A National Audit Office guide for government chiefs on improving data use points to difficulties in achieving data sharing benefits and laments variability in cross-government data quality
Business Applications Editor
Published: 05 Aug 2022 16:34
The National Audit Office (NAO) recently published a guide for senior government leaders on improving the use of data, which points to endemic difficulties in achieving benefits from data sharing.
Variable data quality is cited in the guide as a hindrance to effective data use: “Data collected by one part of government may not be of sufficient quality to be used by a different part of government for a different purpose. [The] Government’s Data Quality Framework offers a more structured approach to improving the quality of data held by departments.”
The list of barriers to better data use in government cited by the spending watchdog is considerable. Standards are hard to implement because, according to the NAO: “The structure of government is heavily siloed and departments have a high degree of autonomy. Legacy systems make it difficult to introduce standards into this environment and government has struggled to make substantial progress over the past 20 or so years.”
Data analytics is also depicted as inadequate to the scale of the problem: “Data analytics and tools work well with good-quality data, although effort is required to engineer the data when it comes from disparate sources. But there are situations where the accuracy and integrity of the data will make analytics difficult to apply, especially for personal data.”
The creation of cross-governmental datasets for multiple users is almost a non-starter, according to the watchdog: “Merging personal data which does not easily match is difficult. Further questions arise around ownership, maintenance, funding, privacy, and the risks arising from data aggregation.”
The guide cites two categories of organisation that can act as beacons for government leaders. One is the Silicon Valley tech giants, the other is the financial services industry, which was forced on to the path of good data government after the financial crash of 2008, caused by the systemic bad practices of the sector itself.
It states: “Organisations that understand and have succeeded in overcoming the data challenge fall into one of two broad categories.
“Firstly, there are those which are designed and built for data exploitation from the outset and do not carry the ‘baggage’ of legacy systems and ways of working. Examples include Google, Amazon and Netflix. As a result they are naturally able to exploit their data assets and can readily take advantage of business intelligence, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence.
“Secondly, there are organisations with legacy systems which have been forced to address the data challenge in response to external events. For example, following the financial collapse of 2008, the financial services sector was subject to additional regulatory obligations.”
The report outlines a way forward that consists of four elements: embedding data standards, taking a structured approach, addressing legacy issues and enabling data sharing.
“The Committee of Public Accounts has urged [the] Cabinet Office to identify and prioritise the top 10 data standards of benefit to government,” it notes.
The NAO welcomes the setting up of a CDO Council in 2021, the creation of the Data Standards Authority in 2020, and the creation of a Data Architecture Design Authority, described as “a new body to review, approve and monitor adoption of data architecture principles and frameworks”.
In relation to resolving the legacy issue, the guide backs up the Committee of Public Accounts’ recommendation that the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should identify the main ageing IT systems that, if fixed, would allow government to use data better; and ensure that whenever departments replace or modify these systems it is done with full consideration of how the systems will support better use of data in government.
The guide’s recommendation on data sharing leans on the Open Data Institute’s Assessing risks when sharing data: a guide. It draws attention to its own 2018 report on the Windrush scandal, “where the department concerned [the Home Office] shared data without fully assessing its quality with the potential for citizens being wrongly detained, removed or denied access to public services”, as an example of how damage could be caused by the imprudent sharing of government data.
The report concludes by reiterating a recognition that government data is a leading cause of inefficiencies, that underlying data issues need to be fixed, that “focused effort, funding and prioritisation” is essential for data management in government, and that there is a perennial danger of initiative petering out in the face of adversity.
These recommendations seem broadly in line with those made by Michael Gove, the immediately former secretary of state of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
The Scot’s enthusiasm for data is well known, and featured in his notable Ditchley Park speech, given in July 2020. This postulated the leveraging of data analytics as part of an agenda for a modernisation of the state.
In it, Gove said: “Government needs to evaluate data more rigorously, and that means opening up data so others can judge the effectiveness of programmes as well. We need proper challenge from qualified outsiders. If government ensures its departments and agencies share and publish data far more, then data analytics specialists can help us more rigorously evaluate policy successes and delivery failures.”
