All posts by Daniel Castro

Department of Commerce

The Department of Commerce Should Establish an Office of Data Innovation

The importance of data to the U.S. economy continues to grow. For example, in the United States the economic value from health care data is estimated at $300 billion annually, while $90 billion is generated from global positioning system (GPS) data, and $10 billion from weather data. And these examples just scratch the surface of the potential for data to transform a wide range of sectors including energy, education, finance, health care, manufacturing, and transportation.

Unfortunately, while President Obama has signed an historic executive order on open data and various government agencies have begun to promote data-driven innovation within their communities, such as the successful Health Datapalooza, there is still no federal government agency responsible for developing and implementing a national strategy to promote data-driven innovation across all sectors of the economy. To help fill this void, the Department of Commerce should establish an Office of Data Innovation.

The Office of Data Innovation would be responsible for facilitating data sharing between organizations and reducing barriers to global information flows. It would evaluate the impact of data-related regulations on competition and innovation in different industries, work with other … Read the rest

Child with popcorn

Innovation in the Market for Video Programming

Some technological changes sneak up on us so quietly we do not even know it has happened. A perfect example of this is video programming. It was not too long ago when consumers had to drive to a store to rent a movie at the local Blockbuster rather than just start streaming a movie instantly with a few clicks on Netflix. Today consumers have more options than ever for legally obtaining video content. The market shows an unprecedented amount of competition as businesses experiment with different business models and technologies to deliver consumers video content. Both ISPs and over-the-top providers deliver video on a variety of formats including traditional programming, on-demand, and “on the go” options. In fact, there are so many options—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, HBO Go, Dish Online, Crackle, etc.—that consumers have more choice today in video programming than ever before.

These changes are not only occurring in the United States, but also globally. Worldwide there are hundreds of legitimate streaming services that consumers can access. And consumers are accessing this content in new ways. Whereas we used to measure the percent of … Read the rest

Robyn T-240D CB Radio

If the Courts Do Not Recognize Technology Neutrality in the Wiretap Act, Congress Should Intervene

Yesterday the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a lawsuit against Google for illegal wiretapping could proceed.

The case involves Google’s Street View project which provides online access to panoramic views of public streets in cities around the world. To build the database of images, Google sent vehicles into cities to photograph public streets. At times, these vehicles also unintentionally recorded data that users were transmitting over unencrypted wireless networks. The central claim of the lawsuit is that this collection of unencrypted data from wireless networks is a violation of the Wiretap Act. Google argued that the case should be dismissed because the Wiretap Act exempts “electronic communications” that are “readily accessible to the general public.” In its ruling, the Court denied Google’s motion to dismiss.

The basic logic of the Wiretap Act is that if people do not take action to make their communications private, then they do not have an expectation of privacy. For example, if two individuals use unscrambled CB radios to have a conversation, then other radio users are not in violation of the Wiretap Act if they hear this conversation. … Read the rest

Whistle Dog Collar

The “Internet of Things” Requires New Thinking on Data

In the world of tech where buzzwords come and go faster than you can say “synergy”, the “Internet of Things” is a bit of an oddity. It is an old concept (first coined in 1999) used to describe a futuristic world where everyday objects—from toasters to dog collars to running shoes—can communicate electronically with other devices. But whereas many buzzwords die off after a few years of overuse, there has been a surge in interest in the Internet of Things of late for the simple fact that the vision is quickly becoming reality.

The emergence of a host of popular consumer products such as FitBit (a personal exercise tracking device), Nest (a smart home thermostat), and Withings “Smart Body Analyzer” (a smart scale that also tracks air quality, heart rate, and body composition) has shown that it is both feasible and useful to embed intelligence in everyday devices. Nest, for example, combines sensors and user feedback to learn the heating and cooling preferences of its users, monitor energy use and environmental conditions over time, and even optimize energy consumption based on price signals from the energy … Read the rest

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, and General Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA and NSA

Privacy Advocates Set Their Sights on the Wrong G-Men

In an op-ed in last Friday’s Washington Post, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill, bemoaned the data-driven economy, equating the data scientists in Silicon Valley with the spooks at Fort Meade.

Unfortunately, she is not the first to do so. Since the exposure of the government’s PRISM program, veteran privacy activists have been conflating the intelligence community’s questionable, closed-door electronic surveillance program with the voluntary, open, and legitimate collection of personal data by the private sector. Chris Hoofnagle at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology states, “What’s happening now is the logical outcome of a leave-it-to-the-market public policy agenda, which left the private sector’s hands unbound to collect data for the government.” And John Podesta at the Center for American Progress argues that after Edward Snowden’s revelations, the government “should not only examine NSA surveillance activities and the laws governing them, but also private-sector activities and telecommunications technology more generally.” Some critics have even gone so far as to blame innovation and technology. Writing in Salon, Andrew Leonard placed the blame directly on the technology: “By making it economically feasible to extract meaning from the massive streams of … Read the rest

usajobs.gov logo

Why Are There No Jobs for Hadoop in the Federal Government?

