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REINING IN HUMANITARIAN TECHNOLOGY

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data practices. We never set up the pilot of those practices that would have been the next step, even as our adjusted programmes gear up for accelerated implementation. It is mid-April. At home, childcare hand-offs are now wearily familiar. Days crawl, and weeks flash by. At work, a month into lockdown, some activity has slowed. Pivoted programmes are either underway, in negotiation or abandoned. The impacts of the pandemic on the Global South have not yet become apparent. We feel like we are in a holding pattern. Our responsible data practices are as theoretical as ever. Those pivoted programmes, inching ahead, are still without guardrails. But amidst the gloom and grind, some glimmers of hope. Specialist partners are providing blunt feedback, pointing out faulty assumptions and gaps in our analysis. Colleagues are receptive. I start a new email thread. If we review our draft practices now, they could be operational in one programme by the summer.

The programmes we support analyse massive amounts of data, belonging to hundreds of thousands of people. The analytics we provide could, in theory, influence government policy affecting millions more. In years to come, the systems we set up could be weaponised against vulnerable people. And the slim protection I am trying and, mostly, failing to put in place is that smart people ask themselves some questions before they start. It is a pretty flimsy constraint on a poorly understood, and depressingly clumsily directed, information superpower. Perhaps the most I can do is to try to ensure that we learn from our impact, whether intended or unintended. Life in the trenches of an International Organisation or international NGO is inherently morally questionable at the best of times. We are so busy. Our impact feels so small. And on this issue, about which I care very much, I have done less COMMENTARIES

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Data Justice and COVID-19: Global Perspectives  

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how social, economic, and political power is created, exerted, and extended through technology. Through c...

Data Justice and COVID-19: Global Perspectives  

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how social, economic, and political power is created, exerted, and extended through technology. Through c...

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