Author Archives: hmfraser

About hmfraser

Student of Environmental Studies and International Development

ICT4D Professional Profile: Kentaro Toyama

You might remember him as the ICT4D Jester, but Kentaro Toyama is much more than a blogger. He is a development studies researcher currently working in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley [1]. He received a Ph.D. in Computer Science at Yale and an A.B. in Physics from Harvard [2]. From there he started working from Microsoft as a computer scientist doing research, computer vision and image processing [3]. From there he entered his first job in the ICT4D sector by founding a lab in India, where Microsoft was attempting to tap into people in India with science and engineering talent [4].  In addition to running this lab, he created an ICT4D research group, which was investigating ways to use technology to alleviate poverty [3]. 

During his time in India Toyama spent time traveling and visiting almost 50 different telecenters, which were the poster children of ICT4D at the time. Almost all of these centers closed soon after they opened. Of course, this is for some of the reasons we have discussed, but what Toyama believes is the fundamental problem is that “ICT4D assumes the very results it seeks to achieve” [2].  It does not matter how appropriate or creatively designed the technology is, because it “is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute” [2]. Another issue that he writes about often is prioritization [5].  Investment in technology competes with investments in other areas such as education, sanitation or transportation. When taking into account the opportunity cost, is technology really the best way to spend this money? He also feels technology is widening the digital divide through differential access, differential motivation and finally differential capacity.

When Toyama fist began working in the ICT4D sector he really thought technology on its own could contribute something great. This is why he decided to pursue ICT4D in the first place, but since then he has learned that it really depends on the human forces behind the technology [7]. This is what all of us interested in ICT4D need to KNOW; “Computers, guns, factories, and democracy are powerful tools, but the forces that determine how they’re used ultimately are human” [4]. 

[1] Toyama, Kentaro. “Profile.” Kentaro Toyama. 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. link here. 

[2] Ibid

[3] Toyama, Kentaro. “The Myth of Scale.” Speech. TEDxTokyo. Tokyo. 15 May 2010. YouTube. 15 May 2010. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. link here.

[4] Toyama, Kentaro. “Can Technology End Poverty?” Boston Review. Nov.-Dec. 2010. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. link here.

[5] Toyama, Kentaro. “Guest Post: The Lessons of the Kony Campaign.” Humanosphere. 3 Aug. 2012. Web. 13 Aug. 2012. link here.

[6] Toyama, Kentaro. Personal interview. 12 April, 2012.

[7] Toyama, Kentaro. Personal interview. 12 April, 2012.


Facebook Reads Your Text Messages?

According to one pay-walled report by The Sunday London Times Facebook is one of many smartphone apps that can access personal information on your phone, including text messages [1]. The company has admitted to the fact and stated they want to collect this information to help them trial their own messaging service [2].One representative of Facebook stated, “The permission is clearly disclosed on the app page in the Android marketplace and is in anticipation of new features that enable users to integrate Facebook features with their texts” [3]. As if we don’t get enough exposure to Facebook as it is.

After this information was initially released there was a huge clamor over the Internet relating to this issue. Facebook went on to deny ever using this feature even though it is in your contract agreement [4]. The purpose of this permission is for the launching on another app that wants to connect Facebook with your SMS. One representative said, “The Sunday Times has done some creative conspiracy theorizing but the suggestion that we’re secretly reading people’s text is ridiculous.” Apple has also stated they will mend this by requiring explicit consent before accessing the data [5].

Many other companies were accused of using their apps to access your personal data, including Flickr and Yahoo Messenger (table follows). Some can even INTERCEPT PHONE CALLS according to the report, and most frightening of all YouTube and others can take photographs and videos by remotely accessing your smartphone [2].

Due to the fact that many of these products are free they “pay” for your use by accessing your information.

[1] Imran, Awais. “Facebook Is Reading Text Messages From SmartPhone Using Native Mobile Apps.” Redmond Pie. 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. Haslam, Oliver. Link here.

