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America's 5G Era: Balancing Big Data and Privacy

June 2, 2022

Fifth-generation (5G) wireless networking will increase the scale of wireless networks by an order of magnitude or more. Perhaps nothing exemplifies the future of the 5G era more than the ubiquitous surveillance that is gathering more and more-diverse data on people. Even before the 5G era, data were seen as a source of new economic value.The number of automated sensors and devices connected to wireless networks will grow in the next few years by an order of magnitude or more. Increasingly, these networks will inform artificial-intelligence algorithms, which will then autonomously make decisions and take actions — with humans directly involved only infrequently. In this report, researchers discuss how the United States should seek to balance the potential gains of the 5G era with the potential loss of privacy and of control of personal data.

Water as a Public Good: Pittsburgh's Our Water Campaign

February 8, 2022

This case study is part of Demos's new Economic Democracy project, which asks how poor and working-class people, especially in Black and brown communities, can exercise greater control over the economic institutions that shape their lives. This framework has 3 goals:Break up and regulate new corporate power, including Amazon, Google, and Facebook.Expand the meaning of public goods and ensure that services are equitably and publicly administered.Strengthen "co-governance" strategies so that people and public agencies can collectively make decisions about the economy.This case study showcases all 3 of these priorities. It explores how a local coalition in Pittsburgh, PA, organized both within and outside the government to prevent the privatization of the area's water supply. To better understand this work, we interviewed community organizers of the "Our Water" campaign and employees of the mayor's office and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, the agency that oversees the city's water system. We also reviewed news coverage and reports that followed the community as it organized to fight privatization and to participate in decisions about their basic needs.

Freedom on the Net 2021: The Global Drive to Control Big Tech

September 16, 2021

In the high-stakes battle between states and technology companies, the rights of internet users have become the main casualties. A growing number of governments are asserting their authority over tech firms, often forcing the businesses to comply with online censorship and surveillance. These developments have contributed to an unprecedented assault on free expression online, causing global internet freedom to decline for an 11th consecutive year.Global norms have shifted dramatically toward greater government intervention in the digital sphere. Of the 70 states covered by this report, a total of 48 pursued legal or administrative action against technology companies. While some moves reflected legitimate attempts to mitigate online harms, rein in misuse of data, or end manipulative market practices, many new laws imposed excessively broad censorship and data-collection requirements on the private sector. Users' online activities are now more pervasively moderated and monitored by companies through processes that lack the safeguards featured in democratic governance, such as transparency, judicial oversight, and public accountability.The drive toward national regulation has emerged partly due to a failure to address online harms through self-regulation. The United States played a leading role in shaping early internet norms around free speech and free markets, but its laissez-faire approach to the tech industry created opportunities for authoritarian manipulation, data exploitation, and widespread malfeasance. In the absence of a shared global vision for a free and open internet, governments are adopting their own approaches to policing the digital sphere. Policymakers in many countries have cited a vague need to retake control of the internet from foreign powers, multinational corporations, and in some cases, civil society.This shift in power from companies to states has come amid a record-breaking crackdown on freedom of expression online. In 56 countries, officials arrested or convicted people for their online speech. Governments suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms, most often during times of political turmoil such as protests and elections. As digital repression intensifies and expands to more countries, users understandably lack confidence that government initiatives to regulate the internet will lead to greater protection of their rights.

Consumer Protection for Online Markets and Large Digital Platforms

May 20, 2021

Consumer protection law is vital for ensuring that market-based economies work in the economic interest of consumers as well as businesses, and thus to the benefit of civil society. This is the case for online markets just as it is for offline markets. However, despite broad consensus on these points, too little has been done to ensure that the various standards applicable in offline markets are sufficient or adequate to guarantee efficiency and fairness in online markets. This paper outlines eleven key features of online markets that might necessitate standards additional to or different from those that are applicable offline, and provides a menu of possible policies in relation to each. Many of these are general to all online markets, but some are specific to the largest digital platfroms. Many if not most of our policy proposals could be enacted through minor changes to existing law or regulation or through decisional law interpreting existing legislation. Some have already been implemented in some jurisdictions. What is needed in all jurisdictions, however, is a regulator or regulators with sufficient expertise around technical issues such as A/B testing and algorithmic decision-making to understand, anticipate, and remedy the myriad ways that online firms can disadvantage consumers.

More Competitive Search Through Regulation

May 20, 2021

This paper identifies a set of possible regulations that could be used both to make the search market more competitive and simultaneously ameliorate the harms flowing from Google's current monopoly position. The purpose of this paper is to identify conceptual problems and solutions based on sound economic principles and to begin a discussion from which robust and specific policy recommendations can be drafted.

Misfire: The Gun Industry's Lack of Accountability for Defective Firearms

March 30, 2021

This study details the prevalence of defective guns sold in the United States and describes the failure of government oversight in addressing this longstanding public safety issue. Warning that there are millions of defective guns in America, the study details the real-world impact of the little-known fact that the gun industry is the only manufacturer of a consumer product that is entirely exempt from federal health and safety regulation.

Beyond Fixing Facebook

February 20, 2019

How the multibillion-dollar business behind online advertising could reinvent public media, revitalize journalism and strengthen democracy

Automating Society : Taking Stock of Automated Decision-Making in the EU

January 1, 2019

This is the first comprehensive study regarding the state of automated decision-making in Europe. Experts have looked at the situation at the EU level but also in 12 Member States: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK. They assessed not only the political discussions and initiatives in these countries but also present a section "ADM in Action" for all states, listing examples of automated decision-making already in use.

A Pound of Flesh: the Criminalization of Private Debt

February 23, 2018

The criminalization of private debt happens when judges, at the request of collection agencies, issue arrest warrants for people who failed to appear in court to deal with unpaid civil debt judgments. In many cases, the debtors were unaware they were sued or had not received notice to show up in court.

Research Brief: Can Illinois Households Afford a Check-cashing Rate Increase?

February 13, 2018

In February of 2017, the check-cashing industry petitioned the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to increase the maximum rate currency exchanges can charge to cash a check in Illinois. Woodstock Institute analyzed income data from 2007 -- the last year in which check-cashing rates were increased -- through 2016 to determine to what degree Illinois households could absorb this increase.

Leading the Way: A Guide to Privacy for Public Library Staff

January 1, 2018

As safe spaces in communities that enable access to information, knowledge and culture, public libraries have a clear role to play when it comes to data privacy. It is important that public library users feel confident and well informed about how their data is being collated, stored or shared by the library service and its contractors, or by the online services offered in library buildings.Leading the Way – a guide to privacy for public library staff  is designed to support public library staff across the UK to develop and enhance how libraries approach the topic of privacy and play a leading role in advancing the privacy of library users.The guide has been designed to help library staff to consider the kind of data they collate, hold and share about those who engage with their services; and how 'privacy friendly' their systems and resources are.  It includes practical steps that can be taken by those seeking to enhance the approach to privacy across different aspects of their service

Testimony of Lauren Nolan to City of Chicago Committee on License and Consumer Protection on Cashless Proposal

December 15, 2017

Testimony of Lauren Nolan before the Committee on License and Consumer Protection regarding the proposed ordinance under consideration that would prohibit licensees from refusing to accept cash as payment for goods or services.