New Tool Helps You Figure Out What’s Available Via FOIA

A new tool is designed to help you understand what you can get via FOIA. “FOIA Mapper works by offering a way for people to see what information exists, which agencies have it, what format they have it in and how to request it in a way that makes that request the most likely to be filled. You can also search the FOIA log to see what other people and news organizations are requesting.”

Lincoln Institute Expands Municipal Finance Info Database

The Lincoln Institute has expanded its municipal finance information database (PRESS RELEASE). “Created in 2013, the FiSC database provided the first meaningful comparison of local government finances at the city level by untangling the complex web of governmental entities in each city – including counties, independent school districts and special districts – to provide an overview of revenues raised from city residents and businesses and spent on their behalf. The database includes data for each year from 1977-2012, tracking more than 120 categories of revenues, expenditures, debt, and assets.”

LinkedIn Updates Transparency Report

LinkedIn has released a new transparency report. “The portion of our member base impacted by law enforcement requests has been relatively constant. In this Transparency Report, we see an uptick in the total number of requests received (we received 134 requests in the second half of 2015, 112 requests in the first half of 2015 and 100 requests in the second half of 2014). Overall, this was the highest number of requests for member data LinkedIn has received during a six-month window, with the greatest increase coming from requests originating in the United States.”

Obama Administration Launches New Open Data Project

The Obama Administration is launching a new open data project. “Today, the Administration is releasing a unique package of Federal and local datasets in an easy-to-use format and accelerating a new way for the federal government to collaborate with local leaders, technologists, and community members to use data and technology to tackle inequities and strengthen their communities.” Hit the announcement for a lot more details. Hope this is includes a push for more municipal data projects. The ones I’ve seen lately (LA, Minnesota, etc.) are fantastic.

Chicago to Make OpenGrid Available on AWS

The city of Chicago is about to make its OpenGrid software very easy to use. “Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology released ‘OpenGrid’ in January to provide citizens with an open source, cloud-based tool to look up city data tailored by location, such as street closures or building permits for specific neighborhoods. Though the code for the tool is already available online, the city is nearly ready to post it to the Amazon Web Services Marketplace so that any other government using Amazon servers can instantly adopt the software.”

Wikimedia Releases A New Transparency Report

Wikimedia has released a new transparency report. “Every year, the Wikimedia Foundation receives hundreds of emails and phone calls requesting changes to Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons and the other Wikimedia projects. A politician may want a friendlier article, for instance, or an entertainer may want a more flattering one. Perhaps a business wants to control what is written about its product. In the last six months, the foundation received 220 such requests—and we didn’t grant a single one, because we believe that our user community should determine the content of the projects.”

San Diego to Release Data Sets

The city of San Diego is preparing to release a large list of data sets. “The city of San Diego is taking a step toward publishing more than 100 sets of data online, ranging from all of the places fire hydrants have been knocked over to how much revenue comes from each parking meter to the number of seals at the La Jolla Children’s Pool.”

Talk: How the Facebook News Feed Algorithm Affects User Beliefs & Behavior

When I was checking my traps a couple of weeks ago I noticed that Dr. Emilee Rader was giving a talk called “How the Facebook News Feed Algorithm Affects User Beliefs & Behavior”. Now a lecture like that is right up my street! Unfortunately the talk wasn’t; Dr. Rader is in Michigan and I am in North Carolina. I e-mailed and asked if she would be making a transcript of her talk available on a blog, or if the presentation would be put online. Dr. Rader responded and has graciously put the completed video up on the event’s Web page. The last five minutes of the Q&A session lost audio, and you’ll have to make the video full-screen so you can see what’s on the screen, but I’m looking forward to watching this. Thanks, Dr. Rader!

India Gets Aggressive With Facebook Content Banning

India is getting really aggressive about banning stuff on Facebook. “India is far and away the country that bans the most content on Facebook, the social network’s transparency report for the six months between January and July 2015 has revealed. In that time, India had the viewing of 15,155 pieces of content restricted to its residents, according to Facebook, more than three times the 4,496 pieces of content banned in Turkey,”

Judge: Facebook Post = Illegal Campaign Contribution

A judge has ruled that a Facebook post has equalled an illegal campaign contribution. “A state judge has ruled that a Facebook post by Liberty Common School amounts to an illegal campaign contribution to a Thompson School District board candidate.” While I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, my concern here has, once again, to do with Facebook algorithms. It may be that early likes and shares will increase the reach of a page post. And that might be something that should be taken into account when you think about who should and should not be able to share/spread posts according to campaign finance laws. But you can’t, because Facebook algorithms are not transparent, and when considering what makes a post reach more people organically you have to pretty much guess.

Yahoo Updates Its Transparency Report

Yahoo has released an update to its transparency report. “This latest transparency report contains information covering the first six months of 2015 (January 1 – June 30, 2015). This includes National Security Letters (NSLs) and law enforcement data requests (such as search warrants, court orders, and subpoenas issued in criminal investigations). FISA requests included are from (July 1 – December 31, 2014), as they are subject to a six-month delay under U.S. law.”

The Atlantic on Non-Transparent Algos

The Atlantic has a really good article on why non-transparent algorithms really freak me the heck out. “These are the mysteries of the algorithms that rule the web. And the weird thing is, they aren’t just inscrutable to the people clicking and scrolling around the Internet. Even the engineers who develop algorithms can’t tell you exactly how they work. And it’s going to get more convoluted before it gets clearer. In fact, for a few reasons, it probably won’t get clearer ever.”