory frameworks and technical infrastructure is clear. The CityDrones project is the first step to erect a knowledge sharing network about the best methods to manage transponder data, shared protocols, non-invasive licensing/identification of operators and drones, and privacy/anonymization standards.

Coding Values in the Internet’s Standards? The Example of Encryption

Fellow: Adamantia Rachovitsa

This project is embedded within the ongoing discussion on whether and, if yes, how we can code values and/or human rights considerations in the Internet’s design. The question of introducing encryption in the Internet’s design with a view to protect Internet users is an apt case study encapsulating many aspects of this discussion. The project aims at analyzing three different perspectives on encryption: first, the recent standardisation work of the Internet Engineering Task Force; second, the international human rights law paradigm; and, finally, the policy makers’ point of view. The objective is to explore in what ways these different perspectives cross cut, interact, converge and diverge. An academic article and a whitepaper tailored to the needs of policy-makers in the Middle East are expected to come out of this project.

Digital Citizenship

Digital Civic Life: Using Technology for Neighborhood Watch

Fellows: Fan Mai, Rebecca Jablonsky, Stephanie Lie

This project investigates the use of social media sites such as Nextdoor.com to promote and facilitate civic engagement in resolving local crime and safety issues. The team will take a mixed-methods approach by conducting qualitative research with Nextdoor users and stakeholders in select Oakland neighborhoods, and by performing content analysis of Nextdoor posts to evaluate how users enact community safeguarding. Additionally, the team will make use of data visualization techniques and an outreach event to foster public engagement with civic issues, ultimately creating a dialogue between technology creators, users, and the Oakland community at large.

Operationalizing Privacy for Open Data Initiatives: A Guide for Cities

Fellows: Nathan Malkin, Sona Makker

Open data is a powerful tool for supporting digital citizenship. Sharing government data with the public can enable transparency, encourage civic participation, and empower communities. However, the information can be sensitive or carry privacy implications. Compliance with relevant laws and studying potential consequences can make the process costly for individual cities and even discourage them from releasing data. While this problem is common, there is, at present, no shared solution. The goal of our project is to create concrete, actionable guidelines cities can follow to provide open data while complying with laws and staying consistent with privacy expectations.

This project is co-sponsored with the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity.

Plain Writing

Fellows: Jordan Suchow, Mike Pacer

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires the federal government to write all new publications, forms, and publicly distributed documents in a clear, concise, and well-organized manner. Plain writing has many benefits, including increased citizen participation in government and improved compliance with safety regulations. How can technology encourage plain writing? As part of a larger project on tools for improving writing, we built proselint, a linter for prose. (A linter is a computer program that, like a spell checker, scans through a document and analyzes it, indicates where improvements can be made.) Proselint’s goal is to aggregate knowledge about best practices in writing and to make that knowledge immediately accessible to all authors in the form of a linter for prose. We will use proselint as a vehicle for implementing as much of the Federal Plain Language Guidelines as possible.

Vision Archive

Fellows: Gracen Brilmyer, Una Lee

The Vision Archive is a library of social justice-themed graphics available for use and modification by community organizers, designers, and artists. It was started in response to a lack of positive, aspirational social justice imagery, and is premised on the belief that organizers need a richer visual vocabulary to describe the world they are working towards. Working to not only house a library of Creative Commons graphics, but also function as a platform to showcase their real world uses, modifications, and evolution, the archive aims to propagate diverse and visionary images to support the many interconnected and vibrant social justice struggles of the day. Users will not only be able to stay connected to past collaborators, but also form new connections with other members who may be working towards different goals, further uniting and expanding conversations about social good.

Banner Photo Credit: “UC Berkeley South Hall” by I School IMSA is licensed under CC BY 2.0