Sunday, February 23, 2020

Automated Law: The Banalities of Constructing a Social Credit Style Rating System with Western Characteristics, One Well Meaning Intervention at a Time

Westerners, and especially their elites and social media "influencers" of mass opinion, tend to wax ever so eloquently about the dangers of data driven governance.  They worry especially about social credit systems, and more pointedly those "oriental" systems that are both hierarchical and managed by the state.  They fear a social control that manages people into certain behaviors defined and enforced through state organs (or the administrative organs of enterprises pursuing their own aims). But they also worry about the enterprises whose operations make such systems possible (e.g., here).

And yet, in the most banal of ways, liberal democratic society continues to construct its own contextually relevant social credit and data driven governance systems. These are the very systems that the so-called protectors of core liberal democratic values caution against.  And so they do. . . . unless it suits projects for the (re)construction of people and institutions into some sort of ideal type. That construction now clearly has two quite distinct faces.

The first--and the one that most anyone with any pretension influencing public opinion tends to focus on--includes compliance and ratings systems developed in the context of economic activity and overseen  by enterprises, the state, or both.  Usually these are understood in the context of compliance and risk prevention, mitigation, and remediation, initiatives.  Sometimes they are indirectly managed by the state--for example through guidance letters circulated by administrative officials to individuals or enterprises subject to their authority. These include the Department of Justice circulars on guiding the exercise of prosecutorial discretion to charge enterprises (DoJ, Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs (April 2019)), and the controversial circular by the Obama Administration "dear colleague letter respecting the management of claims made under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 in universities (HERE). Often, and more criticized are data driven interventions by enterprises, especially where such systems focus on data gathering for their own management of stakeholders or consumers, or where such data is monetized in data markets, or especially where the data is used for decision making that may reflect social bias.

The second--and the one that tens to be ignored or more often lauded by that group of influencers--includes ratings systems (sometimes with rewards and punishments usually for those who consent to participate in the programs). These are both criticized and utilized by all social actors (relative ease with which they may be developed and deployed by just anyone.  It is perhaps for this reason that ratings systems have become popular among non-giovernmental organizations e.g., The Credit Rating Controversy; What’s (Still) Wrong with Credit Rating Agencies)--from credit rating (here) to university (here) ratings systems. Increasingly, ranking have become the means  through which the business of state--and of the business of exercising administrative discretion in the public and private sector--is undertaken. And indeed, it appears that the more the systems of rankings are criticized, the more important they are in managing and ordering the structures of everyday life. Deliciously ironic is the current absurdity of elite life in liberal democratic states where the increase in criticisms of ratings systems increase in proportion to their use by the very people delivering these criticisms for consumption by the masses or (usually more well targeted to their own social "in group set").

What makes the second form of ratings both more potent and more banal, is the ease with which they can be created and used. Even more easy is the flexibility built into markets driven democratic systems for private parties to seek to strengthen their data driven ratings systems by algorithms that produce punishments and rewards  depending on where on the ratings scale the object of ratings falls. I have spoken about the ease with which these ratings systems can be constructed, and can be converted into a proper social credit regime (see "Social Credit and Foreign Enterprises Along the Silk Road": Remarks prepared for a Lecture Delivered at the Institute for East Asian Studies Cologne, Germany October 2019).

All that is needed for the construction of a ratings system is: (1) access to data; (2) a means of rationally analyzing the data on the basis of ordering principles; and (3) a way of reducing that analysis (e.g., of flattening the analysis) to a relational identifier that signals the conformity of the object of analysis to an ideal type. Given this simple framework--this framework that values bias (one is not looking for "facts", one is instead looking to create incentives to change behaviors measured against an ideal that is itself the product of ideological choices made by the person or institution seeking to construct the rating system, and thus its inherent political nature)--it becomes easy to see how anyone can construct such systems as long as one has access to data and analytics as well as a clear vision of the object of rating. 

It is for this reason, of course, that both non-governmental organizations and enterprises value data driven ratings as an easy means of attempting to (1) control narrative; (2) change behavior; (3) augment the legitimacy of the ideological positions buried within the ratings metrics. Ratings, in this sense, becomes banal. And so banal--and uncontrolled, another object of markets for the management of stakeholder.  In this sense it is value producing not just as politics but as ideology as well.  And to the extent it can be monetized, it represents a means by which an organization can make money by"preaching through ratings.

All of this comes clearly into focus in the recent efforts by Harry, the current Duke of Sussex, to change the way that people think about traveling.  To that end, the Duke has shown how virtually anyone, with access to economic and financial power, can dive into the ratings management arena and leverage the power of data driven rankings to change the behaviors of targeted individuals or institutions. That effort, of course, was not undertaken b y the Duke himself.  He no doubt is far too busy to actually gather data, construct analytics, develop the ideologically based principles, and produce the ranking necessary to undertake this project.  Rather, he serves as a nexus point around which those institution that might find such an enterprise useful (in every sense of the word) top do the work over which he presides. But that is the point! As long as one can aggregate the necessary factors for the production of rankings, anything is possible.