[2] “Facebook Spies On Phone Users’ Text Messages, Report Says.” Fox News. 26 Feb. 2012. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. Link here.

[3]  Ibid

[4] Haslam, Oliver. “Facebook Denies Reading Users Text Messages.” Redmond Pie. 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. Link here.

[5] Whittaker, Zack. “Facebook, Flickr, Others Accused of Reading Text Messages.” ZDNet. 26 Feb. 2012. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. Link here. 


Table from Citation 5.

Gawker and Kony

In 2010 Gawker had 215,504,439 visits with users overwhelmingly from the United States with an 80.7% rate, followed by Canada at 6.01% and the United Kingdom at 3.01%.[1] Since then their readership has grown considerably-as I speak 8,242 people are currently reading. This blog/newsmagazine in based in New York City whose readership is twenty something’s young urban professionals who like satirical editorials. I was interested to look into their take on KONY2012 because I wanted to know what some people in our age range were being exposed to without actively looking for answers.

Two days after the release of the video Gawker published “How You Should Feel About KONY2012, the Campaign That’s Taking Over the Internet: A Guide” to their explainers section. In this piece Max Read divides the possible opinions into 5 camps. Within each explanation the author states who believes this opinion, what it entails and the problem with this opinion. The first is “Joseph Kony is a horrible human being and war criminal” stated that almost everyone believes this and that indisputably “Kony is a very bad dude”. Here he explains what the LRA is, how he uses children soldiers, and how he is no longer in Uganda. Read doesn’t believe there is any problem with this opinion except figuring out the best next step.

Opinion 2 is that of Invisible Children: the U.S. military should intervene to find and arrest Kony. Here they summarize the campaign then state that there is a “gross oversimplification of a really complicated situation”. Opinion 3 is the opposite of the previous opinion, stated that the U.S. military has actually made the attempt at Kony’s capture worse by prompting retaliatory strikes. Read also does not forget to mention that the Ugandan army has not had the best human rights record.

Finally opinion 4 states “Invisible Children in misusing funds, misrepresenting facts and possibly making the situation in Uganda worse”. Here the author points out that under a third of IC money was spent on direct services last year, that the video is misleading and simple, and that Uganda has more urgent issues that Kony. Read compares this campaign to a “change your profile picture to a cartoon character to protest child abuse” and points of how the film centers on “well-meaning westerners will save Africa”.

Finally, the article ends on a less serious note mocking those on twitter calling Kony a gangsta (wouldn’t be a Gawker article without some humor). And overall I was pretty impressed that such a short article could drive home many of the most important points we had been discussing all week. When considering if this video was a good think or a bad thing I felt very conflicted. This did start a very important dialogue, but it also lead million of people to believe that this oversimplification was true. This cannot be forgotten but it is nice to know that thousands of people read and commented on this article.

[1] Read, Max. “How You Should Feel About Kony 2012, the Campaign That’s Taking Over the Internet: A Guide.” Gawker. 8 Mar. 2012. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.


Open StreetMap (OSM) calls itself the free wiki world map founded by Steve Coast in July of 2004. This is a free resource that uses volunteers to create a free, accurate and comprehensive world map. Although the progress was initially slow today over half a million people are volunteering for this project, which stems from the open source software movement.[1] Even though one might consider a map something that everyone should be able to access easily and for little or no cost, this is usually not the case. This effort wants to put reliable data into people’s hands and uses to force and dedication of volunteers to do so; “map enthusiasts are doing for geography what the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia has done for reference books.”[2]

The reason for their dedication does not end there. Apparently, commercial maps contain inaccuracies known as “Copyright Easter Eggs” which may be in the form of fake/missing streets, churches or other features that do not actually exit.[3] These features are meant to prevent copyright infringement, as the companies could point to stolen information by finding these “Eggs” peppered in with the stolen data. Of course, any system that relies on volunteers has the potential for sabotage, but OSM believes that “the vast majority of good-intentions participants can automatically correct for the few bad apples.”[4] In fact, while bowings the FAQ portion of their website, one can find various ways to correct data or discuss someone’s correction of your data if you believe the correction is unfounded. The overall goal is to create the most accurate information that is free of mistakes like “Copyright Easter Eggs” and that does not make you pay for updated maps when the streets change.

