Politics

30 posts categorized

August 28, 2015

Election Campaigners Are Using SMS to Consolidate Support

 

It comes as no surprise that presidential candidates are looking at mobile technology to sound the political battle cry. After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the pervasive nature of smartphones with the essence of the democratic process—a vote from every registered voter with a cell phone would equal the greatest voter turnout in history! However unlikely that outcome is, the principles driving the candidates to communicate with voters via mobile are redefining the campaign trail, from dusty road to digital highway.  

 

In particular, campaigners are relying on SMS or text messaging to ignite passionate volunteers to action, as well as for updating supporters on rally meetings, local campaign groups, and other related information. Texting is an immediate form of communication that hits about as close to home as one can get—without actually going door-to-door. 

 

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, hasn’t spent a dime on advertising political rallies. Instead, his staff has focused on adding data specialists to the team, refining methods of gathering data on rally attendees, and working to convert those people into campaign volunteers/supporters. 

 

In July, Sanders hosted a simulcast from a Washington, D.C., apartment to 3,500 event locations across the country. Instead of soliciting for email addresses, Sanders called upon more than 100,000 viewers to text “work” to the organizing number. 

 

According to the New York Times, nearly 50,000 people became volunteers for the grassroots-style movement that evening.

 

Sanders isn’t the only candidate connecting with voters via text. Senator Ted Cruz, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Rand Paul have all incorporated aspects of SMS messaging into their campaign initiatives. What’s more, this isn’t the first time texting has been used in the political process. In 2008 President Obama managed to curate a list of more than 1 million people, although according to his staff, the campaign was unable to do much with it at the time. 

 

The 78-year-old Sanders, however, is taking the technology and running with it.

According to Billy Howard, a Sanders supporter from Reno, Nevada, the effects of the mobile rallying efforts have increased volunteer leadership in the area—surpassing what Howard saw in Reno during Obama’s 2008 presidential bid. 

“That means Sen. Sanders isn’t going to have to spend as much money as Obama did,” Howard said.

 

July 11, 2015

EU Scraps Roaming Charges

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After two years of negotiations, the European commission, members of parliament and national ministers have reached an agreement to drop roaming charges in an effort to pave an internet fast lane for the future. Despite obvious resistance from the mobile industry, telecoms received some assurances with a side deal aimed at service providers and faster connection fees—the broader issue of net neutrality has also come into focus. 

On average, EU travelers spend £61 more than usual during a holiday. By mid-2017, roaming charges are scheduled to drop completely after an interim period beginning April of next year. This year, mobile service providers can still charge travelers to EU states as much as 19 cents a minute for outgoing calls, 5 cents for incoming calls and 6 cents per text message.  

By allowing telecom firms to charge service providers like Google, Facebook, and Netflix increased fees for faster connections, some fear smaller competitors will be forced out completely. While campaigners celebrated the dropped roaming charges, others worried the new laws were ambiguous and blurry, leaving much open for profitable interpretation.  

According to the new rules, companies can pay to use the internet fast lane only if the improved connection is determined “necessary” for the service. Whether or not “necessary” protects nonprofits, startups and public service websites has yet to be realized. However, it is clear the draft laws are making an effort to identify public interest exceptions including network security, eliminating child pornography, and improving connections for sensitive health or safety services.   

The telecom industry has condemned the legislation from the start, emphasizing its restrictive nature and potential threat to innovation and competition. For now, the votes are pro-free internet and a likely catalyst for more discussions on net neutrality. 

Compared to the EU, the United States hasn’t been as progressive on net neutrality. The EU’s new rules outlining more equal access to the internet might not be perfect, but it confirms their stance on the wider issues at hand.

The issues are of course about equal access regardless of platform, application or user. Net neutrality aims to ensure that information is not made financially inaccessible because of strict regulations placed on service providers or limited by fees and faster broadband. 

It’s likely that this particular case in the EU will spur discussions in the United States and perhaps influence the outcome of subsequent laws in the EU. Time will ultimately tell if the internet fast lane is a safe place to surf the web.   

May 15, 2015

The World's First SMS Referendum Took Place Last Month... in Mongolia

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For all the rapid advances in digital technology over the past decade, the business of democracy remains firmly analogue. Ever since mutterings ranging from ‘foul play’ to ‘system error’ cast a pall over the 2000 Presidential elections, electronic voting in the U.S. has been in decline, with states abandoning machines in favor of traditional pencil-and-paper voting. Voting watchdogs and analysts have major reservations about the security of a digital system if faced with committed, politically motivated hackers. Strange as it seems, electronic voting may have had it’s day.

