Public Good – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_good_(economics)
Social Harm – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zemiology
Public Goods are not void of social harms. They co-exist. Political position around an infrastructure (highway) - could evolve from various individual needs – low time, cost to reach destination for highway user / farmer who now has to spend more time to get across to other half of his land safely daily. The highway could also impact wildlife / ecological balance and hence wildlife conservationists (who may / may not be from locality) - can see a collective harm, even if individual farmers’ harms are mitigated by underpasses that marginally increases highway cost.
Digital Public Good
A digital public good is defined by the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, as: "open source software, open data, open AI models, open standards and open content that adhere to privacy and other applicable laws and best practices, do no harm, and help attain the SDGs
Breaking down – Open X, Adherance to privacy and other applicable laws, best practices, do no harm, helping attain SDG
Since at-least with FOSS United, its safe to assume open-washing can be detected - open source software, open data, open standards and open content - are clearly defined, and lets say billionaire public license won’t suddenly be called “open” - just because they claim to say so. Open AI models - might still have ambiguities (besides the need of disambiguting from OpenAI LLP), its important to comeback to this in detail for the stand to be reasonably future proof.
Adherance to privacy and other laws
- We don’t have a privacy law - what was discussed for 5 years was only “Data Protection law” - simply put - you can violate privacy for purposes mentioned in law, collect data(coerce people) and protect it(and share data through beuracratic rules saying “Whole of Govt”), still be legal.
- What are some “other laws” - that should be in the ambit of consideration. Anti-trust / competition laws (that haven’t globally kept pace with big tech platforms), anti-discriminatory laws could be some.
Do no harm
This is the most ambigous and hard part of the definition. Harm - for whom, how is harm measured, who decides what is harm when contested? At a philosiphical level, can something be done, without doing any harm?
Help attain SDG
While SDGs (now Global Goals) might seem to be clearly defined, there are significant complexities around it too. For brevity, there is contestation around SDG from opponents of capitalism, even some “true capitalists”.
We just tried to map one definition of DPG. There could be others too. Taking a community position should always be against a definition with agreed upon attributes/qualities, given the adhoc-ness in usage of term.
Necessary but not sufficient DPG features.
“Build in public” is now a thing in startups and tech products having fewer users. So why should DPG not be built in public? Aadhaar, UPI, CoWIN – have all had roadmaps shared to select few - (who also use the information arbitrage to their profit) and public has 0 visibility in platform shifts and can call out poor architectures only after infrastructure is developed and it’s too late by then to make a change and users have to live through because investors invested in poor design choice.
Adversarial data out (similar to adversarial interoperability in context of platforms)
In context of DPG - they must emit out / have a means to query data by (political) adversaries aka opposition (includes public, not just a party). Without which the harms can be never be quantified and platform proponents will refuse to acknowledge any shortcomings / failures, without which upgrade fixing the problem can never happen.
- UPI still hasn’t published any data on fraud(social harm) that happens on it, claiming VISA / MC doesn’t either, all along claiming public good. RTI is too legacy for big data and NPCI sought and got exemption from even that claiming it’s private entity
- CoWIN never published data on how many vaccinations were actually fake, never measured Adverse defects following immunization (AEFI) properly. How would vaccine manufacturer improve vaccine without having AEFI data and existance of CoWIN itself was supposed to be such data collection given the vaccines were all approved under emergency use license, bypassing traditional trail standards.
Technological guarantees on data access, privacy, security.
I wrote a slightly longer piece on Digital India and data democracy a while ago - https://m.epw.in/engage/article/what-ails-indias-data-economy
Quoting from it –
Instituting Data Budget and Floating a Data Comptroller and Auditor General
Every department in the government, as part of its accountability to the citizens, presents its budget, and keeps its revenue and expenditure in the public domain. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) is a constitutional authority that is empowered to audit government departments. In the same manner, a data budget needs to be presented by the government, noting data revenues, data expenditure, and how they are managed.
If a state is mandated to collect data (say tax administration) for which it is a monopoly function - then DPG must ensure purpose limitation with technical guarentees on data access, processing for the purpose of collection.
Recently, an assembly committee formed by AP govt to look into illegal data access of the previous ruling party, published network traffic reports to suggest vast amount of data was illegally dumped, allegedly by party for electoral gains. Given the typical population scale coverage of DPGs, any and every DPG must provide technical guarantees against such abuse.