With a global pandemic, worldwide protests, and rapid evolutions shaking up pretty much every field, 2020 has been a wild year so far.

Every month, we curate a selection of must-read articles from the realm of Civic Tech and democracy. Doing so, we try to make sense of it all, and hope to give you the tools to do the same. This month, we’re talking about privacy and data sharing, diversity, the shining beacon that is Taiwan, and … TikTok.

1. “The Risks and Rewards of Data Sharing for Smart Cities” by BCG

Cities have been trying to tackle problems of sustainability, traffic, and public health through technology for a while now. The pandemic has, however, intensified the need for smart solutions. And to develop new technologies, cities require access to data, which can lead to “questions regarding data ownership, amalgamation, compensation, and privacy.”

As this article quotes, “the sharing of some data is inherently problematic. Cities are rightly concerned about exposing personal and other sensitive information externally on open platforms or internally between departments.” Then again, in some cases, sharing sensitive data could help cities to design solutions and policies that benefit the community. When are the benefits of data-sharing big enough to make it “worth it”? A must-read for anyone interested in smart technologies, data-sharing, and privacy.

2. “How Taiwan’s Unlikely Digital Minister Hacked the Pandemic” by Wired

Our admiration for Taiwan’s Digital Minister is not new—there’s a reason why she was the very first to be featured in our Pioneers series. This article serves as yet another reminder of Tang’s many—and ongoing—achievements. Taiwan has been praised for its swift response to the looming pandemic, and once again, its answer lies at least partly in tech.

Shortly after software engineer Howard Wu hacked a map into existence that showed convenience store stocks for mouth masks, he received a staggering bill from Google. Tang, “a fervent believer in open data, open governance, and civil society-government collaboration“, decided to step in and talk to the premier to improve Taiwan’s mask-rationing system. This article not only provides an elaborate account of Taiwan’s response to the COVID-crisis, but it also zooms in on Tang’s impressive story. A must-read for everyone who loves to be inspired.

3. “TikTok, Trump and the need for a digital non-aligned movement” by Open Democracy

New social media giant TikTok has been making waves with its funny dances and snackable video content. But, as a Chinese company, it’s now the latest target in the firing line of Trump’s administration. In a new press release, published by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the US makes a clear judgement. The text states that “more than thirty countries and territories are now clean countries.” China, however, is not one of those countries. 

As the press release reveals very little (technical) evidence to justifies its drastic measures, one could wonder whether this stance is actually inspired by safety concerns. As this article states, “The recent actions by the U.S. show a pattern: the U.S. is no longer willing to discuss technical issues pertaining to technology on their merits. Pompeo and Trump insist on pivoting towards another factor: identity.” A must-read for everyone who’s on TikTok, wants to be aware of new regulations, or is interested in social media as a broader trend.

4. “Why tech can’t close the diversity gap” by Financial Times

Diversity reports over the past few years show that while gender representation has improved at the biggest tech companies, ethnic diversity has hardly budged.” Lately, an overwhelming number of tech companies have pledged to work on the diversification of their teams. Whereas that is not a negative evolution, “these promises also serve as a reminder of past failure.”

The main problem might not necessarily be who these companies choose to hire, but also how they make people stay. As this article states, “tech has always been good at selling itself, but diversity theatre is not enough.” A must-read for anyone who’s running a business or is in charge of hiring people.

5. “The ‘people side’ of digital transformation” by Apolitical

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital revolution and has fast-tracked digital transformations in a wide variety of sectors. While digital innovations can make processes run a lot smoother and more efficiently, among other benefits, the fast implementation of these new methods doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. It’s important not to lose sight of the “people side of things”, and this article highlights a few ways to do so.

Empathy, communication, and problem-solving attitudes are essential to ensure a beneficial transition to the digital realm. After all, “the problems Covid-19 challenges us to solve may be more complex than those of “ordinary” digital transformations, but we are well equipped with emotional intelligence and communication skills to meet them.” A must-read for those who started digitalising processes during the lockdown.


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