Accessibility as a Digital Right

(originally sent on Oct 28. Subscribe to our newsletter now)

Hi Everyone,

A major discussion we’ve been continuing internally is about how Bitmark can make the control of digital rights accessible (applicable) to everyone. As hard as we’ve worked in the areas of personal data, healthcare, music, and art, there remains a significant learning curve for most people to join in. Many of us in the United States are used to signing our rights away without really considering what we’re reading. That’s the way it is.

If you’re now told you should have better control over your rights and this [Bitmark] is a way to do so, it may not seem that obvious that you should care unless you already are someone who protects their rights at every opportunity — for example, maybe you refuse to use Facebook.

To be honest, most people are not in this bucket. While Bitmark believes in market solutions over well intended (but poorly executed) regulation, the market seemingly says rights are not important. Otherwise the US government wouldn’t be talking about Facebook in monopolistic terms.

Thus, I have a couple of asks of you this month:

  1. Where are you actively looking to have digital rights control? How could Bitmark help?
  2. CEO Sean often tells me that Bitcoin is the first major success of giving users direct control over a digital asset where control (eg: transfer, subdivide) is based on cryptographic proof instead of trust. Along those lines, if you’re someone who’s passionate about BTC (the ethos behind it, not just a fan of making money from it), please reach out to me. I’d love to understand your relationship with BTC, your current frustrations.

To respond, just reply to this email.

Continuing on with this question about accessibility, the Oct 19th iteration of the New York Times ON Tech Newsletter discussed what I feel is a way of taking away rights — simply don’t give people information on how to exercise them. I don’t mean the following situation was malicious in intent, but we know that people who need rights the most are the ones most unable to access them. In our first project in public health with UC Berkeley years ago, I remember learning that health research is made up primarily of middle aged white men because they have the resources to access health services, learn of opportunities, time to participate without affecting home life, and the least to lose in terms of potential privacy leaks. The people who could benefit the most from clinical trial research or better decision making from public health institutions were the very people being excluded!

So I present to you: A new election information website for Centre County, Pa., that’s as easy to use as your favorite shopping site.

That’s it. It’s not flying cars, but it is extremely useful in a confusing election year.

This voter site and others like it were built in partnership with U.S. Digital Response, a group that started in the pandemic to match volunteers with technical expertise with local governments seeking help.

Centre County knew the status quo wasn’t good enough, and Pipe said officials hunted for commercial vendors to create a new website devoted to election information. He was quoted costs of up to $40,000, he said. The county paid nothing for the election services that U.S. Digital Response volunteers helped create.

Now, about 1,000 people a day visit Centre County’s election website, Pipe said. “It’s been about saving personnel time and a better customer service experience for our residents,” he said.

“You can’t do public policy if you can’t make the damn website work,” is how Robin Carnahan, a former Missouri secretary of state who is helping lead U.S. Digital Response’s election projects, put it to me.

Pipe said this is his 18th election as a county commissioner, and it’s a doozy. He said the new website, with clear information and election returns, is also a way for officials to build faith among voters in a year with lots of misinformation and mistrust about the election process.

In the United States, it took over a hundred years before everyone had the same, equal right to vote. But that hasn’t stopped some from making it harder for some groups to do so or basically restricting the access to the right if not the right itself.

This has made me think, shouldn’t equal accessibility to a right be a right, not just the right itself? In the Bitmark sense, we can’t be satisfied with “build it and they will come”. We have to come to you, hold your hand, work with you — whatever it takes to give you the help you deserve.

Bitmark news and in the news:

Press

Our Hope in Crisis Podcast with Girls in Tech Taiwan

I appreciate your continued support. If you enjoy this newsletter or our work, please help us by sharing it with a friend. We’ll keep fighting for your #digitalrights.

Michael Nguyễn

Head of Operations, Bitmark

www.bitmark.com

Bitmark restores trust in data. Our end-to-end Internet protocol secures the provenance of data.