SEATTLE—On an overcast morning in earlyApril, three members of the Seattle City Council arrived to find their cavernous, titanium- and maple-paneled meeting chambers packed to capacity with a noisy, unwelcoming crowd. Many wore T-shirts bearing the message “I drive, I vote.” When the council president tried to open the hearing, one argumentative man kept interrupting so industriously that security had to escort him from the room.
The confrontation had been orchestrated in part by Uber, the ride-share company, as the latest move in its long-simmering war with the city. Almost from the moment Uber chose Seattle as its third test market, back in 2011, the city has sought to put itself between the company and its drivers: first, there had been an ordinance attempting to cap the number of ride-share drivers here; then, in 2015, the City Council passed a law allowing drivers to bargain collectively. Now, the city was considering a law to force ride-share companies to nearly double the base rate paid to their drivers, from $1.35 to $2.40 per mile.
City officials argued the new rate was necessary to ensure that drivers earn Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage. But Uber, king of the budget ride, was having none of it. After blasting an email to its Seattle-area customers warning that the city “wants to double your rates,” Uber dispatched a small army of company-friendly drivers to City Hall to lobby the council in person. Seattle, a city famous for promoting innovation, was innovating in a way that Uber didn’t appreciate.
Yet, it’s the kind of assertiveness that Uber and the rest of corporate America will probably have to get used to. Ever since 2014, when Seattle became the first major municipality to adopt a $15 minimum wage—over the objections of its own business community—the famously left-of-center city has rolled out a series of ambitious, often controversial laws aimed at shielding workers from the chaos of the fast-changing, technology-disrupted urban job market. Today, Seattle’s workers enjoy a list of on-the-job benefits that feels almost European in its scope—everything from a high minimum wage to a ban on last-minute schedule changes to a city-sponsored retirement savings plan. And more are on the way. This year, council members are considering a “bill of rights” for the estimated 33,000 housecleaners, nannies and other “domestics” who work for the city’s population of high earners.
The Kosovar capital of Pristina. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.
Blerta Thaci, Executive Director of Open Data Kosovo (ODK) and founder of Girls Coding Kosovo recently spoke with Hazwany Jamaluddin for an in-depth interview about the Republic of Kosovo’s open data and civic tech scene. Kosovo is a young republic, and faces a number of development challenges, including low government transparency, high youth unemployment, and issues of gender equality.
Since its founding in 2014, ODK has not shirked from those challenges, and has created a staggering number of projects to strengthen Kosovar civil society and democracy: 1. They built the country’s first open data portal 2. They created a popular app to report sexual harassment 3. And in order to expand education resources in the country, they’re compiling a database of online courses translated into Albanian.
Thaci says ODK’s biggest mission is to help institutions “build capacity for young people,” so that they “can all be part of this movement.”
In response to the Trump administration’s decision to separate children from parents at the US-Mexico border, a programmer has scrapped publicly available personnel data about US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — the agency responsible for dividing families.
New York-based programmer Sam Lavigne recently published a dataset of 1,595 people who identified as ICE workers on LinkedIn with the hopes of naming and shaming the workers responsible for carrying out Trump’s directives. However, the database was soon taken down by Medium. Similar data compiling exercises were carried out by the civic-hacking group Transparency Toolkit in 2015.
The Hong Kong skyline. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.
Taiwan’s “g0v” (pronounced gov-zero) not only holds the title of largest civic hacking community in East Asia, it’s also a vocal supporter for democracy and human rights. Now, a group of civic hackers in Hong Kong are putting their own spin on the g0v platform, and have recently held their first hackathon this June.
The group’s establishment comes as Beijing peels away the vestiges of Hong Kong’s semi-democratic system under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. g0v Hong Kong — or “g0vhk.io” — plans to monitor Hong Kong’s Legislative Council sessions, and provide insight to Hong Kong citizens on how their city is changing.
Let’s face it, the internet isn’t great at answering tough questions. Sure, a Google search can tell you the capital of Uruguay is Montevideo, but things get complicated when you need to find the best shampoo for dandruff or the best resort in the Azores. But a website called “Answer Bot” seeks to use the wisdom of the crowds to help the public make better decisions.
The site collates answers on tough questions, and adds helpful side-notes when there are major disagreements on a certain issue. For example, asking the AnswerBot “what car should I buy?” will aggregate hundreds of answers, and then point out areas of disagreement on ‘best fuel efficiency’ or ‘best safety record.’