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Weiye Loh

Rod Beckstrom proposes ways to reclaim control over our online selves. - Project Syndicate - 0 views

  • As the virtual world expands, so, too, do breaches of trust and misuse of personal data. Surveillance has increased public unease – and even paranoia – about state agencies. Private companies that trade in personal data have incited the launch of a “reclaim privacy” movement. As one delegate at a recent World Economic Forum debate, noted: “The more connected we have become, the more privacy we have given up.”
  • Now that our personal data have become such a valuable asset, companies are coming under increasing pressure to develop online business models that protect rather than exploit users’ private information. In particular, Internet users want to stop companies befuddling their customers with convoluted and legalistic service agreements in order to extract and sell their data.
  • Hyper-connectivity not only creates new commercial opportunities; it also changes the way ordinary people think about their lives. The so-called FoMo (fear of missing out) syndrome reflects the anxieties of a younger generation whose members feel compelled to capture instantly everything they do and see.

    Ironically, this hyper-connectivity has increased our insularity, as we increasingly live through our electronic devices. Neuroscientists believe that this may even have altered how we now relate to one another in the real world.

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  • At the heart of this debate is the need to ensure that in a world where many, if not all, of the important details of our lives – including our relationships – exist in cyber-perpetuity, people retain, or reclaim, some level of control over their online selves. While the world of forgetting may have vanished, we can reshape the new one in a way that benefits rather than overwhelms us. Our overriding task is to construct a digital way of life that reinforces our existing sense of ethics and values, with security, trust, and fairness at its heart.
    "We must answer profound questions about the way we live. Should everyone be permanently connected to everything? Who owns which data, and how should information be made public? Can and should data use be regulated, and, if so, how? And what role should government, business, and ordinary Internet users play in addressing these issues?"
Weiye Loh

Information about information | - 0 views

  • since what we actually experience depends on us observing the world (via our measuring devices), reality is shaped by answers to yes/no questions. For example, is the electron here or is it not? Is its spin pointing up or pointing down? Answers to questions are information — the yes and no in English language correspond to the 0 and 1 in computer language. Thus, information is fundamental to physical reality. As the famous physicist John Archibald Wheeler put it, the "It" we observe around us comes from the "Bit" that encodes information: "It from bit". Is this really true?
    "what exactly is information? We tend to think of it as human made, but since we're all a result of our DNA sequence, perhaps we should think of humans as being made of information."
Weiye Loh

Shakespeare? He's in my DNA | - 0 views

    "not only can scientist read DNA sequences from biological samples, they can also "write" them. In the lab they can produce strands of DNA corresponding to particular strings of nucleotides, denoted by the letters A, G, T and C. So if you encode your information in terms of these four letters, you could theoretically store it in DNA.

    "We already know that DNA is a robust way to store information because we can extract it from bones of woolly mammoths, which date back tens of thousands of years, and make sense of it," explains Nick Goldman of the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI). "It's also incredibly small, dense and does not need any power for storage, so shipping and keeping it is easy.""
Weiye Loh

"Cancer by the Numbers" by John Allen Paulos | Project Syndicate - 0 views

  • The USPSTF recently issued an even sharper warning about the prostate-specific antigen test for prostate cancer, after concluding that the test’s harms outweigh its benefits. Chest X-rays for lung cancer and Pap tests for cervical cancer have received similar, albeit less definitive, criticism.

    CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThe next step in the reevaluation of cancer screening was taken last year, when researchers at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy announced that the costs of screening for breast cancer were often minimized, and that the benefits were much exaggerated. Indeed, even a mammogram (almost 40 million are given annually in the US) that detects a cancer does not necessarily save a life.

    CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThe Dartmouth researchers found that, of the estimated 138,000 breast cancers detected annually in the US, the test did not help 120,000-134,000 of the afflicted women. The cancers either were growing so slowly that they did not pose a problem, or they would have been treated successfully if discovered clinically later (or they were so aggressive that little could be done).

