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Hello, this is the Co-op Digital newsletter - it looks at what's happening in the internet/digital world and how it's relevant to the Co-op, to retail businesses, and most importantly to people, communities and society. Thank you for reading - send ideas and feedback to @rod on Twitter. Please tell a friend about it!

[Image: Which]


People-first grocery

How New Zealand supermarket chain Countdown responded to the virus:

we took a ‘people first’ approach to everything. Our roots are as a grocer - we exist to serve our communities. We knew there would be New Zealanders at home, hungry and needing food on the table, some needing more help than others”

The keys were those values, hiring and strengthening their delivery infrastructure - ecommerce, supermarkets turned into warehouses, logistics.

Elsewhere in supermarkets: 


What is your data worth?

Compensating you for your data is a thing that should work, shouldn’t it? Here’s the latest effort to do that: Data Dividend Project - “Our data is our property, and if we allow companies to use it, we should get paid for it”.

But it generally doesn’t work, for two reasons. First, because there’s an annoying value asymmetry in personal data. If you take Facebook’s company valuation ($604bn on 29 Jun) divided by the number of Facebook users (2.6bn monthly), maybe that suggests that the average user has a value of $200-ish to Facebook’s shareholders. However, your data is worth vastly less to you because it’s really hard to commercialise it meaningfully (which is what the Data Dividend Project wants to do). Though FB would say that the value’s in the aggregation of data about many people in order to create ad-targetable slices, not in the data of any individual.

Second, there’s another, more philosophical objection to the idea: “your” data is rarely just about you. It’s usually about you interacting with someone else, or something else, or a location, or… So maybe attributing value to an individual isn’t quite as simple as people hope. Perhaps a richer “accounting of data” could look at the societal/community level instead? Data for society not individuals. Design for society not individuals.

But the wider ideas Data Dividend represents are interesting. What if Big Tech funded schemes that paid citizens? (This sounds a bit like turning users into shareholders.) Or what if organisations with high levels of consumer trust took roles as “data trusts” on behalf of people?


Being seen

IBM will no longer offer, develop, or research facial recognition technology - because facerec has been “shown to suffer from bias along lines of age, race, and ethnicity, which can make the tools unreliable for law enforcement and security and ripe for potential civil rights abuses”. Amazon and Microsoft followed suit. But critics say they’re not going far enough.

Facebook updated its policy on flagging or suppressing political posts that are harmful. This might have been because many advertisers - including Coca-Cola, Unilever and Starbucks - said they were boycotting the platform. (Or it might not: FB said plans had been in review for a while, and anyway most of FB’s revenue is from small business, not large advertisers.)

If you are optimistic, these stories are examples of Big Tech waking up to some structural problems in their services and fixing them. If you are cynical, you might say Big Tech are playing a perception game. (Some stories that support the cynical view: How big tech empowers racist police surveillance.) But either way, if the world remains more volatile (thanks to the virus, fake news, the state of politics, climate change and everything else) companies will probably have incentives to take stronger, more opinionated positions on everything.


Just Eat buys Grubhub

Meal delivery marketplace Just Eat Takeaway beat rival Uber Eats to buy Grubhub. There will probably be more consolidation because the marketplaces are currently burning VC dollars to compete with each other for the same spend.

Deliveroo and 90 restaurants asked the government for more help (rent holidays, VAT holidays, less social distancing) to avoid mass redundancies. And separately, the government asked Deliveroo to give better healthcare and job protections to its couriers. 


Contact tracing apps and democratic deficits

Track and trace apps were in the news. Would the government or Google-and-Apple or third parties would do track and trace better? Was the balance between public health and privacy right?. Mistakes have been made: the Gapple APIs have some weird limitations. UKGov should probably not have said that an app would be the central piece of the strategy. But you could make an argument that underlying all of the concerns is a bigger question of governance and democracy: “Google and Apple's diktat to governments on coronavirus contact-tracing apps is a troubling display of unaccountable power”.


Responsible design

This is a very sad story: 20-year-old Robinhood customer commits suicide after seeing a $730,000 negative balance

“a screenshot from Kearns’ mobile phone reveals that while his account had a negative $730,165 cash balance displayed in red, it may not have represented uncollateralized indebtedness at all, but rather his temporary balance until the stocks underlying his assigned options actually settled into his account.”

Perhaps the outcome wouldn’t have been so terrible if the Robinhood app’s user interface was clearer? (Leave aside whether lending money to 20-year-olds so they can trade stocks is a bad idea in the first place.) I think that popular online services have a duty of care to design responsibly.


Co-op Digital news and events

“instead of sitting within the Membership team like we used to, the 10 of us are now spread out and embedded across different product teams” - The Digital Service community: here to help you do awesome things.

Ave atque vale Pippa Wicks: Britain's John Lewis poaches Co-op's Wicks as department stores boss.

The Federation House team is running weekly drop-in chats for the community every Wednesday at 10am: Join us here. See our online events. You can also see how The Federation is planning for a safe return to the co-working floor.

Free of charge 

Paid for 

For all up-coming online events visit our Federation website.


Thank you for reading

Thank you, beloved readers and contributors. Please continue to send ideas, questions, corrections, improvements, etc to @rod on Twitter. If you have enjoyed reading, please tell a friend! If you want to find out more about Co-op Digital, follow us @CoopDigital on Twitter and read the Co-op Digital Blog. Previous newsletters.

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