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Behov for åbenhed omkring data og modeller bag corona-beslutninger

- July 12, 2020 in åben data, COVID-19, modeller, offentlige data, open gov, sundhedsdata

Under corona-krisen har fremskrivninger baseret på data og modeller haft afgørende betydning som grundlag for vigtige politiske beslutninger. Beslutningerne er politiske, men modellerne er tilstræbt objektive. Hvorfor er det vigtigt, at vi kender til disse modeller? Vi har spurgt Mikkel Freltoft Krogsholm. Mikkel er data scientist og har i de seneste måneder selv arbejdet indgående med corona-relaterede data. Han står bag flere R-pakker og siden covid19data.dk, der løbende stiller danske covid-tal til rådighed som API.    
Mikkel Freltoft Krogsholm, privatfoto

Mikkel Freltoft Krogsholm, privatfoto

Spørgsmål: Hvorfor er det vigtigt med fuld åbenhed om regeringens corona-modeller og data? Mikkel Freltoft Krogsholm: Der blev truffet meget vidtgående beslutninger på grund af corona og frygten for smitte. Beslutninger der fundamentalt ændrede menneskers sociale- og arbejdsliv. En del af beslutningsgrundlaget var de tal og modeller, regeringen fik udarbejdet. Til flere pressemøder fremhæves også disse modeller som værende grundlag for diverse anbefalinger. Derfor er det vigtigt, at der er fuld åbenhed omkring det data og de modeller, der ligger til grund.   Er det ikke tilstrækkeligt, at vi kan læse konklusionerne i rapporter fra SSI og andre myndigheder? Nej. For der går en masse antagelser ind i en model, og der er en masse parametre man kan dreje på. Og man skal ikke ændre meget hist og her, før resultatet bliver helt anderledes. Derfor er det vigtigt, at vi kan se de antagelser og de parametre. Men én ting er åbenhed udadtil. Noget andet er også, at jo flere øjne der er på arbejdet, desto mere input kan man få fra relevant side og flere fejl kan blive opdaget og rettet.   Der er blevet åbnet mere op med information om modeller og fremlæggelse af data, hvad er det der stadig mangler? Der er lagt brudstykker op. Men, der mangler endnu at blive lagt kode og data op, hvor man end-to-end kan genskabe de resultater der er set i rapporterne.   Handler din kritik ikke bare om, at du er uenig i nogle konkrete beslutninger? Nej. Ønsket om åbenhed har intet med de konkrete beslutninger at gøre, men beror på et generelt princip om maksimal gennemsigtighed i vigtige beslutninger, der påvirker borgerne.   Se også:   Open Knowledge ønsker åbenhed om data, algoritmer og modeller
Figur fra Statens Serum Institut

Figur fra Statens Serum Institut

Johnny West, der er medlem af Open Knowledge Foundation Board of Directors skrev i maj et indlæg under titlen “Why we need public models for public policy”, hvor også han argumenterer for fuld åbenhed om modeller bag offentlige beslutninger. Mange afgørende politiske og administrative beslutninger tages i dag på baggrund af data og modeller. Størstedelen af disse modeller samt den data og de algoritmer modellerne anvender, har offentligheden ikke adgang til. Det gør dem nærved umulige at forstå i detaljen, svære at ændre og det svækker beslutningernes legitimitet og demokratiet.

Opinion poll: majority of Brits want government action against online disinformation