Weiye Loh

Rubber data | - 0 views

  • Maps are great because our brains are good at making sense of pictures. So representing data in a visual form is a good way of understanding it. The question is how.
  • in reality things are more complicated. You'll probably have thousands of books and customers. Each book now comes, not with a pair of numbers, but with a huge long list containing the rating of each customer or perhaps a blank if a specific customer hasn't rated the book. Now you can't simply plot the data and spot the pattern.

    This is where topology comes to the rescue: it gives a neat way of turning shapes into networks. Suppose you've got a wobbly circle as in the figure below. You can cover it by overlapping regions and then draw a dot on a piece of paper for each region. You then connect dots corresponding to overlapping regions by an edge. The network doesn't retain the wobbliness of the shape, that information has been lost, but its topology, the fact that it's circular, is clearly visible. And the great thing is that it doesn't matter what kind of covering you use to make your network. As long as the regions are small enough — the resolution is high enough — the network will draw out the topology of the shape.

    The reason why even the most bewildered tourist can find their way around the tube network easily is that the map does away with geographical accuracy in favour of clarity. The map retains the general shape of the tube network, the way the lines connect, but it distorts the actual distances between stations and pretends that trains only run in straight lines, horizontally, vertically or inclined at 45 degree angles. That isn't how they run in reality, but it makes the map a lot easier to read. It's a topological map named after an area of maths, topology, which tries to understand objects in terms of their overall shape rather than their precise geometry. It's also known as rubber sheet geometry because you're allowed to stretch and squeeze shapes, as long as you don't tear them.
Weiye Loh

Stanford Security Lab Tracks Do Not Track - 0 views

  • What they found is that more than half the NAI member companies did not remove tracking codes after someone opted out.
  • At least eight NAI members promise to stop tracking after opting out, but nonetheless leave tracking cookies in place.
  • I take that to mean that the other 25 companies never actually said they would remove tracking cookies, it’s just that they belong to a fellowship that wishes they would.

    On the positive side, ten companies went beyond what their privacy policy promises (say that three times fast) and two companies were “taking overt steps to respect Do Not Track.”

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  • There’s probably a small percentage of companies who will blatantly ignore any attempts to stop tracking. For the rest, it’s more likely a case of not having procedures in place. Their intentions are good, but lack of manpower and the proper tech is probably what’s keeping them from following through on those good thoughts.
  • Since they can’t go after them with big guns, the Stanford study went with public embarrassment. They’ve published a list of the websites showing which ones are compliant and which ones aren’t. If you’re working with an ad network, you might want to check it out.
    The folks at the Stanford Security Lab are a suspicious bunch. Since they're studying how to make computers more secure, I guess it comes with the territory. Their current interest is tracking cookies and the Do Not Track opt-out process. Using "experimental software," they conducted a survey to see how many members of the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), actually complied with the new Do Not Track initiatives.
Weiye Loh

Keen On… Michael Fertik: Why Data is the New Oil and Why We, the Consumer, Ar... - 0 views

    In today's Web 3.0 personal data rich economy, reputation is replacing cash, Fertik believes. And he is confident that his company,, is well placed to become the new rating index of this digital ecosystem.

    But Fertik isn't ecstatic about the way in which new online products, such as facial recognition technology, are exploiting the privacy of online consumers. Arguing that "data is the new oil," Fertik believes that the only people not benefitting from today's social economy are consumers themselves. Rather than government legislation, however, the solution, Fertik told me, are more start-up entrepreneurs like himself providing paid products that empower consumers in our Web 3.0 world of pervasive personalized data.

    This is the second and final part of my interview with Fertik. Yesterday, he explained to me why people will pay for privacy.
Weiye Loh

When information is power, these are the questions we should be asking | Online Journal... - 0 views

