April 18, 2014

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A Start-Up Born at CITP

As is probably the case with many start-ups, Gloobe was born late at night. Early in 2013, on the night of a snowstorm in Princeton, I presented at the student-led Code at Night hackathon an idea for a web site that organized civic information onto online maps of local communities. With experience as a former elected representative of a relatively small community within Washington, DC, I understood the value of easing the availability of information about voting, upcoming community meetings, and regulatory agency actions, but lacked the coding skills to bring the project to life. Jian Min Sim, a student from Oxford who was spending his senior year at Princeton as part of an exchange program, heard about my presentation from a friend and when we got together, pulled out his laptop and said, “I have already built something very similar.” After winning a contest sponsored by the ITU, Jian had built a mapping website designed to provide a platform for NGO employees and others who travel frequently to share information about places that lacked detailed on-line limited maps. A partnership formed.

Over the course of the year, we have talked repeatedly about different ways of using technology to reach different groups of people – young people, people working for the government, in education, or at large corporations – who are looking to share knowledge more effectively. Through all of these conversations, we have sought to figure out what we think is important – a preference for wireless solutions, a simple platform, providing real-time access to information about what’s happening in local communities. Do we think our mission is best served as a for-profit or non-profit entity?
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Educating Leaders who Tackle the Challenges of their Time; Lessons from the Past: Book Review: First Class, The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School

One of last year’s CITP lectures that is still fresh in my mind is Brad Smith’s talk on “Immigration, Education, and the Future of Computer Science in America.” In his presentation on developing a process for educating the next generation of computer scientists in U.S. high schools and colleges, Mr. Smith noted that in the state of New Jersey, where 8.8 million people live, only 874 students took the computer science AP exam, and of those, only 17 were African-American. In Alison Stewart’s excellent new book “First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School,” Ms. Smith tells the story of one of the best and most important American high schools of the 20th century. In the first half of the 20th century, Dunbar High School, a public school located in Washington, DC, produced numerous leaders in medicine, science, education, law, politics and the military, including several from my family. With the end of segregation, the conditions that resulted in Dunbar’s creation ceased to exist. The question remains, however, as to how in diverse public education systems to develop leaders in the fields that are critical to the country’s economic and social progress.
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Take Over My Dream Job: Associate Director at CITP

Nearly four years ago, I joined the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton as Associate Director. The CITP community is a fantastic collection of smart and funny people who work passionately on all aspects of information technology policy. It was my dream job, so it was bittersweet when I accepted a new job working on internet freedom programs at the State Department. However, this means that someone else has a chance to step into this incredible position. If you love tech policy and want to help lead a vibrant and growing research center, you can now apply to be the Associate Director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton. I am happy to answer any questions that you may have, at

In my new role at the State Department, I help to award and oversee grants to groups that are supporting internet freedom worldwide. This includes technology tools as well as advocacy, training, and research. I am always eager to hear from folks with projects or ideas, and part of my goal is to help support the growing internet freedom community however I can. Feel free to email me at , and to submit a Statement of Interest (SOI) for technology projects (the next quarterly round of SOI’s are due on August 30th).

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First Principles for Fostering Civic Engagement via Digital Technologies: #1 Know Your Community

Over the first few months of my Fellowship at CITP, I have had the pleasure of meeting with a number of people from academia, non-profits, for-profit companies and government to discuss the role of digital technologies in fostering civic engagement.  In a series of blog posts, I plan to set out ten principles that local governments and communities should look to as they evaluate whether their community is using digital technology effectively to promote civic engagement and solve local problems.  Because I do not think that my work developing these principles is complete, I hope to use this forum as a way to offer ideas for further exploration.  Feedback is welcome!

Principle #1: Know Your Community
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CITP Call for Fellows, Postdocs, and Visiting Professors for Fall 2013

The Center for Information Technology Policy (citp.princeton.edu) is an interdisciplinary research center at Princeton that sits at the crossroads of engineering, the social sciences, law, and policy.

CITP seeks Fellowship and Postdoc applicants for the 2012-2013 school year from academia, industry, government, and civil society. These are one year appointments — usually from July 1st to June 30th. Applicants may be appointed as a Visiting Fellow, Visiting Researcher, or Postdoctoral Research Associate.

CITP also seeks candidates for a new Visiting Professor position starting in Fall 2013. Applicants must be currently appointed faculty members at an academic institution. Individuals may apply for a one or two year appointment, based on their individual circumstances and availability.

Our application process is open from November 12 through January 1st.

For details on the Fellowship and Postdoc applications:
https://citp.princeton.edu/about/join/fellowship-application/

For details on the Visiting Professor application:
https://citp.princeton.edu/about/join/visiting-professor-application/

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Get Out the Vote, Cee-Lo Style?

