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Facebook and the government

Dutch government may drop Facebook (update)

The Dutch government has published its Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) of Facebook (via Sjoerd Hartholt). One of the main problems appears to be that Facebook doesn’t properly explain to users why specific content is shown in their feed.

State secretary Alexandra van Huffelen has said that Facebook must remove all risks identified in the DPIA, or the government will have no choice but to stop using Facebook pages. The government is currently analysing the impact such a decision will have; the outcome is expected next spring. It’s unclear why the government hasn’t decided to suspend the use of Facebook until the risks have been removed.

The researchers who did the DPIA created a Facebook page for a fake Ministry of Privacy and had three users interact with it, taking screenshots of content shown to them, analysing outgoing network traffic, and filing Data Subject Access Requests. A large-scale analysis was impossible because Facebook doesn’t allow bots.

Dutch municipalities still use Facebook and Whatsapp

I’ve looked up the contact pages of major Dutch municipalities to find out which social media platforms they use to communicate with residents. All use Facebook and Twitter, and many use Whatsapp. None have adopted alternatives like Mastodon or Signal.

Cycling data

Cycling speed

A government-commissioned study found that the average speed of unimpeded regular bicycles (stadsfietsen) is 20.7 km/h, compared to 23.7 for e-bikes. Assessing cycling speed has political implications, because it may be used to argue for regulating cycling speed.

The Amsterdam branch of cyclists’ organisation Fietsersbond has conducted its own measurements of cycling speed. They found that silly bikes - VanMoofs, fatbikes - often ride 30 km/h or more.

Number of bicycles owned

Members of the Fietsersbond on average own 2.1 bicycles; non-members 1.6.

Data visualisation

Strike calendars

With strikes (planned) in health care, transportation, the government and education, the UK has seen the emergence of a new type of data visualisation: strike calendars.

Programming

Wikibot

Annelies Botjes has open-sourced the code for the TopWikiNL bot, which posts a daily message about the most popular Dutch-language Wikipedia page of the previous day (originally on Twitter and now also on Mastodon). I suspect that the popularity of Wikipedia pages is driven to a large extent by what people see on TV. For those who don’t watch TV much, TopWikiNL offers a mildly fascinating reflection of an unknown world.

TopWikiNL appears to randomly pick adverbs to describe the numbers it reports, e.g. ‘a gigantic 53,371 times’ or ‘about exactly 15,643 times’. Now that the code has been open-sourced, you can look up how the bot decides which description to use.

Python and poetry

Here’s a long and interesting interview with Guido van Rossum, the creator of the Python programming language (via Martijn van Es). He talks about a range of issues, from the strengths of Microsoft Excel to the future of Python.

Python is known for its readability: if you read the code, it’s relatively easy to grasp what it does. It owes this readability in part to its somewhat quirky style choices. Blocks of code are identified through indentation instead of curly braces {}; lines of code do not end with a semi-colon; and variable names do not start with a dollar sign $ (as in PHP).

At some point during the interview, Van Rossum says he’s not a poetic person. Yet on Dutch language blog Neerlandistiek, Marc van Oostendorp argues that some of Python’s style choices - meaningful whitespace, limited use of punctuation, qualified preference for lowercase - are also characteristics of modern poetry.