  • “There is absolutely no empiric evidence that shows that anyone actually uses the accounts produced by public bodies to make any decision. There is no group of principals analogous to investors. There are many lists of potential users of the accounts. The Treasury, CIPFA (the UK public sector accounting body) and others have said that users might include the public, taxpayers, regulators and oversight bodies. I would be prepared to put up a reward for anyone who could prove to me that any of these people have ever made a decision based on the financial reports of a public body. If there are no users of the information then there is no point in making the reports better. If there are no users more technically correct reports do nothing to improve the understanding of public finances. In effect all that better reports do is legitimise the role of professional accountants in the accountability process.
  • raw data – and the ability to interrogate that – should instead be made available because (quoting Anthony Hopwood): “Those with the power to determine what enters into organisational accounts have the means to articulate and diffuse their values and concerns, and subsequently to monitor, observe and regulate the actions of those that are now accounted for.”
  • Data is not just some opaque term; something for geeks: it’s information: the raw material we deal in as journalists. Knowledge. Power. The site of a struggle for control. And considering it’s a site that journalists have always fought over, it’s surprisingly placid as we enter one of the most important ages in the history of information control.
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    • 3 questions to ask of any transparency initiative:

      1. If information is to be published in a database behind a form, then it’s hidden in plain sight. It cannot be easily found by a journalist, and only simple questions will be answered.
      2. If information is to be published in PDFs or JPEGs, or some format that you need proprietary software to see, then it cannot be easily be questioned by a journalist
      3. If you will have to pass a test to use the information, then obstacles will be placed between the journalist and that information

      The next time an organisation claims that they are opening up their information, tick those questions off. (If you want more, see Gurstein’s list of 7 elements that are needed to make effective use of open data).

    control of information still represents the exercise of power, and how shifts in that control as a result of the transparency/open data/linked data agenda are open to abuse, gaming, or spin.
Weiye Loh

TODAYonline | Tech & Digital | Digital | Facebook may sell you out - 0 views

    By law, neither Facebook nor the government is obliged to inform a user when an account is subject to a search by law enforcement, though prosecutors are required to disclose material evidence to a defendant.

    Twitter and several other social-media sites have formally adopted a policy to notify users when law enforcement asks to search their profile.

    Last January, Twitter successfully challenged a gag order imposed by a federal judge that forbade them from informing users that the government had demanded their data.

    Twitter said in an email message that its policy was "to help users protect their rights." The Facebook spokesperson would not say whether the company had a similar policy to notify users or if it was considering adopting one. REUTERS
Weiye Loh

A Data Divide? Data "Haves" and "Have Nots" and Open (Government) Data « Gurs... - 0 views

  • Researchers have extensively explored the range of social, economic, geographical and other barriers which underlie and to a considerable degree “explain” (cause) the Digital Divide.  My own contribution has been to argue that “access is not enough”, it is whether opportunities and pre-conditions are in place for the “effective use” of the technology particularly for those at the grassroots.
  • The idea of a possible parallel “Data Divide” between those who have access and the opportunity to make effective use of data and particularly “open data” and those who do not, began to occur to me.  I was attending several planning/recruitment events for the Open Data “movement” here in Vancouver and the socio-demographics and some of the underlying political assumptions seemed to be somewhat at odds with the expressed advocacy position of “data for all”.
  • Thus the “open data” which was being argued for would not likely be accessible and usable to the groups and individuals with which Community Informatics has largely been concerned – the grassroots, the poor and marginalized, indigenous people, rural people and slum dwellers in Less Developed countries. It was/is hard to see, given the explanations, provided to date how these folks could use this data in any effective way to help them in responding to the opportunities for advance and social betterment which open data advocates have been indicating as the outcome of their efforts.
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  • many involved in “open data” saw their interests and activities being confined to making data ‘legally” and “technically” accessible — what happened to it after that was somebody else’s responsibility.
  • while the Digital Divide deals with, for the most part “infrastructure” issues, the Data Divide is concerned with “content” issues.
  • where a Digital Divide might exist for example, as a result of geographical or policy considerations and thus have uniform effects on all those on the wrong side of the “divide” whatever their socio-demographic situation; a Data Divide and particularly one of the most significant current components of the Open Data movement i.e. OGD, would have particularly damaging negative effects and result in particularly significant lost opportunities for the most vulnerable groups and individuals in society and globally. (I’ve discussed some examples here at length in a previous blogpost.)
  • Data Divide thus would be the gap between those who have access to and are able to use Open (Government) Data and those who are not so enabled.
  • 1. infrastructure—being on the wrong side of the “Digital Divide” and thus not having access to the basic infrastructure supporting the availability of OGD.