This semester, Ed Felten and I are teaching a Freshman Seminar called “Facebook: The Social Impact of Social Networks.” This week, the class is discussing a recent article published in the journal Nature, entitled “A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization“. The study reveals that if Facebook shows you a list of your closest friends who have voted, you are more likely to do so yourself. It is a fascinating read both because it is probably the first very-large-scale controlled test of social influence via online social networks, and because it appears that without much work the company was able to spur about 340,000 extra people to vote in the 2010 midterm elections.

I confess that last night I watched some of the wildly popular reality TV competition The Voice. What can I say? The pyrotechnics were more calming than the amped-up CNN spin-zoners. It was the first day that the at-home audience began voting for their favorites. Carson Daly mentioned that the show would take the requisite break on Election Night, but return in force on Wednesday. (Incidentally, I can’t decide whether or not this video urging us to “vote Team Cee-Lo” is too clever by half).
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“E-Voting: Risk and Opportunity” Live Stream Tomorrow at 1:30pm Eastern

Despite the challenges due to Hurricane Sandy earlier this week, the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton is still hosting “E-Voting: Risk and Opportunity,” a live streamed symposium on the state and future of voting technology. At 1:30pm (Eastern) on November 1, 2012, electronic voting experts from across the United States will discuss what to expect on Election Day, how we might build a secure, convenient, high-tech voting system of the future, and what policymakers should be doing. The current U.S. e-voting system is a patchwork of locally implemented technologies and procedures — with varying degrees of reliability, usability, and security. Different groups have advocated for improved systems, better standards, and new approaches like internet-based voting. Panelists will discuss these issues and more, with a keynote by Professor Ron Rivest. You can watch the event streamed live at https://citp.princeton.edu.

Date: Thursday, November 1, 2012
Time: 1:30 PM – 5:00 PM (Eastern)
Location: streaming online at https://citp.princeton.edu
Hashtag: ask questions and add comments via Twitter at #PrincetonEvoting

Archived video now available:

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CITP Welcomes This Year’s Fellows

The 2012-2013 academic year is well underway, and the Center for Information Technology Policy is buzzing with fellows and departmental guests. Look forward to their posts here on Freedom to Tinker in the days and weeks to come, and read their full bios on the CITP site.
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Goodbye, Stanford. Hello, Princeton!

[Editor's note: The Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) is delighted to welcome Arvind Narayanan as an Assistant Professor in Computer Science, and an affiliated faculty member in CITP. Narayanan is a leading researcher in digital privacy, data anonymization, and technology policy. His work has been widely published, and includes a paper with CITP co-authors Ed Felten and Joseph Calandrino. In addition to his core technical research, Professor Narayanan will be engaged in active public policy topics through projects such as DoNotTrack.us, and is sought as an expert in the increasingly complex domain of privacy and technology. He was recently profiled on Wired.com as the "World's Most Wired Computer Scientist."]

I’ve had a wonderful first month at Princeton as an assistant professor in Computer Science and CITP. Let me take a quick moment to introduce myself.

I’m a computer scientist by training; I study information privacy and security, and in the last few years have developed a strong side-interest in tech policy. I did my Ph.D. at UT Austin and more recently I was a post-doctoral researcher at Stanford and a Junior Affiliate Fellow at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society.

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RIP Bill Zeller

All of us here at CITP were saddened by the death of Bill Zeller, our respected and much-loved colleague. Bill was a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science here at Princeton, who died last night due to injuries sustained in a suicide attempt.

There has been a huge outpouring of sympathy for Bill, both at Princeton and across the Internet, which is entirely appropriate. But I’d like to focus here on the positive side of Bill’s life.

Bill has made at least two appearances here on Freedom to Tinker, first as the instigator of the Miraculin experiment (Miracle Fruit: Tinkering with our Taste Buds), then later for his research on web security (Popular Websites Vulnerable to Cross-Site Request Forgery Attacks).

Bill always had a new project brewing. His projects ranged from the quirky (the cult favorite Cats in Christmas Trees site) to an early blogging tool (Zempt, which was incorporated into Movable Type) to many useful software development tools (such as jLambda). Tens of millions of people have read or used something that Bill created.

Bill’s sense of humor was much appreciated by his friends. He would sometimes go to considerable lengths for the sake of a joke. Once, for the sake of an office joke, he created a technology package including an online game, an RSS-based miniblogging tool, and a screen saver. Then, later, he shut it all down, as a birthday present for the friend who was the target of his (good-natured) joke.

We have many, many fond memories of Bill, more than we could possibly fit here.

Those of you who knew Bill are invited to add your own fond memories in the comments.