10 things we read during the break

Web Foundation · January 2, 2017

After a welcome break we’re rested and ready for a strong start to 2017. As well as giving space for reflection and relaxation, the holiday was a chance to catch up with the reading we didn’t get to in the final busy months of last year.

We asked our team for their holiday reads, and here’s what they shared:


Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O’Neil

O’Neil’s book looks at how algorithms are shaping our lives. Increasingly, computer models are used to take decisions in areas as varied as granting parole to prisoners, evaluating borrowers for loans, and hiring workers. Rather than making these decisions fairer, O’Neil argues that opaque, unregulated models perpetuate bias and can lead to troubling, often discriminatory, outcomes.


Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari

In the follow-up to Sapiens – his brief history of humanity – Harari looks to the future. The book speculates about how society will deal with powerful technological innovation, such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, workplace automation, and omnipresent algorithms. We don’t yet know how it ends (no spoilers).


The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring human rights, gender violence and sex trafficking, by Sally Engle Merry

In this book anthropologist Sally Engle Merry asks fundamental questions about the limits of measurement and our desire to understand complex social phenomena using neat indicators and categories. She argues that for such indicators to be effective, they must be contextualised with deep on-the-ground knowledge.


What Works: Gender equality by design, by Iris Bohnet

Iris Bohnet calls for a new approach in tackling gender bias. Borrowing from behavioural psychology, she argues that rather than trying to change behaviour directly at an individual level, we should focus on de-biasing organisations, making effective changes in the environments in which individuals operate.


10 Years of Take Back the Tech

This series of reflections marks a decade of Take Back the Tech, a campaign to fight gender-based violence online and make the internet a safe and empowering space for women. These stories give a taste of the action and progress the campaign has made in the past 10 years.


From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What you really need to know about the Internet, by John Naughton

Naughton tries to help us understand the internet by taking the long view, comparing the relatively new technology with Gutenberg’s world-changing printing press. Though a few years old, the ideas in this book remain highly relevant in 2017.


Limits to Growth: At our doorstep, but not recognized, by Gail Tverberg

In this article Tvarberg revisits Donella Meadows’ 1972 classic, The Limits to Growth, arguing the book was correct in predicting that global economic growth would collapse in the first half of the 21st century.


Chaos Monkeys: Obscene fortune and random failure in Silicon Valley, by Antonio García Martinez

This book by former Facebook employee and ad tech founder offers an insider view of corporate and social culture at some of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious institutions. García suggests that despite its worthy pretensions, the tech industry is no better (or worse) than the rest of corporate America.


Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence, US National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Technology

This US Government report surveys the current state of AI and examines its potential applications. The report considers regulatory and policy implications as well as the social, economic and political risks and opportunities that artificial intelligence presents.


Wonderland: How play made the modern world, by Steven Johnson

How does change happen? This is the question Johnson tackles, arguing that technological innovation is not driven only by the usual suspects like war and commercial venture, but also by the pursuit of novelty and amusement, which he simply calls, play.

Happy reading, and all the best for 2017!

For more updates, follow us on Twitter at @webfoundation

Wins for the Web Foundation in 2016

 Web Foundation · December 22, 2016

2016 has been an eventful year by any measure – including the evolution of web policy around the world. There have been crucial wins, like the defeat of Nigeria’s oppressive Social Media Bill, Net Neutrality victories in the EU and India, and UN recognition of the internet access as a human right. But there have also been serious disappointments, such as the passage of the UK Investigatory Powers Bill, and a growing digital gender gap.

As we gear up to fight for digital equality in 2017 we wanted to reflect on some of our highlights from the past year:

Campaigned for a FASTAfrica

In May we kicked-off FASTAfrica, a campaign for Fast, Affordable, Safe and Transparent Internet in Africa. The campaign delivered 30 grants for a week of action across 20 countries, reaching millions of people off and online and delivering its demands to the World Economic Forum in Kigali.

Harnessed gender data in Côte d’Ivoire

We helped launch TechMousso, a gender data challenge in Côte d’Ivoire. With a $10,000 prize, the challenge brought together civil society, policymakers and technologists to find solutions to unlock gender data, and put it to practical use. Team Mafubo came top of 80 entrants with its proposal to network maternity wards, allowing staff to record available resources and better monitor pregnant women using a web app.

Helped defend Net Neutrality in Europe

We worked with the Save the Internet coalition, Avaaz and others, calling on EU regulators to issue strong net neutrality protections. Our founder, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, published an open letter with Professors Larry Lessig and Barbara Van Schewick backing the #savetheinternet campaign. 500,000 of you signed on, submitting responses to the public consultation – and you were heard! New guidelines were passed, upholding net neutrality principles.

Convened the inaugural Africa Summit on Women and Girls in tech

2016 saw us co-organise the first Africa Summit on Women and Girls in Technology, focusing on how policy can increase women’s empowerment by and on the internet. The summit worked to create a set of key actions that policymakers, activists, teachers, technologists, and community leaders must take to ensure that women and girls in Africa have access to a web that is open, safe, and empowering.

Received recognition for our gender rights work

We were delighted to win the 2016 ITU-UN Women GEM-TECH Award for our work developing gender-responsive ICT governance, policy and access. The award specifically recognised our work to promote women’s internet access and online empowerment through theAlliance for Affordable Internet and ourWomen’s Rights Online initiative.

