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Open data

‘Dutch vaccination data among the worst in Europe’

Edouard Mathieu of Our World in Data is critical of the availability of vaccination data in the Netherlands (via).

Dutch company register

The Netherlands has been criticized for its relative lack of transparancy when it comes to company data. In a letter to Parliament, the government suggests limiting access to company data even further, although there’s also a hint that the paywall may be removed. There will be (another) consultation next spring before proposals will be elaborated (via).

Meanwhile, a court has ruled that the Chamber of Commerce (KvK) may not invoke database rights to place restrictions on the way in which company data is used by parties who purchase such data (via).

Smart surveillance

Vulnerability in proctoring software

A security vulnerability has been discovered in Proctorio, the anti-cheating software used to spy on students when they take an exam. As a result, hackers could have gained access to students’ cameras and online accounts, RTL Nieuws has reported (via). The vulnerability, explained here, has since been fixed.

In 2020, the student council of the University of Amsterdam has tried to get the Proctorio software banned. Last June, the court ruled against them, arguing among other things that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, «it has to be assumed that data is sufficiently protected against illegitimate use.»

Protest against cameras

Students and staff of the University of Leiden have participated in protests against ‘smart’ cameras inside university buildings. The university claims these cameras are only used to count people in order to monitor covid rules, but students claim they can also detect things like age, sex and whether people are wearing a face mask.

The university has temporarily turned the cameras off awaiting the outcome of a privacy audit and a penetration test. It has promised the results of the studies will be published «after any security leaks have been fixed». Meanwhile, students demand that the cameras are taken down permanently.

‘Anti-fraud’ algorithms published

In response to an FOI request from investigative journalists, the municipality of Rotterdam has released (zip) the code and additional materials relating to the algorithms it uses to target welfare recipients for fraud investigations (from Argos). Hundreds of variables have been used to train five types of machine learning models. Earlier this year, the regional audit office warned that ethical aspects have not been given sufficient attention in the development of these models.

According to the municipality, the algorithms help detect welfare fraud while reducing the burden on ‘compliant citizens’. However, it appears that the algorithms predict not fraud but irregularities (‘onrechtmatigheden’); for example, situations in which a benefit has been cut as the outcome of an investigation. Such irregularities may be the result of deliberate fraud, but they may also be the result of honest mistakes made by the welfare recipient. This raises the question whether the algorithms might target people who don’t have the skills to navigate the welfare bureaucracy. In fact, in some of the models, welfare recipients’ language and computer skills are predictors of irregularities.


Workers claim their data

Technologies to track workers are giving corporations new powers to control their workforce. The London-based Worker Info Exchange is trying to restore the balance somewhat by helping workers file a request for their personal data. In its report Managed by bots, it describes kafkaesk examples of how companies try to frustrate efforts by workers to obtain the data the company keeps on them.

Interestingly, WIE not only wants to use data requests to seek redress in individual cases; it also wants to do aggregate data analysis to improve the collective negotiating position of workers (this is also why they’d rather receive the data through an api or as a csv text file instead of a pdf). A Dutch court argued (translation) that such use is not covered by article 20 of the GDPR, which gives data subjects a right to receive personal data they provide in a machine-readable format. WIE disagrees with this interpretation and has appealed the ruling.

Government policy

Coalition agreement

Nine months after the Dutch Lower House election, four parties have presented a coalition agreement. Facial recognition technologies will be regulated; funding for the Data Protection Authority will be increased; and a new algorithm watchdog will monitor whether algorithms are transparent and fair.


Cubist subway map

I guess there’s a tool to create these? Comments asking how this is done have remained unanswered.

Not a data error

«We are entering an age of charts that look like data errors», Quartz Things observed in April 2020. @tophtucker has been collecting examples. I think this chart of traffic at Schiphol Airport also qualifies.