- May 7, 2020 in COVID-19, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

A new opinion poll has revealed that a majority of people in the UK want ministers to take action against disinformation on social media sites. The poll by Survation for the Open Knowledge Foundation found that 55 per cent of people in the UK believe the Government should ‘impose compulsory action on social media sites to prevent the spread of disinformation on their sites’. One-third (33 per cent) said social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter should take voluntary action to tackle disinformation, and only 7 per cent said no action should be taken. Over half of people (51 per cent) said they have seen content about COVID-19 they believe to be false or misleading. One of the most common claims which has been discredited by medical experts is a link to 5G phone masts. The poll also asked respondents about micro-targeting – the marketing strategy that uses people’s data to create small groups for targeting through adverts. The results show that 43 per cent of people believe the UK Government should ‘impose compulsory action on internet platforms to restrict micro-targeting’, while 32 per cent believe internet platforms should take voluntary action to restrict micro-targeting. Only 10 per cent said no action should be taken. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “The spread of fake news and disinformation on internet platforms has been ignored for too long, and now it is causing major concern during a global health emergency. “It is sadly not surprising, and yet deeply worrying, that a majority of people in the UK have seen COVID-19 related information they believe to be false. “The best way to tackle disinformation is to make information open, allowing journalists, scientists and researchers to provide facts to the public. “Tech giants have a responsibility to increase transparency and work closely with fact checkers, but voluntary action is never going to be enough by itself. “It’s encouraging that a majority of people in the UK want the UK Government to take action against social media platforms to prevent the spread of fake news. “The UK Government should take account of these results and work towards a future that is fair, free and open.” The Open Knowledge Foundation has been campaigning for greater openness amid concerns about micro-targeting. Recent recommendations from the UK government advisory body on data technology include regulation of the online targeting systems that promote and recommend content like posts, videos and adverts. But Facebook has refused calls for it to change its policies on fact-checking political adverts and limit micro-targeting. Google previously said it is limiting political ads audience targeting to more general categories, and Twitter has banned political ads. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “Restricting micro-targeting and tackling some forms of false information will help rebuild trust in the political process. “But the long-term solution to this does not involve self-regulation. The only way to build a fair, free and open digital future in the UK and across the world is to update analogue laws for the digital age.”
Poll results Opinion poll conducted by Survation on behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Fieldwork conducted 27-28th April 2020, all residents aged 18+ living in UK, sample size 1,006 respondents. Download the full report. Tables available here. Q. Disinformation is false information which is intended to mislead, including claims about COVID-19 which have been discredited by medical experts, such as a link to 5G phone masts. Have you seen any content about COVID-19 on social media sites such as Facebook, instagram or Twitter that you believe to be false or misleading?
  • Yes: 51%
  • No: 37%
  • Don’t know: 12%
Q. Thinking about social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which of the following statements best reflects your views?
  • There should be no action taken to prevent the spread of disinformation on social media sites: 7%.
  • Social media sites should take voluntary action to prevent the spread of disinformation on their sites: 33%.
  • The UK Government should impose compulsory action on social media sites to prevent the spread of disinformation on their sites: 55%.
  • Don’t know: 5%.
Q. Micro-targeting is a marketing strategy that uses people’s data – about what they like, who they’re connected to, what they’ve purchased and more – to create small groups for targeting through adverts. It is commonly used by political parties and campaigns, as well as companies. Which of the following statements best reflects your views?
  • There should be no action taken regarding the use of micro-targeting: 10%.
  • Internet platforms should take voluntary action to restrict micro-targeting: 32%.
  • The UK Government should impose compulsory action on internet platforms to restrict micro-targeting: 43%.
  • Don’t know: 15%.

Why we need public models for public policy

- May 6, 2020 in COVID-19, Open Knowledge Foundation

Corona Time has brought the eery experience of becoming like a pawn on a chess board. Suddenly where we go, what we do, what we wear, who we meet and why are decided by somebody else. Here in Berlin, our youngest son now goes to school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings while his best friend goes on Mondays and Thursdays. As of this week. Maybe next week it will open up more. Maybe it won’t. Meanwhile our three other children, in different schools, are off until August. These decisions need to be dynamic and reactive. We know who makes them, more or less: our leaders are all still in place since the last election they won. We just don’t know what the rules are. The only honest campaign promise if an election were held now, anywhere in the world, would be: “We’ll play it by ear.”

97% of people agreed that it was important to them for COVID-19 data to be openly available, in a recent Open Knowledge Foundation/Survation poll