If e-voting - which is at least supervised by election officials in a centralized venue - is on the wane, it seems unlikely that mobile voting will fare any better. For those fearful of tampering and corruption, the remoteness of casting votes via a mobile device will do nothing to reassure. 

Well, it doesn’t get any more remote than Mongolia, which last month became the world’s first country to stage a referendum in which citizens can engage with the democratic process via their mobile devices.  

Prime Minister Saikhanbileg Chimed asked three million Mongolians to air their views on the country’s dwindling economy, which, according to Bloomberg, has slowed down from a record 17.5 per cent in 2011 to around 7 per cent in 2013. The mining industry, a bedrock of the economy, is beset with legal wrangles. Foreign investment has collapsed, causing the Tugrik to fall 42% against the U.S. dollar. The government is involved in a tax dispute with Rio Tinto Group, who were slated to finance one of Mongolia’s biggest assets, the $6.6 billion Oyo Tolgoi mine. Public and political opposition to the open-cast mining industry has only fanned the flames of economic unrest.

With negotiations at a stalemate, Saikhanbileg has shrewdly recognized the only credible way out of the mess is via a public mandate. In January, just two months into his office, Saikhanbileg took to national television to offer Mongolians a stark choice to save the economy: press on with multi-billion dollar mining projects or cut spending and scale back investment in the industry. The Prime Minister invited citizens to state their preferred strategy via text message.

Four days later, the votes were in. Austerity measures received a resounding ‘no’ from the people, giving the government the go-ahead to - hopefully - revitalize the mining industry and resume negotiations with multinationals like Rio Tinto.

For the wider world, the implications of the result are perhaps less significant than the implications of the voting method. Democracy by text message had never been tried before. It seems to have worked, but only time will tell whether the Mongolian experiment is destined to be an anomaly or a historic precedent.

April 03, 2015

What Do the Israeli Elections Tell Us About the Future of Mobile Political Campaigning?

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To note that mobile and social media carry great weight in today’s world is pretty obvious. Particular events, however, offer even greater insight into the impact of mobile, such as presidential elections. Let’s take a look into how mobile affected the recent Israeli elections, as well as the influence it will likely have on the 2016 U.S. presidential race. 

 

High-Quality Targeting

Mobile media offers the possibility of high-quality targeting, as it provides advertisers with the opportunity to target very specific audiences. Political parties’ media budgets are larger than ever before, and most candidates hire dedicated agencies to run their media campaigns. New advertising platforms continue to crop up, while Facebook’s mobile-only user base recently reached the half billion mark, making it easy to reach voters during every phase of a campaign. Location-based targeting also helps considerably, as parties can look at users from specific states and determine if they should increase their advertising efforts, and if so to which audiences. 

 

Political “Gamification”

Any on-point campaign manager knows it’s important to play to voters’ increasingly-short attention spans, and are subsequently utilizing gamification techniques to harness and hold this attention. Gamification techniques have been used with success in the Israeli elections, as ads focused less on direct message transmission and instead honed in on creating an experience that featured a more subtle approach.

Entertaining mobile games that sent strong political messages were also used. For example, one Israeli election game had users engage in a “temple run” game featuring their favorite candidates. Other games were used to align opposing parties, but again in a discreet way. Gamification has made politics a more fun and engaging experience for young voters, and allows candidates to reach an audience they would otherwise have a hard time engaging. 

 

Mobile User Power 

Video content was frequently used during the Israeli elections, as videos were widely shared across social media platforms by all parties, even orthodox religious parties. U.S. mobile video ad spending has doubled over the past year, so the idea that video content will likely play a large role in the 2016 elections is imminent. Often more entertaining and less formal than the political ads traditionally seen on television, videos are dissolving the boundaries between independent political activists and official messages. Content isn’t just user-focused--it’s also user-generated. 

 

Wrap-Up

Mobile has become the favorite device of all age groups, meaning campaign managers have to scramble to create a mobile-based approach to elections if they haven’t already. Rich media, text marketing, video content, and the plethora of other mobile focused campaigns must be implemented for any candidate developing massive public outreach.

January 27, 2015

Net Neutrality Vote Happening on February 26th

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During a discussion at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the commission will vote on a proposal to reinstate Net neutrality rules. The vote will take place at an open commission meeting on February 26th. 

Wheeler also said the proposal will circulate among commissioners beginning February 5th, and while he didn’t delve into specifics, Wheeler alluded the new proposal will “reclassify broadband traffic” as part of Title II utility. Some supporters believe this reclassification will put new neutrality rules on “stronger legal footing.”  