    2. devices—OGD that is not universally accessible and device independent (that only runs on I-Phones for example)

    3. software—“accessible” OGD that requires specialized technical software/training to become “usable”

    4. content—OGD not designed for use by those with handicaps, non-English speakers, those with low levels of functional literacy for example

    5.  interpretation/sense-making—OGD that is only accessible for use through a technical intermediary and/or is useful only if “interpreted” by a professional intermediary

    6. advocacy—whether the OGD is in a form and context that is supportive for use in advocacy (or other purposes) on behalf of marginalized and other groups and individuals

    7. governance—whether the OGD process includes representation from the broad public in its overall policy development and governance (not just lawyers, techies and public servants).

Weiye Loh

Unhappy meal: Data retention bill could lure sex predators into McDonalds, libraries - 0 views

  • mandatory data retention legislation. The bill that they have proposed requires that Internet Service Providers, such as Comcast and Time Warner, save records of the IP addresses they assign to their customers for a period of 18 months.
  • Data retention is a controversial topic and loudly opposed by the privacy community. To counter such criticism, the bill's authors have cunningly (and shamelessly) named it the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011. This of course means that anyone who opposes data retention must go on record as opposing measures to catch sexual predators.
  • The bill includes a curious exception to the retention requirements: it doesn't apply to wireless data providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, or operators of public WiFi networks, such as Starbucks and McDonalds.

    When questioned about this, a Republican committee staffer told CNET in May that the wireless loophole was added because wireless networks are designed in such a way that IP addresses are assigned to multiple users or accounts and they are "not technologically capable of retaining the type of data that law enforcement needs because that's not how their system works."

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  • This explanation is completely bogus. Wireless providers, like wireline broadband providers, are quite capable of retaining logs of the IP addresses they temporarily issue to their customers. Many wireless providers, such as Sprint and Verizon, already retain IP logs for at least a year.

    The true explanation for the loophole is, I believe, that the wireless carriers have powerful and remarkably effective lobbyists.

    In this opinion piece, a cybersecurity researcher argues that loopholes in a new data retention bill push those wanting to use the 'Net anonymously into cafes, libraries, and fast food restaurants. The following op-ed does not necessarily represent the opinions of Ars Technica.
Weiye Loh

Facebook blocks Google Chrome extension for exporting friends | ZDNet - 0 views

  • Facebook Friend Exporter wasn’t designed with Google+ in mind (version 1 was in fact released in November 2010), but it has exploded in the past week as Google+ beta users look for ways to port over all their Facebook friends to Google+. Facebook clearly noticed a spike in usage (the extension now has more than 17,000 users), and decided to block it.

    Mansour says that Facebook removed emails from their mobile site, which were critical to the original design of his extension. He told me that the company had implemented a throttling mechanism: if you visit any friend page five times in a short period of time, the email field is removed.

  • “Facebook is actually hiding data (email) from you to see when your friends explicitly shared that to you,” Mansour told me in an e-mail. “Making it really hard to scrape because the only missing data is your emails, and that is your friends identity. Nothing else is.”
  • As CNET points out, Facebook Friend Exporter technically violates Facebook’s Terms of Service. Section 3.2 states the following:

    You will not collect users’ content or information, or otherwise access Facebook, using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without our permission.

    Mansour doesn’t care about this, as he says in the extension’s description:

    Get *your* data contact out of Facebook, whether they want you to or not. You gave them your friends and allowed them to store that data, and you have right to take it back out! Facebook doesn’t own my friends.

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  • After he found out that Facebook was throttling the email field once his extension got popular, he wrote the following on his Google+ profile:

    I am bloody annoyed now, because this proves Facebook owns every users data on Facebook. You don’t own anything!