Hadoop has been the industry standard for scalable data processing applications for several years, so why does a search for “Hadoop” on USAJOBS.gov return zero results?

One reason could be that given the current budget environment, hiring for IT projects might be suspended. The budget is certainly a factor, although it cannot be the only one as jobs for SQL, Java, and even COBOL developers can still be found.

Another reason might be that the federal government is simply contracting out this work. Again, this might explain part of the situation, but if so, it reflects poor planning by government agencies as these skills will be increasingly critical to the federal government given the massive amount of information it collects, stores and processes, and agencies should be cultivating this talent.

A more likely reason is that government agencies have not fully embraced “big data” because government leaders still do not fully understand what it can do or how it can help them operate more efficiently. For example, text mining can be applied to financial fraud detectionresearch paper classificationstudent sentiment analysis and smarter search engines for all … Read the rest

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G8 Charter Puts Open Data on International Agenda

Last month’s international G8 summit produced a declaration with new guidelines for a broad range of policy issues. Included in this declaration was a set of recommendations for open data initiatives, known as the Open Data Charter. The charter represents the first time open data principles have been agreed to in an international forum—not to mention possibly the highest-level declaration of any kind to mention the open source code repository website GitHub—and will likely help shape the future role of government in data. Here are the key facts.

The summit

The Group of Eight is a policy forum for the governments of eight of the world’s largest economies (previously with six and seven member states) held annually since 1975. Although the summit will be gradually supplanted by the larger G20, which includes developing economies and non-Western states, G8 remains a bellwether of international policy. This year’s event was held June 17-18 at the Lough Erne Resort in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, and focused on tax policy as well as the ongoing Syrian civil war.

The participants

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron played host to President Barack Obama, German … Read the rest

Young man looking at camera up dressed in protective workwear

Why Haven’t the FTC’s New COPPA Rules Made Your Kids Safer Online?

On July 1, new rules from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for implementing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) went into effect. COPPA requires certain online services to display privacy policies and obtain verifiable consent from a parent or guardian before collecting personal information from children. Under the new rules, the FTC has expanded the number and type of companies that must comply with COPPA, as well as the definition of personal information. While the old rules were already having a negative impact on innovation among online services directed at children, the new rules will further limit innovation and the availability of high quality online content for children, in particular, by restricting online behavioral advertising on many websites.

There are legitimate reasons for COPPA even if its implementation has been poor. First, one of the main concerns about children’s privacy in 1998 (when Congress passed COPPA) was the ease with which anyone with $50 could purchase the names and addresses of children in their neighborhood. Clearly selling this type of data without any regulations in place was a bad idea, and Congress rightly stepped in to prohibit this practice.… Read the rest

Man bored in front of laptop

Do Consumers Care About Online Privacy Anymore?

According to the latest online search trends, concerns about Internet privacy are so 2004.

If this sounds incredible to you, let me explain.

First, some background. An individual’s search queries can reveal interesting information about their interests. When this data is amassed across many individuals, it can provide insights into consumers as a whole. Google is one of the first companies to make use of its large historical database of search engine queries to try to better understand consumers. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Google Flu Trends which uses both historical and real-time data to predict the level of influenza in the population across time.

Google has also made a version of its database of search queries available to the public in a product called Google Trends. Google Trends shows how many searches have been performed on a particular search term relative to the total number of searches. Individuals can use Google Trends to discover the relative popularity of search terms for a particular period of time or for a particular location. Google Trends does not show total search volume, but rather normalizes the data to … Read the rest

Mozilla Firefox logo

Privacy Zealots Say “Cookies for Me, None for Thee”

This op-ed originally appeared in ComputerWorld.

Last week, Brendan Eich, the chief technology officer and senior vice president of engineering at Mozilla, announced that the organization is planning to block third-party cookies in future versions of the Firefox Web browser. In addition, the Center for Internet and Society (CIS) at Stanford Law School announced that it has created a new organization called the “Cookie Clearinghouse,” which will begin publishing blacklists for websites based on whether it believes a website’s particular usage of cookies “makes logical sense.” Mozilla will use these blacklists to decide which cookies to accept or deny.

Large-scale blocking of third-party cookies may have profound negative consequences on the future of the Internet. There are three main concerns. First, this practice will result in a loss of revenue from online advertising for many websites, and thus lead to less free content available to consumers. Second, it will cut off many legitimate business models for companies that collect and aggregate user data across the Internet to understand user behavior to design better websites, content and features. Third, it will limit the functionality of websites, both … Read the rest