In November 2014 President Obama encouraged the FCC to reclassify Internet traffic under Title II of the Communications Act, though Wheeler has not said whether he supports the president’s suggestion. 

Net neutrality is defined as the idea that all online traffic is subject to fair treatment by broadband providers, meaning no restrictions or preferential treatment is bestowed on certain types of traffic. The FCC is working on new rules that will replace those adopted in 2010.

The issue of broadband traffic reclassification has been one of the hotter issues regarding the net neutrality debate, with large broadband providers such as Verizon and AT&T noting reclassification will “stifle innovation” via imposed, antiquated telecommunications regulation for an industry they believe has evolved positively despite no government regulation. However, other consumer advocates and Internet companies such as Netflix say broadband service reclassification is the only option for ensuring new Net neutrality rules hold up in future court challenges.  

During his discussion with Consumer Electronics Association head Gary Shapiro, Wheeler made it quite clear that the FCC’s approach to the proposal will not include “all of the restrictions under Title II meant for traditional telephony networks to broadband.” Rather, the proposed rules would “forbear or exclude” broadband from clinging to Communications Act provisions that don’t apply to broadband service. 

He said the idea is to make certain that the agency can “provide a legal standing” for rules prohibiting broadband providers from “blocking content, throttling traffic, or offering a paid prioritization service.” The other idea is to ensure Internet service providers manage their wares in a way that is transparent to customers.

"The wireless industry has been wildly successful as a Title II regulated industry," he said. "So there is a way to do it right."

Wireless industry reps disagree with Wheeler in terms of Title II restrictions on broadband. 

"Comparisons to the regulatory framework for mobile voice are misplaced and irrelevant," Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO,CTIA-The Wireless Association, said in a statement. "Congress created a regulatory regime for mobile voice under Section 332 and Title II. Congress also created a separate regulatory regime - -explicitly outside Title II -- for other services like mobile broadband. The FCC cannot now rewrite Congress's intent to rewrite the Act or rewrite history."

Wheeler has also remarked that he has “no intention of allowing broadband providers to create a two-tiered Internet of haves and have nots." The vote later this month will hopefully settle some much debated issues around this topic. 

January 19, 2015

How Does the World’s Most Powerful Organization Rule with Outdated Technology?

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The United States has the strongest economy in the world, and therefore its government should have access to the latest devices and cutting-edge tech. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. government has had a problem getting its equipment up-to-date. Despite the creation of the technology cabinet position by President Obama, the Chief Technology Officer appears to have little control over the deployment of state-of-the-art equipment throughout government departments.

Megan J. Smith is President Obama’s top technology adviser, and with her background we may expect to see a great deal of change in government tech. She matriculated at MIT, and spent a good deal of her career working in various departments at Google – the divisions that developed Google Glass and the driverless car, as well as the acquisition of Google Maps and Google Earth. Clearly, her reputation precedes her. 

So why is the Chief Technology Officer using a BlackBerry?

In a recent New York Times article, Julie Hirschfeld Davis reported that Smith is using a Blackberry and a 2013 Dell Laptop. These are not considered outdated technology by government standards, because the Administration has had a history of being a little behind the tech curve. As evidenced by the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov, perhaps we should expect this of the devices that the government chooses to use.

Because of her direct connection to the executive office, Smith will have the opportunity to convince the Obama administration to recruit technologists who can build a proper infrastructure for digital services. A drawback of the relative newness of her position is that there is very little funding available in the budget for the Chief Technology Adviser. Furthermore, the position doesn’t have any authority over other agencies. This makes the implementation of new technology a very difficult task for Smith. 

Fortunately, America’s CTO has a history of problem-solving in her career. She has gained a reputation as a woman with big ideas, and of course she has a great deal of confidence and expertise in the area. Regarding the necessity of a technological update, she stated: “We’re on it. This is the administration that’s working to upgrade that and fix it.” (New York Times)

We’re likely to see some exciting updates to technology in government. Megan J. Smith has the bona fides necessary to help the United States catch up with the rest of the modern world. Only time will tell how long – and with what resources – it will take the Chief Technology Officer to implement these sweeping digital infrastructure changes.

 

January 02, 2015

6 of the Best: Green Apps

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Mobile tech has made rapid advances in recent years. It’s reached a point where traditional desktop web browsers are beginning to look anachronistic. Apps and mobile-friendly interfaces not only provide a better customer experience, they are constantly evolving to change with the times. 

