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Technology

I’m playing with Google Custom Search Engine (CSE), and here’s the result – a search engine focused on journalism innovation and experimentation. It currently indexes ~50 sites related to different aspects of journalism, including industry news and analysis, individual analysts and commentators, academic and civil society organisations, philanthropic funders of journalism, and networks of media and journalists publishing regularly on new developments in the field. It’s largely English-language and UK/EU/US at the moment, but will expand over time to include sites covering journalism in other languages, and in other parts of the world. If you have suggestions of sites you think I should include, please tweet or email me.

As citizens continue to play a critical role in supplying news and human rights footage from around the world, YouTube is committed to creating even better tools to help them. According to the international human rights organization WITNESS’ Cameras Everywhere report, “No video-sharing site or hardware manufacturer currently offers users the option to blur faces or protect identity.”

YouTube is excited to be among the first.

Today we’re launching face blurring – a new tool that allows you to obscure faces within videos with the click of a button.

(YouTube Global Blog, 18 July 2012)

Advocacy in any arena generally takes a long long time. In this context we’re talking about pressuring key Silicon Valley companies that have gone in under a decade from being simple technology providers to being an integral part of everyday human activity across much of the planet.

That one line quoted above was something we’d been talking to YouTube/Google about for 4 years (and that’s more than half of YouTube’s own existence). Those who can make seemingly simple changes like this happen are busy people operating within multiple sets of interlocking wheels of law and policy, and myriad competing internal demands. The conversations with these people started before I got to WITNESS, and they continued after I left in mid-2010 (and continue to this day) – and as the Cameras Everywhere report shows, there’s still plenty to discuss in the future.

Here are my personal recollections and reflections on how the conversations with YouTube that I was involved in developed – with the accent strongly on “personal”. Since I left WITNESS 2 years ago, I’m not party to the latest conversations between YouTube and WITNESS – but I do know where the seeds came from and how they took root. Over at the WITNESS blog Sam Gregory explains the human rights dimension of this move by YouTube.

I am sharing this therefore partial account in the hope that reading a little about our experience will give succour to other activists and researchers running into what seem like brick walls right now. Keep talking, keep trusting, and keep pushing… and embrace serendipity.

[Thurs 19 July – I’ve slightly clarified some of the written-at-1.30am-language…]
[Sun 22 July – further clarification, including of when I left WITNESS.]

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Head on over to the WITNESS blog, where you’ll find my new post on the ethics of facial recognition. I’ll post a slightly different version here over after the weekend, with a bit more detail in a couple of areas.

UPDATE (July 2012):

I’m not sure when time will permit, as I’ve been fairly consumed with completing my freelance work, and then moving to my new job at OSF, but I’ll endeavour to post all the resources I collected related to face recognition and human rights, as I hope they’ll be of use to other researchers and advocates in the field. In the meantime, quite a few of the resources I found I linked to from these two posts:

The Ethics of Face Recognition Technology (March 7th, 2012)

Tactical and Technological Defences for Face Recognition Technology (May 18th, 2012) – and this was also posted in a slightly amended form by PBS MediaShift (18th June 2012).

As part of its UK Public Opinion Monitor research, which aims to track the UK public’s attitudes towards development, the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex recently released this 10-minute film pleading for better coverage by UK television of the developing world, and of issues related to poverty:

The film revisits arguments advanced over many years by the International Broadcasting Trust (IBT), One World Media (formerly the One World Broadcasting Trust), POLIS, and other civil society groups. [Five years ago, I wrote and researched IBT’s report, Reflecting the Real World 2, on how new media were impacting on UK TV’s coverage of the developing world.] These groups have consistently put forward the arguments – based on research they conduct and commission, and on interviews they conduct with senior decision-makers in the UK media – that coverage of the developing world by UK broadcast television is weak, and tends to focus on crisis, corruption, and conflict, in both news and other TV genres. They argue that this has serious implications both on how genuinely informed the UK public can be about large swathes of the wider world, and therefore on how constructive domestic public debate and opinion can be about why we give aid, to whom, and on what basis.

It’s encouraging that a serious institution like IDS is interested in addressing these issues. So why does the film itself leave me so disappointed – and what might they have done differently?

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