Weiye Loh

Is Murdoch free to destroy tabloid’s records? | MediaFile - 0 views

    Here's some News of the World news to spin the heads of American lawyers. According to British media law star Mark Stephens of Finers Stephens Innocent (whom The Times of London has dubbed "Mr Media"), Rupert Murdoch's soon-to-be shuttered tabloid may not be obliged to retain documents that could be relevant to civil and criminal claims against the newspaper-even in cases that are already underway. That could mean that dozens of sports, media, and political celebrities who claim News of the World hacked into their telephone accounts won't be able to find out exactly what the tabloid knew and how it got the information.
    If News of the World is to be liquidated, Stephens told Reuters, it "is a stroke of genius-perhaps evil genius."
Weiye Loh

Is Assange the "world-spirit embodied"? A Hegel scholar reports fro... - 0 views

  • Although the atmosphere at the Troxy was very genial, and Žižek generally enthusiastic about WikiLeaks (as he was in the London Review of Books article he published about it), there was a distinct tension between the rather standard Enlightenment rhetoric employed by Assange (more facts, a more complete historical record, better educated journalists)  and the significantly more radical conclusions the philosopher was drawing. This is why - whilst it should no doubt be read in a similar light as Žižek’s own remarks on his position during the conversation (I feel now like that Stalinist commentator: the leader has spoken, I provide the deeper meaning) - the ventured analogy nevertheless contains a kernel of truth beyond its bombast: defining the emancipatory significance of phenomena should not be left to the actors alone.
  • in response to Goodman's initial question on the significance of the Iraq war logs, Assange primarily emphasized the concrete revelations WikiLeaks had provided. He mentioned the 400.000 cables leaked, 15.000 previously unreported deaths revealed, a video of an American helicopter mowing down civilians, and so on. In contrast, Žižek went far enough to say that even if WikiLeaks had not revealed a single new thing, it should be considered game-changing. Why? Because of the very way it functions. For the philosopher, our democracies not only have rules regarding what can be revealed, but also rules which regulate the transgression of those first rules (the independent press, NGOs, etc). The contention then is that WikiLeaks operates outside both these sets of rules, and that there is the source of its power.
  • the reply was firmly anchored in the key trope Žižek has championed since his first major work in English: that ideology in today's "post-ideological" world is not dead, but rather more powerful than ever - alive not so much on the level of knowledge but in the ways it structures social reality itself.
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  • Žižek points out, the innocence of the accusers is anything but innocent; they decry the violence of WikiLeaks revelations, themselves oblivious to the military, economic, political and social framework of everyday violence that goes unmentioned in public discourse. The violence of leaks is on a formal level, and precisely this is at the root of the Slovene’s exclamation to Assange: “Yes, you are a terrorist, but by God, then what are they?”
  • WikiLeaks should not be seen as merely another chapter in investigative journalism and free flow of information, but a positive, subversive emancipatory force by virtue of the way it operates outside the system of secrets and allowed revelations. What then remains ahead is the hard task of keeping this subversive strength alive.
     in response to Goodman's initial question on the significance of the Iraq war logs, Assange primarily emphasized the concrete revelations WikiLeaks had provided. He mentioned the 400.000 cables leaked, 15.000 previously unreported deaths revealed, a video of an American helicopter mowing down civilians, and so on. In contrast, Žižek went far enough to say that even if WikiLeaks had not revealed a single new thing, it should be considered game-changing. Why? Because of the very way it functions. For the philosopher, our democracies not only have rules regarding what can be revealed, but also rules which regulate the transgression of those first rules (the independent press, NGOs, etc). The contention then is that WikiLeaks operates outside both these sets of rules, and that there is the source of its power.
Weiye Loh

"Open" - "Necessary" but not "Sufficient" « Gurstein's Community Informatics - 0 views

  • Egon Willighagen commenting on Peter Murray-Rusk response to my blogpost  writes:

    Open Data is *not* about how to present (governmental) data in a human readable way to the general public to take advantage of (though I understand why he got that idea), but Open Data is about making this technically and legally *possible*. He did not get that point, unfortunately.

  • “Open Data” as articulated above by Willighagen has the form of a private club—open “technically” (and “legally”) to all to join but whose membership requires a degree of education, ressources, technical skill such as to put it out of the reach of any but a very select group.
  • Parminder Jeet Singh in his own comments contrasts Open Data with Public Data—a terminology and conceptual shift with which I am coming to agree—where Public Data is data which is not only “open” but also is designed and structured so as to be usable by the broad “public” (“the people”).