One of the key concerns for modern manufacturers and retailers is the desire to minimize the ecological toll their business takes. If they fail to judge public opinion, which is turning greener by the year, their bottom line will suffer. Commensurate with the rise in eco-consciousness is the mobile app boom. After all, software already has a headstart when it comes to lowering carbon emissions: no factories, no large commuting workforce, no production line. Just (generally speaking) some computer-wielding geeks and a good idea. 

Eco-friendly apps go further, actively helping their users live greener lifestyles. We’ve trawled the web (using virtual-dolphin friendly nets, natch) to bring you the very best green apps on the market: 

1) 3rd Whale

A brilliant guide to all things green in your area, 3rd Whale helps you find the nearest vegan restaurant, organic café or bike shop, wherever you are. As well as providing location information, the app serves up the details of a specific company’s green credentials so you can make sure you’re dealing with the right people. 

2) Earth 911 

This smart little app has been advocating a greener lifestyle for ages now, and they recently launched a free iRecycle app too. Ideal if you’re looking for recycling centres, iRecycle grants access to details for more than 100,000 of them. Find your nearest centre, as well as maps, routes, opening hours and a list of the materials that can be recycled there. With Earth911, you’ll never have an excuse for throwing anything to landfill!

3) GoodGuide

Helping you find everything from energy-efficient household appliance to green gifts for friends, GoodGuide Mobile is an indispensable little app. It provides access to more than 250,000 green products, each with detailed reviews and eco-ratings. 

4) GreenMeter

Green Meter helps you reduce energy consumption and get more mileage out of your vehicle by calculating how much gas you’re using and offering advice on how to improve your fuel efficiency. Like all the best green apps, it’s twin appeal lies in offering ordinary drivers the chance to save money and the planet.

5) Eco Dice

A fun way to turn good intentions into positive change, Eco Dice is devastatingly simple. You simply toss a die on your mobile device, but instead of numbers, the faces contain green tasks for you to fulfil during the day. Options include separating trash, taking your own bags to the grocery store and turning off appliances on standby.

6) Carbon Tracker

This free app uses GPS to calculate your carbon footprint according to how many miles you travel. It factors in emissions from different forms of transport, and even allows you to switch from miles to kilometers in case you’re travelling abroad.

 

November 03, 2014

Text Messages Now Considered 'Official Government Documents'

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Imagine getting fired over a text message.

The United States House of Representatives decided in September of this year to include text messages “among the electronic communications federal employees could be fired for improperly destroying.”

Called the Federal Records Accountability Act and introduced by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., it addresses any federal employees an inspector general found knowingly “concealed, removed, mutilated, obliterated, falsified, or destroyed any record, book, or other thing” controlled by the offending employees. Republicans and Democrats alike supported the bill, which was approved unanimously by voice vote.

The bill also prevents federal employees from using personal devices to conduct official business unless an electronic record of the communication is created. All email, instant messages or text messages sent from a personal device regarding agency business must be officially recorded. A worker found guilty of manipulating records would face suspension and receive a written statement of the charges within 15 days. The worker can defend him or herself in the 15 days after receiving the notice, and has the right to a Merit Systems Protection Board hearing and appeal.

Meadows says the bill is “common sense legislation,” and that it will improve transparency and historical preservation.

“Intentional destruction of records is a criminal act,” Meadows noted. “Federal employees found guilty of such a crime should be fired.”

Scandals at the Internal Revenue Service and Environmental Protection Agency prompted the bill, as employees of each were charged with purposefully destroying records. Criticisms by lawmakers concerning federal managers using personal devices for official business is nothing new, however.

“It wasn’t one agency,” Meadows said, “it was plethora of agencies that have communication going on a regular basis that isn’t being preserved.”

Yet the Project on Government Oversight does not fully support the bill as the optimal way to deal with the transparency issues raised by the IRS and EPA scandals. Joe Newman, a POGO spokesman, told Government Executive the bill was “too narrow” and mainly punished “whistleblowers.”

“We're always happy when Congress moves to increase transparency and accountability but we're not sure this bill is the best way to do that,” Newman said. “There are long-standing problems with federal record keeping practices that need to be addressed but it might be a better approach if Congress looked at the system as a whole, rather than tailoring legislation to address a specific scandal.”

Some government agencies, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, are expanding use of Short Message Service (SMS) technology to provide better services. It has also been suggested that government text messages should be used in other ways. Texting is most popular among young people, and could be a vehicle for the Department of Health and Human Services or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send anti-smoking messages.

 

 

October 27, 2014

Integrity of Whisper App Questioned

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The firm behind social media app Whisper is tracking the location of its users – despite claiming to be ‘the safest place on the internet’ in terms of anonymity. The company is also sharing information from phones known to be used in military bases with the US Department of Defense, according to a recent Guardian expose.