The department he most recently led was behind the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech in May, which includes proposals for digital planning powers to be given to local authorities in England and Wales, based on open data.
Johnson remains the prime minister, despite having resigned as leader of the ruling Conservative Party on 7 July, one day after dismissing data evangelist Gove.
That is the ineluctable political context of the NAO’s Improving government data: a guide for senior leaders.
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Web3 and the transition toward true digital ownership
Image Credit: ArtemisDiana/Getty
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How do you think you would answer if I asked you the following question: “What do you own online?”
In real life, you own your home, the car you drive, the watch you wear, and anything else you have purchased. But do you own your email address or your business’s website? How about the pictures that populate your Instagram account? Or the in-game purchases on Fortnite or FIFA video games or whatever else you are playing?
My best guess is, after casting your mind through the things you use the internet for (which for everybody is pretty much everything, social and professional), you would struggle to find a solid answer.
Maybe you would ask me to explain what I mean by “ownership.” But it doesn’t really matter. And while I don’t mean this to be a trick question, it kind of is. Because in the current version of the internet, we don’t have ownership rights online.
MetaBeat will bring together thought leaders to give guidance on how metaverse technology will transform the way all industries communicate and do business on October 4 in San Francisco, CA.
Digital ownership: Participants and products
To understand why we don’t own anything online, we must first understand the evolution of the internet and how it gave rise to the business model that has dominated its current iteration.
In the 1990s — the decade of desktop computers and dial-up connections — the internet was predominantly a content delivery network consisting of simple static websites showcasing information. What we refer to today as Web1 was slow, siloed, and disorganized.
Next came the platforms, such as Facebook (now Meta) and Google, driven by wireless connectivity and the development of handheld devices like laptops, smartphones, and tablets, which gave us free-to-use services that enabled us to edit, interact with and generate content. These platforms centralized the web, putting in place a top-down structure that saw users reliant on their systems and services.
This evolution of the internet took place in the mid-2000s and is the version we know today. We call it Web2. It is a model based on connectivity and user-generated content, made in the image and interests of companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
In this environment, netizens are both participants and products. We sign up for services in exchange for our data, which is sold to advertisers, and we create content that generates value and fuels engagement for these platforms. We do all this while having no rights to anything online.
Our social media profiles can be taken down and our access to email accounts or messenger apps suspended. We don’t own any of the digital assets we purchase and have no autonomy over our data. Businesses we build online are often reliant on platforms and are therefore vulnerable to algorithms, data breaches and shadow bans.
The deck is stacked against us. Because the option not to be involved, when so much of the commerce and communication in the world takes place online, is not really an option at all. And yet there is nothing that we can point to and call ours. Nothing we have any actual authority over.
And, it is this dynamic that Web3 is determined to change.
Web3 and the “internet of value”
Right now, when most people hear the term “Web3” they probably think “metaverse”. But a better way to think about Web3 is as the evolution of the internet.
Today, the digital experience is very corporate and very centralized. Web3 will offer the dynamic, app-driven user experience of the current mobile web in a decentralized model, shifting the power from big tech back to the users. It will do this by spreading the data outward — putting it back in the hands of netizens who are then free to use, share and monetize it as they see fit — and expanding the scale and scope of interactions between users and the internet.
Underpinning that expansion will be guaranteed access, which means anyone can use any service without permissions and no one can block, restrict or remove any user’s access.
The idea then is that Web3 will not only be more egalitarian but that it will create an “Internet of Value” because the value generated by the web will be shared much more equitably between users, companies, and services, with much better interoperability. Users will have full ownership, authority, and control over both the content they create and their data. But how will this help us transition toward true digital ownership?
NFTs hold the key to digital ownership
The truth is that digital ownership is not too hard a problem to solve. And we already have the solution: NFTs.
In the public consciousness, NFTs are known for the projects that have garnered the most media attention, such as CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club. While projects such as these have catapulted the term into the zeitgeist, the usefulness of the underlying technology has been much less discussed.