Championed open data innovation

Our Open Data Lab in Jakarta supports initiatives that harness the power of open data to address social problems. GeRAK Aceh, an Open Labs partner and Indonesian anti-corruption Watchdog scored a victory in October, pressuring the provincial government to extend Aceh’s current moratorium on mining to 2017, achieved partly through data-driven advocacy. As well as partnering with organisations like GeRAK, the Labs works to foster collaboration and learning, and brought 21 innovators together for Southeast Asia Open Data Innovation Week to work on open data solutions.

Promoted Open Data Charter principles

We continued to push governments and multilateral organisations to adopt the principles of the International Open Data Charter, so that government data can be used by, and for the benefit of everyone. As our Founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee said, “To achieve the goals of sustainable development, critical data must be open and available for reuse by anyone, anywhere, anytime.” To date, 41 national and subnational governments have adopted and form part of a growing community of governments dedicated to making open data a reality for citizens.

Published a trove of new research

We contributed to policy debates with our original research including the 2015-16 Affordability Report, the 3rd edition of our Open Data Barometer, a Digital Gender Gap Audit, and research into Zero Rating in developing countries.

Thank you for supporting our work this year, helping to make sure the World Wide Web is ‘for everyone’. We hope you’ll keep in touch in 2017 – follow us on Twitter @webfoundation and sign up for our newsletter.

Beyond gender commitments: OGP needs to “walk the talk”

Source: Web Foundation 

The Web Foundation hosted a workshop at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit on Women’s Rights Online and Access to Information: Why Gender Equality Matters for Open Government.

As one of only three events at the Summit focused on gender issues, the workshop provided a valuable opportunity for gender equality advocates to come together and discuss how the OGP can become more responsive to gender and women’s rights, and what we can collectively do about it.

Currently it is clear that the OGP has not prioritised gender equality, neither in its overarching declaration of guiding principles or their implementation. However it has prioritised several other key areas where we think addressing gender equality is essential for meaningful impact on women. As enshrined in the Open Government Declaration and endorsed by 75 OGP participating countries, these are:

  1. open up government information and data
  2. uphold citizens’ right to information
  3. ensure everyone has equitable, affordable access to safe online platforms as well as the skills to use technology to engage with decision makers.

And more recently in the Paris Declaration’s ongoing collective actions, which includes Access to Information.

In order for OGP members to make good on these promises at large, governments must take concrete actions to close persistent gender gaps in access to information, technology and data. In order to do this, policies need to address growing digital gender inequality for women to participate equally in their right to access information, have a voice, and be counted and heard in the digital age. Yet our audit of 10 developing countries showed that majority of countries’ ICT strategies and policies remain gender-blind. When women are excluded from policy, so too are women’s voices. As a result, gender-blind policies are failing women in much of the world. Countries can start to reverse the failure of gender-blind policies by baking a gender perspective into their country National Action Plans.

In our workshop, participants engaged in short discussions in an “Around the World” format to share knowledge and identify new strategies and opportunities to engage OGP members in prioritising gender equality and women’s rights around these three key focus areas.

Discussions revolved around the following topics:

  • All women count: gender in open data and open government. Facilitated by Ana Brandusescu (Web Foundation)
  • From access to empowerment: What are the inequalities that women face in exercising the right to information? How can access to information, particularly government information and data, lead to real empowerment for women? Facilitated by Laura Neuman (The Carter Center)
  • Women’s Rights Online Report Cards: What is the role of technology in facilitating women’s access to information and meaningful participation online? Why and how should the OGP prioritise women’s access and use of the Internet as a key policy commitment? Facilitated by Ingrid Brudvig (Web Foundation).

Here are our Recommendations:   Commitments are not enough – OGP needs to “walk the talk”   The OGP Secretariat should:

  1. Identify a gender focal point for each OGP Working Group. There should be cohesion and communication among all of these points of contact.
  2. Provide training, guidance and resources to OGP member governments on integrating gender in National Action Plans (NAPs). Engage women’s groups and movements to provide expertise.
  3. Ensure gender is not siloed in National Action Plans. Rather than focusing solely on commitments that “tick the box” on gender, ensure that all commitments are inclusive of and address women specifically.

The OGP Secretariat should require all OGP member countries to:

  1. Monitor and evaluate how their NAP commitments are addressing women specifically.
  2. Identify opportunities to implement new National Action Plan commitments specific to women’s rights and gender equality.
  3. Ensure all women including women with disabilities are included in NAPs, and consulted during the implementation period.
  4. Innovate and be proactive in delivering information to women, rather than simply “putting information out there”. Design technology and deliver information and services with women for women using a variety of information and communication technology platforms, including community radio.
  5. Talk to women’s groups and organisations and see how they can participate in open government processes, and listen to their demands.
  6. Consider conducting assessments of the impacts of models devised by private and public sector actors towards meaningful and affordable access to the Internet, and therefore to information online.

We look forward to working with the OGP secretariat to make the Paris Declaration, its ongoing collective actions and its implementation through NAPs more gender responsive, and hope to see governments begin stepping up as open gender champions to lead the way. It is more important than ever that we recognise the needs and contributions of all citizens, and ensure open government is representative truly for everyone.

If you have ideas on more actions we can take or ways to contribute, please feel free to get in touch with our Women’s Rights Online project coordinator Ingrid Brudvig on Twitter @ingridbrudvig.