Whisper users currently publish around two-and-a-half million messages a day. Their principal selling point is anonymity, but the Guardian report alleges the company has developed an in-house mapping tool allowing them to locate users to within 500 meters. The British newspaper also claims Whisper has been handing user locations to the Department of Defense. 

According to the Guardian, Whisper has been storing data since their 2012 launch. At that time, much of their brand image was predicated on a policy of holding data only for ‘a brief period of time’ and allowing those who don’t wish to be tracked to opt out of geo-location.

But the Guardian claims Whisper has been storing data even on users who specifically opted out. The news will be particularly alarming to military personnel who have used the platform to unburden themselves of traumatic events witnessed or experienced in the line of duty. Many soldiers use the app to share suicidal feelings and symptoms of PTSD and to discuss other topics they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about on social media outlets like Facebook. 

The Guardian says Whisper has shared user data with law enforcement agencies, the FBI and MI5, a practice Whisper contends is standard in the tech industry – and only in situations where there is evidence of criminal behavior or imminent suicide.

Whisper has denied the allegations, saying it ‘does not follow or track users’ and dismissing the suggestion they were monitoring people without consent as ‘false’. CEO Michael Heyward issued a ten point riposte to the Guardian and suspended his editor-in-chief when the allegations came to light. He insists Whisper is only sharing information with the DoD when there is an investigation into frequent mentions of self-harm, adding “[We] are proudly working with many organizations to lower suicide rates.”

Heyward has been summoned to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions about the app’s privacy policy.

Whisper has experienced rapid growth over the past two years and is now valued at more than $200m. The app tapped into a growing demand for private, confessional platforms which purport to foster more candid public discussions about sensitive issues like suicide.

Whisper has updated it’s terms and conditions since the story broke. 

September 30, 2014

SMS: Crime Fighter

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Text messaging as a mobile marketing tool is standard practice across most industries, but the public sector is also harnessing the power of SMS. Healthcare, emergency services, schools - all are benefitting from the possibilities opened up by the speed, affordability and convenience of mass texting.

One of the most significant applications of text messaging is in the fight against crime. Earlier this year, the four major wireless carriers began offering free text-to-911 services. Police departments across the country are realizing what mobile marketing campaign managers have long understood: there’s no greater guarantee of effective communication than SMS. Victims of crime can surreptitiously send text messages in dangerous situations where making a phone call may be impossible, and law enforcers can use SMS to streamline their processes and thus become more effective. Let’s take a look at some of the most innovative uses of SMS messaging in the fight against crime.

Tip Offs

A number of local police departments have set up shortcodes allowing members of the public to anonymously tip the police about a crime they have witnessed. In Bakersfield, CA, citizens have been providing law enforcers with valuable tips for some years; Kern County runs a similar program. In both cases, police stress that these channels are not intended for emergency situations requiring immediate attention, but for anonymous tip offs from people who may not otherwise feel comfortable reporting crime.

Campus Crime

In Tennessee, local authorities are encouraging students to report crimes anonymously. When the scheme was rolled out in 2009, Sgt. Charles Warner from the Franklin Police Department said that young people “don’t want to be labeled as ‘snitches’... they don’t want to be retaliated against and they’re fearful of that.” But many young people are happy to report, say, a student who brings a gun to school, or is dealing drugs on campus. The first police department in the state to launch a text message tip program, other precincts soon followed suit, and similar programs are now widespread all over the United States.

Human Trafficking

Based in Washington, D.C., the Polaris Project runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which accepts calls and texts 24/7. A Washington Post story recounted the plight of one 18-year-old sex-trade worker who alerted the authorities via text message from her pimp’s phone. Police arrested the man shortly after. An app called Redlight Traffic goes further still, with an educational component designed to teach citizens how to identify tell-tale signs of human trafficking and give them a way to combat it.

Law enforcers believe such programs can improve public understanding of potentially criminal situations, even when no actual crime has been witnessed. Citizens can report suspicious behaviour to the app, upload photos and GPS locations, and provide information on vehicle registrations and personal descriptions. Officers can review individual reports and map suspicious activities to improve their chances of being there when a crime is committed. It’s an ideal solution for members of the public who are unsure whether to call 911, but believe they have witnessed potential wrongdoing.

Misdemeanors

It’s not just serious offences like trafficking and gun crime that are being tackled by SMS messaging. Minor misdeeds which clog up law enforcement processes can be prevented by improved communication between the police and the public. In Moscow, drivers can sign up to receive a text alert 20 minutes before their car is about to be towed. When the program launched in June, officials predicted monthly savings of up to $2.6 million.