Simply put, NFTs act as proof of ownership. The details of the NFT’s holder are recorded on the blockchain, all transactions and transfers are tracked and transparent and available to the public, and everything is managed by the token’s unique ID and metadata.
So, how does this work in practice? Let’s say I create an NFT. As soon as I upload it, a “smart contract” is created that tracks its creation, the current owner, and the royalties I will receive. If someone decides to purchase it, they own that NFT and any additional perks that come with ownership. Their details are registered on the blockchain and nobody can edit or remove them.
Now, let’s say that the market for my NFTs starts to heat up, demand grows and the value of my collection begins to rise. If the owner decides to sell, they make a profit and I earn a small royalty from the resale. The change in ownership is tracked on-chain in real-time and the smart contract ensures my royalty fee is deposited directly in my wallet. This is the key value proposition of NFTs: Verifiable ownership and the option to liquidate digital assets.
What’s next for Web3?
This is what ownership looks like in Web3. It is the promise that netizens will be able to own their digital assets in the same way that they own their home, car and watch. NFTs will usher in a more equitable digital economy and will play a central role in the future of digital commerce.
The fact is that as of right now, we are still writing the Web3 rulebook. This is still a very new, very young space. And while few things are certain, what we can say for sure is that the internet is only moving in one direction: ownership.
The guiding principle in Web3 is to accelerate the transition towards a more equitable digital environment. It is very much opt-in, an internet built by the people for the people. It is one in which ownership is the foundation upon which new products, networks, and experiences are being built. And it is fundamental to establishing the internet of value.
Over the next few years, as Web3 develops it will operate alongside Web2. The infrastructure supporting Web2 is very strong and I don’t see us completely shifting away from that any time soon. However, in the medium-to long-term, Web3 will completely reshape our relationship with the internet.
Filip Martinsson is cofounder and chief operating officer of Moralis.
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Apple blocked the latest Telegram update over a new animated emoji set
Ever since Apple launched the App Store, developers big and small have gotten caught up in the company’s approval process and had their apps delayed or removed altogether. The popular messaging app Telegram is just the latest, according to the company’s CEO Pavel Durov. On August 10th, Durov posted a message to his Telegram channel saying the app’s latest update had been stuck in Apple’s review process for two weeks without any real word from the company about why it was held up.
As noted by The Verge, the update was finally released yesterday, and Durov again took to Telegram to discuss what happened. The CEO says that Apple told Telegram that it would have to remove a new feature called Telemoji, which Durov described as “higher quality vector-animated versions of the standard emoji.” He included a preview of what they would look like in his post — they’re similar to the basic emoji set Apple uses, but with some pretty delightful animations that certainly could help make messaging a little more expressive.
“This is a puzzling move on Apple’s behalf, because Telemoji would have brought an entire new dimension to its static low-resolution emoji and would have significantly enriched their ecosystem,” Durov wrote in his post. It’s not entirely clear how this feature would enrich Apple’s overall ecosystem, but it still seems like quite the puzzling thing for Apple to get caught up over, especially since Telegram already has a host of emoji and sticker options that go far beyond the default set found in iOS. Indeed, Durov noted that there are more than 10 new emoji packs in the latest Telegram update, and said the company will take the time to make Telemoji “even more unique and recognizable.”
There are still a lot of emoji-related improvements in the latest Telegram update, though. The company says it is launching an “open emoji platform” where anyone can upload their own set of emoji that people who pay for Telegram’s premium service can use. If you’re not a premium user, you’ll still be able to see the customized emoji and test using them in “saved messages” like reminders and notes in the app. The custom emoji can be interactive as well — if you tap on them, you’ll get a full-screen animated reaction.
To make it easier to access all this, the sticker, GIF and emoji panel has been redesigned, with tabs for each of those reaction categories. This makes the iOS keyboard match up with the Android app as well as the web version of Telegram. There are also new privacy settings that let you control who can send you video and voice messages: everyone, contacts or no one. Telegram notes that, like its other privacy settings, you can set “exceptions” so that specific groups or people can “always” or “never” send you voice or video messages. The new update — sans Telemoji — is available now.
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