But there are – or for goodness sake should be! – systems which are suggesting those rules to manage the crisis. And because of the incredible complexity, they are being driven by algorithms in models. In the case of lockdown policy, how much to open up is a function of the interaction between many different variables: how many people have been infected so far, the current transmission rate, the properties of the virus itself, some estimates of compliance with various different social distancing options, even the starting position of how a given population is laid out on the chess board in the first place.  And there are plenty of other decisions being driven by models. Who gets the ventilator? What invasions of privacy are justified at any point in time to enforce social distancing? How many people should be tested?  So where are these models? And why can’t we see them? Since democracy has been suspended, along with normal economic life, the models have all to rule. The only way to snatch back even a modicum of the scrutiny that we have lost is to publish the models online. For three reasons: to make sure that that the models, which are triggering life and death decisions, are sufficiently stress tested; to check that bad stuff isn’t slipping in through the back door, and we don’t end up with a slate of mass surveillance measures that were spuriously justified as saving lives; and to ensure that models are even being used consistently. To deal with this last point first. It has been clear so far that many leaders are “modelling illiterate”. The UK government lurched from a barely articulated idea of herd immunity into stringent lockdown in late March. But is it in danger now of overkill in the other direction now, keeping a general lockdown going too long? Nobody knows. Debates around policy still lack nuance by and large, assuming static positions (it’s even hard to avoid the suspicion that identity politics plays a role – “What’s all the hysterical overreaction?” or “How come some people don’t care and can’t see how serious this is?”) Whereas the reality is policy is going to continue to need to be driven by equations – what is today’s estimate of the number of infections, beds available etc etc.  In the case of the UK, it has been widely reported that the change was driven by the modelling of Professor Neil Ferguson, at Imperial College, London. At least some other scientists, notably Nobel prize winner Michael Levitt, have challenged the assumptions going into that model, defining the spread of COVID-19 as not exponential but “sub-exponential” after an initial phase, regardless of any policy intervention. But we can’t know who’s right, or even if the government drew the right conclusions from the model, because the version of the model used to drive that decision is not accessible. They might be driving blind.  It’s not as though all of us all are about to download the model, spend hours inspecting it, and list its weak points. That’s not the way transparency works. But imagine: the government announced which model it was using, why it drew the conclusions it did from it, and published the model. And Professor Levitt, and a few dozen others, could beat it up, as scientists do, and offer feedback and improvements to policy makers – in real-time. There is a community of scientists able to form an informed view of the dispute between Ferguson and Levitt, updated with new data day by day, and to articulate that view to the media. In the absence of parliament, that’s the nearest we’re going to get to accountability. And then we have encroachment. The Open Knowledge Foundation’s new Justice Programme has already made great strides in defining algorithmic accountability, how the rules in models need to be held to democratic account. In some places in the United States, for example, rules have been introduced to give patients access to emergency medical care according to how many years of life they are expected to live, should they survive. Which sounds reasonable enough – until you consider that poverty has a big impact on medical history, which in turn drives life expectancy. So then, in fact, the algorithm ends up picking more affluent patients, and leaving the poor to die. Or the Taiwanese corporation that is introducing cameras to every work station in all its factories – right now, it says, to catch workers who infringe social distancing rules. But who knows? The coronavirus is dramatic. But in fact it is just one example of a much broader, deeper trend. Although computational modelling has been around for decades – its first significant implementations were in World War Two, to break German military codes and build the nuclear bomb – it has picked up extraordinary pace in the last five to ten years, driven by cheap processing power, big data and other factors. Massive decisions are now being made in every aspect of public life driven by models we never see, whose rules nobody understands. The only way to re-establish democratic equilibrium is for the models themselves to be published. If we’re going to be moved around like pieces on the chess board, we at least need to see what the rules of the game are. And if the people moving us round the board even understood them.Johnny West is director of OpenOil, a Berlin-based consultancy which uses open data and methodologies to build investment-grade financial and commercial analysis for governments and societies of their natural resource assets. He sits on the Advisory Board of FAST, the only open source financial modelling standard, and is an alumnus of the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship. He is also a member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Board.

Brits demand openness from government in tackling coronavirus

- May 5, 2020 in COVID-19, News, Open Knowledge Foundation

  A new opinion poll has revealed that people across the UK want openness from the government as it tackles the coronavirus pandemic. The Survation poll for the Open Knowledge Foundation found that in response to COVID-19, people want data to be openly available for checking, they are more likely to listen to expert advice from scientists and researchers, and they oppose restricting the public’s right to information. The poll found:
  • 97% believe it is important that COVID-19 data is openly available for people to check
  • 67% believe all COVID-19 related research and data should be made open for anyone to use freely
  • 64% are now more likely to listen expert advice from qualified scientists and researchers
  • Only 29% believe restricting the public’s right to information is a necessary emergency measure
  • 63% believe a government data strategy would have helped in the fight against COVID-19
The UK Government has faced calls for greater transparency over the scientific advice given to ministers on the coronavirus outbreak. The calls came after The Guardian revealed that the Prime Minister’s top aide, Dominic Cummings, had been attending meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). Ministers have said they are following ‘the best science’, but concerns have been raised about data secrecy with the UK Government accused of acting too slowly, lagging behind on testing, and having insufficient supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Over a number of years the UK government has been developing a National Data Strategy with rules and guidelines on how to share data between organisations like the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS. The strategy has not yet been published. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has also been criticised for measures to tighten Freedom of Information legislation. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “At the heart of the response to the pandemic is data, which tells us what is happening in our communities. “Ensuring that data is open is the first stage in the battle against the coronavirus. “This poll shows that people in the UK want COVID-19 data to be openly available for checking, and that research and data should be made open for anyone to use freely. “This is important as removing barriers to the use of intellectual property will ultimately help lead to a vaccine. “The poll shows that measures to restrict the public’s right to information must be avoided, as transparency is more important than ever. “People still trust the government to take the right decisions, but this will be eroded if information is withheld. “One particularly encouraging finding is that people are now more likely to listen to expert advice.  “I am hopeful that the acceptance of basic facts will return after this pandemic and there will be a renewed focus on building a fair, free and open future.”
Poll results Opinion poll conducted by Survation on behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Fieldwork conducted 27-28th April 2020, all residents aged 18+ living in UK, sample size 1,006 respondents. Q1. During the COVID-19 crisis, lots of information provided to the public has been based on data. How important is it to you that this data is openly available for you to check? Very important: 58% Quite important: 28% Somewhat important: 11% Not so important: 2% Not at all important: 0% Don’t know: 1% Q2. Knowledge becomes ‘open’ when any non-personal content, information or data is free to use, re-use and redistribute – without any legal, technological or social restriction. Closed knowledge is when non-personal content, information or data is not shared. How important is it to you that knowledge relating to the COVID-19 crisis is open? Very important: 54% Quite important: 30% Somewhat important: 11% Not so important: 3% Not at all important: 0% Don’t know: 2% Q3. Over a number of years the UK government has been developing a National Data Strategy with rules and guidelines on how to share data between organisations like the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS. The strategy has not yet been published. Which of the following statements best reflects your views? A government data strategy would have helped in the fight against COVID-19: 63%. A government data strategy would not have helped in the fight against COVID-19: 20%. Don’t know: 18%. Q4. The UK government has said that it will be guided by scientists when it comes to lifting the national lockdown and planning social measures needed to prevent future COVID-19 outbreaks. Not all of the data provided to politicians has been made public. Which of the following statements best reflects your views? I trust the UK Government to take the right decisions for the country based on confidential evidence and data: 59%. I do not trust the UK Government to take the right decisions for the country based on confidential evidence and data and they should be more transparent: 35%. Don’t know: 6%. Q5. Thinking about the work being done by scientists and drug companies towards creating a COVID-19 vaccine, which of the following statements best reflects your views? All COVID-19 related research and data should be made open for anyone to use freely: 67%. All COVID-19 related research and data should be kept private: 17%. Don’t know: 16%. Q6. Has the COVID-19 pandemic made you more or less likely to listen to expert advice from qualified scientists and researchers? Far more likely: 31% Slightly more likely: 33% Neither more or less likely: 28% Slightly less likely: 4% Far less likely: 1% Don’t know: 3% Q7. Governments across the world are passing new emergency laws to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Many governments have temporarily altered, delayed or suspended the public’s right to information. In the UK, the Scottish Government has granted time extensions for responding to Freedom of Information requests from the public. Which of the following statements best reflects your views? Restricting the public’s right to information is a necessary emergency measure: 29%. Restricting the public’s right to information is an unnecessary emergency measure: 52%. Don’t know: 18%.