Now how exactly does one go about contributing to this movement? Part of the reason this movement has been able to go so well is the creation of affordable and portable GPS devices; volunteers can use these devices to collect data on foot, bike or in the car. This data is then download as raw files to the website where other information can be added such as street names or types of streets.[5]

Additionally, “OpenStreetMap maps a lot more than roads. All the things you mention: roads, paths, buildings, heights, pylons, fences … AND … post boxes, pubs, airfields, canals, rock climbing routes, shipwrecks, lighthouses, ski runs, whitewater rapids, universities, toucan crossings, coffeeshops, trees, fields, toilets, speed cameras, toll booths, recycling points and a whole lot more.”[6] This data can also be used to generate maps through programs like ArcGIS, where finding free maps to use can be challenging. OSM was also used after the earthquake in Haiti where there were not very many reliable maps in the first place. Haiti OSP not only provided accurate street information to people like emergency responders, it also mapped refugee camps and triage centers.[7] Finally, OSM has a serious of mapping projects going on that extend beyond the roads. Some of these include mapping accessibility, development partners, places of worship, or Native, conservation and environment.[8]

OSM is supported by the OSM foundation, which is a non-profit organization that takes care of things like fund-raising, accepting donations, organizing annual conferences as well as taking care of other technology needed to run the project.[9] Additionally OSM foundation has NO employees due to fact that all the work is being done by volunteers. This ensures that more money goes to supporting OSM and making it the best system possible.

Overall I really like the idea of OSM. Although the copy write Easter eggs do not bother me, I think it is important that everyone have access to an accurate and free map. As someone who is really interested in GIS I also appreciate that you can use this information to create your own maps for free, as finding affordable or free data can be very challenging. I do think that it was slow to work at first, but since its creation a serious amount of data has found its way to OSM.

[1] “OpenStreetMap.” OpenStreetMap. OSM. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[2] Anderson, Mark. “Global Positioning Tech Inspires Do-It-Yourself Mapping Project.” National Geographic News. National Geographic, 18 Oct. 2006. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. link here.

[3] “FAQ.” OpenStreetMap Wiki. OSM. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[4] “FAQ.” OpenStreetMap Wiki. OSM. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[5] Anderson, Mark. “Global Positioning Tech Inspires Do-It-Yourself Mapping Project.” National Geographic News. National Geographic, 18 Oct. 2006. Web. 6 Apr. 2012.  link here.

[6] “We’re on a Road to Everywhere.” OpenGeoData. 31 July 2008. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[7] “Mapping Projects.” OpenStreetMap Wiki. OSM. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[8] “FAQ OSM.” OpenStreetMap Foundation. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[9]  “About OSM.” OpenStreetMap Foundation. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.


This week I was part of the group that went over the methodology of Willwald’s statistical study and it occurred to me that it might be useful to go over some statistical definitions used. These kinds of studies are common in development work and I think it would be useful to talk about for future reference.

The goal of the study was to use empirical information to test certain hypothesis about gender. This is a very common task, the goal of which should not necessarily be to prove your hypothesis correct but to find the most accurate information. The two types of hypothesis are null hypothesis and alternate hypothesis. The first is the hypothesis that assumes the results from a sample observation occur purely from chance, while the second is the hypothesis that there is another outside factor influencing the sample. One useful example I found stated that if one were to determine if a coin was fair, the “null hypothesis might be that half the flips would result in Heads and half in Tails. The alternative hypothesis might be that the number of Heads and Tail would be very different.”[1] From there one looks at the data and determine if it is a statistically significant difference from what you would expect: 50 Tail and 50 Heads.