Weiye Loh

Gurstein - 0 views

    A huge industry has been created responding to the perceived social malady, the "Digital Divide". This paper examines the concepts and strategies underlying the notion of the Digital Divide and concludes that it is little more than a marketing campaign for Internet service providers. The paper goes on to present an alternative approach - that of "effective use" - drawn from community informatics theory which recognizes that the Internet is not simply a source of information, but also a fundamental tool in the new digital economy.
Weiye Loh

Open data, democracy and public sector reform - 0 views

    Governments are increasingly making their data available online in standard formats and under licenses that permit the free re-use of data. The justifications advanced for this include claims regarding the economic potential of open government data (OGD), the potential for OGD to promote transparency and accountability of government and the role of OGD in supporting the reform and reshaping of public services. This paper takes a pragmatic mixed-methods approach to exploring uses of data from the UK national open government data portal,, and identifies how the emerging practices of OGD use are developing. It sets out five 'processes' of data use, and describes a series of embedded cases of education OGD use, and use of public-spending OGD. Drawing upon quantitative and qualitative data it presents an outline account of the motivations driving different individuals to engage with open government data, and it identifies a range of connections between open government data use of processes of civic change. It argues that a "data for developers" narrative that assumes OGD use will primarily be mediated by technology developers is misplaced, and that whilst innovation-based routes to OGD-driven public sector reform are evident, the relationship between OGD and democracy is less clear. As strategic research it highlights a number of emerging policy issues for developing OGD provision and use, and makes a contribution towards theoretical understandings of OGD use in practice.
Weiye Loh

Are the Open Data Warriors Fighting for Robin Hood or the Sheriff?: Some Refl... - 0 views

  • The ideal that these nerdy revolutionaries are pursuing is not, as with previous generations—justice, freedom, democracy—rather it is “openness” as in Open Data, Open Information, Open Government. Precisely what is meant by “openness” is never (at least certainly not in the context of this conference) really defined in a form that an outsider could grapple with (and perhaps critique). 
  • the “open data/open government” movement begins from a profoundly political perspective that government is largely ineffective and inefficient (and possibly corrupt) and that it hides that ineffectiveness and inefficiency (and possible corruption) from public scrutiny through lack of transparency in its operations and particularly in denying to the public access to information (data) about its operations.
  • further that this access once available would give citizens the means to hold bureaucrats (and their political masters) accountable for their actions. In doing so it would give these self-same citizens a platform on which to undertake (or at least collaborate with) these bureaucrats in certain key and significant activities—planning, analyzing, budgeting that sort of thing. Moreover through the implementation of processes of crowdsourcing this would also provide the bureaucrats with the overwhelming benefits of having access to and input from the knowledge and wisdom of the broader interested public.
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  • A lot of the conference took place in specialized workshops where the technical details on how to link various sets of this newly available data together with other sets, how to structure this data so that it could serve various purposes and perhaps most importantly how to design the architecture and ontology (ultimately the management policies and procedures) of the data itself within government so that it is “born open” rather than only liberated after the fact with this latter process making the usefulness of the data in the larger world of open and universally accessible data much much greater.
  • t’s the taxpayer’s money and they have the right to participate in overseeing how it is spent. Having “open” access to government’s data/information gives citizens the tools to exercise that right.

    And (it is argued), solutions are available for putting into the hands of these citizens the means/technical tools for sifting and sorting and making critical analyses of government activities if only the key could be turned and government data was “accessible” (“open”).

  • it matters very much who the (anticipated) user is since what is being put in place are the frameworks for the data environment  of the future and these will include for the most part some assumptions about who the ultimate user is or will be and whether or not a new “data divide” will emerge written more deeply into the fabric of the Information Society than even the earlier “digital (access) divide”.
Weiye Loh

World Bank Institute: We're also the data bank - video | Media | - 0 views

    Aleem Walji, practice manager for innovation at the World Bank Institute, which assists and advises policy makers and NGOs, tells the Guardian's Activate summit in London about the organisation's commitment to open data
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