New opinion poll – UK contact-tracing app must take account of human rights

- May 4, 2020 in COVID-19, News, Open Knowledge, Open Knowledge Foundation

A new opinion poll has revealed that an overwhelming majority of Brits want any coronavirus contact-tracing app to take account of civil liberties and people’s privacy. The Survation poll for the Open Knowledge Foundation comes ahead of today’s evidence session at Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on the human rights implications of COVID-19 tracing apps. The poll has found widespread support for the introduction of a contact-tracing app in the UK at 65 per cent, but 90 per cent of respondents said it is important that any app takes account of civil liberties and protects people’s privacy. A total of 49 per cent of people in the poll of over 1,000 people in the UK said this was ‘very important’. An NHS contact-tracing app designed to alert users when they have come into contact with someone who has coronavirus symptoms and should seek a COVID-19 test will be trialled on the Isle of Wight this week. Human rights campaigners have raised questions about how the data will be processed, who will own the information, and how long it will be kept for. The UK is understood to be working towards a centralised model, but this approach has been abandoned in Germany due to privacy concerns. Other countries, including Ireland, are using a decentralised model, where information is only held on individual smartphones, not a server. Today, a series of experts will be giving oral evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, including the UK Information Commissioner. Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “Technology will rightly play a key role in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, and there is clear support in the UK for a contact-tracing app in the UK. “But what is even clearer is that people want the app to take account of civil liberties and ensure that people’s privacy is protected. “We must not lose sight of ethical responsibilities in the rush to develop these tools. “It is vital to balance the needs of individuals and the benefit to society, ensuring that human rights are protected to secure public trust and confidence in the system.” Poll results Opinion poll conducted by Survation on behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Fieldwork conducted 27-28th April 2020, all residents aged 18+ living in UK, sample size 1,006 respondents. Q) Smartphone software called ‘contact-tracing’ is being developed to alert users when someone they were recently close to becomes infected with COVID-19. Contact-tracing apps log every instance a person is close to another smartphone-owner for a significant period of time. It has not been announced how your data will be processed, who will own the information, and how long it will be kept for. To what extent do you support or oppose the introduction of a contact-tracing app in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic? Strongly support: 28%
Somewhat support: 37%
Neither support nor oppose: 18%
Somewhat oppose: 6%
Strongly oppose: 6%
Don’t know: 4% Q) How important is it to you that any contact-tracing app in the UK takes account of civil liberties and protects people’s privacy? Very important: 49%
Quite important: 29%
Somewhat important: 13%
Not so important: 5%
Not at all important: 1%
Don’t know: 4%