In this case the study also uses simple random sampling to select the member of each house to be interviewed. This method means very much like it sounds: each person in the sample is assigned a number (randomly, typically though a computer program that generates numbers), which has an equal probability of being selected.  This method is often used when the person collecting data does not know much about their population.[2] However, it is commonly used because it is easy to implement and analyze.[3]

It is also important to keep in mind that statistical data can be easily manipulated to make it work in your favor or facts may be left out. For example, in this study they mention that in one case 80% of the participants selected in Burikina Faso were male, which contradicts the expected percent of male according to the census data of 1:1.[4] In this case they article brings up the discrepancy, but others may not be so honest. Statistical analysis is a very valuable tool, but always remember to take the interpretations of the data with the grain of salt.

[1] “What Is Hypothesis Testing?” Stat Trek: Teach Yourself Statistics. Web. 31 Mar. 2012. link here

[2] “Simple Random Sample.” Investopedia. Web. 31 Mar. 2012. link here

[3] “Simple Random Sampling.” Stat Trek: Teach Yourself Statistics. Web. 31 Mar. 2012. link here

[4] Gillwald, Alison, Anne Milek, and Christoph Stork. “Gender Assessment of ICT Access and Usage in Africa.” Gender Assessment of ICT Access and Usage in Africa 1 (2010): 8. Web. 31 Mar. 2012. link here

More on E-waste

As we have discussed in class, e-waste is an enormous issue within the developing world. This is why the EU set an ambitious goal for 2021: to collect 65% of the electronic equipment and lamps used globally in the past three years and recycle it.[1] Unfortunately evidence from a scientific research project suggests that this will be impossible if governments do not add legal measures.

This project maps the e-waste flow in the Netherlands by tracking the origin and destination of electronic products. This has proven hard to handle, as there are a number of things that can happen to an electronic product once it is sold.


-Collected (by one of the two government programs)

-Recycled (by national recyclers on second-hand shops)

-Exported illegally

During the e-conference held on March 15th numerous representatives from places like the UN, Japan, and the U.S. discussed the findings of the study. From there it was concluded that more e-waste could be collected if various measures were put into place.

This article outlines various suggestions including “a registration mandate for collectors and recyclers” as well as, “mandating that local governments and small retailers hand in a certain amount of e-waste each year”. Most importantly it was suggested that all goods shipped to developing countries for reuse must be certified that they are in good working order.

Although the goal set by the UN has been criticized for being “too soft too slow” this study does suggest the goal is over ambitious without assistance from the government.[2]  Stephane Arditi stated that, “The main problem is the fact that we don’t have a proper collection system or an economic system to incentivize proper collection and treatment of e-waste.”[3]

Clearly there is work to be done if the amount of un-recycled e-waste is to be lowered.

The original study can be viewed here

[1] Defreitas, Susan. “EU E-Waste Message: Gonna Take More Work.” Earth Techling. 23 Mar. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2012. Link.

[2] “EU E-waste Recycling Goals Criticized.” UPI. 18 Mar. 2011. Web. 24 Mar. 2012. Link.

[3] Ibid

Phone Sensor for E.coli Detection

Health and technology go hand in hand. When you go to see a doctor it is all over the place: the MRI machine, CT scan machine, PET scan, electric cardiogram, EEG, and the list goes on. These machines are essential tools to brining people the best health care possible, but they are expensive and bulky making them almost impossible to carry around. This is often necessary when working in a developing country, which is why smaller or more portable technologies would make bringing health care to everyone easier-those in developed and developing countries.

One new technology that will improve exposure to E. coli is a cell phone-based fluorescent imaging sensor. This sensor was produced by researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and may be used to find traces of E. coli in contaminated food or water. This device can be fixed to any  cell-phone camera and uses batter-powered light-emitting diodes to detect E. Coli particles present on a capillary surface. According to the article “fewer than 100 E. coli particles can destroy the human kidneys, the cells in the intestinal lining, cause blood clots in the human brain as well as cause paralysis, seizures and respiratory failure.” Although this device will not help health care providers directly, it will decrease the number of people being exposed to E. Coli. This will benefit us in developed and developing countries alike.