The rest is politics and one's placement on the hierarchies within the aristocracies of Western liberal democracy. And yet that also holds a second essential point of automated governance.  It is this: while anyone (me included) can develop a data driven system of ratings with governance effect, the extent of that effect can also be measured.  And the measure of that effect is in part a function of the power and authority of those doing the ratings.  It is not enough, then, to be able to build a ratings scheme.  It is also necessary to amass enough power (whether measured by influence, authority, control, or other measures) to induce stakeholders to pay attention and to believe that the ratings will have consequences for their own welfare (in the case of companies an effect on their ability to generate revenue; in the case of consumers their belief that ratings affect their place within the societal order they inhabit).

In the case of the Duke of Sussex's efforts, that involved "partnering" with  key actors to create Travelyst, an effort to produce ratings related to the carbon footprint of travel. Note here the nexus of connection between the idea--sustainability--and the leading group which together effectively creates a regulatory joint venture that is vertically integrated for the production and utilization of data; which have the economic capacity to develop and operate analytics based systems, and which have the technical know how to design and broadcast the ratings.  They each, and together, also have the capacity to produce the sorts of rewards and punishments necessary to convert a ratings into a social credit system (e.g., by adjusting the price of their services for individuals and organizations who conform to behavior standards as evidenced by increases in the positive value of their ratings). This sets the stage for an effective (within the ambit of its "jurisdiction") automated regulatory system. "We want to be the driving force that paves a new way to travel, helping everyone explore our world in a way that protects both people and places, and secures a positive future for destinations and local communities for generations to come." (Travelyst website)) But it also suggests the peril of behavior modification through ratings systems as politics where the proponent, himself, my be subject to  criticism for failure to modify his own behavior.

News coverage of this new ratings effort and its partners follow below. I leave it to readers to form their own conclusions within the greater context of data driven behavior changing ratings and its growing ubiquity within the societal structures of the West.  What is clear, however, is that there is a certain perversity in the emerging systems of automated law.  In this case, even as its challenge for conventional principles of human rights is noted, it is sometimes irresistible by those who defend human rights and old fashioned principles of liberal democracy to use the very tools they might find troubling (e.g., where social objectives do not align) to advance their own aims for behavior modification and attainment of the perfected individual engaging with perfected institutions within a perfected social system.

The images above are all from the Travelyst website (with the exception of the picture from Oxfam's "Behind the Brands Scorecard."

How many points do you have, Harry? Private jet-loving Duke will launch eco-friendly holiday scheme with 'scoring system' to track carbon emissions... after he flies to UK next week

Daily Mail
-Harry wants Travalyst to 'bring more transparency around carbon emissions'
-It comes after Harry and his wife Meghan were criticised for using private jets
-Duke is expected to visit Edinburgh later this month to help launch the scheme
-Harry will host a summit with 100 people from the tourism and travel industry

By Mark Duell for MailOnline
Published: 10:34 EST, 21 February 2020 | Updated: 11:22 EST, 21 February 2020

The Duke of Sussex will launch a new holiday scheme with a 'scoring system' to help tourists pick environmentally-friendly flights when he flies back to Britain next week.

Prince Harry wants the Travalyst project to 'bring more transparency around carbon emissions for individual flights' and make holidays as eco-friendly as possible.

It comes after Harry and his wife Meghan were criticised for using private jets last year, including four trips in just 11 days in August, despite their eco credentials.

The Duke and Duchess were also said to have flown into Florida for a JP Morgan conference in Miami on February 6 on the bank's private jet from Vancouver.

Harry, who is currently in Canada with Meghan and their nine-month-old son Archie is expected to visit Edinburgh later this month to help launch the Travalyst scheme.

He will host a summit with about 100 people from the tourism and travel industry to test out plans for scoring in accommodation, aviation and travel experiences.

The trip will be in addition to six other planned engagements the couple have in Britain over a two-week period as they prepare to step down as senior royals. 

A source told the Daily Telegraph of the project: 'It's not telling consumers and people what they should and shouldn't be doing. We want to create an industry where people's choices will automatically be better for the planet.'

But news of him launching the project was met with a mixed reaction on Twitter today, with one person saying: 'He needs to start with his own flight.' 

Harry and Meghan's Instagram account made the announcement on Travalyst last September
Another added: ''Presume this is just for his own holidays, or is he back to lecturing us who work 50 weeks a year on how we should spend our two weeks off?' 

And a third tweeted: 'Do you think he'll publish his carbon footprint with all his flights over the last five years? I don't.'

Harry and Meghan are closing their Buckingham Palace office, making up to 15 members of staff redundant, but a small team will continue to work on Travalyst. 

Former press officer James Holt and former assistant private secretary Heather Wong, a long-serving policy advisor to Harry, will both be on the staff.

The workers will be employed privately in London to mastermind the Travalyst initiative for Harry and will be operating separately from the Royal Household.

When Harry launched Travalyst in Amsterdam last September, he defended his repeated use of private jets, claiming he needs them for his family's safety.

He had been accused of hypocrisy for using charter flights six times over the summer while urging the public to cut their carbon footprint.

Speaking at the event, he refused to apologise for private flights to Italy, France and Spain, saying: 'I spend 99 per cent of my life travelling the world by commercial.

'Occasionally there needs to be an opportunity [to fly privately] based on a unique circumstance to ensure that my family are safe - it's as simple as that.

'For me it's about balance. It's not a decision I would want to take, but if I have to do that, I will ensure that I balance out the impact that I have.'

Despite his comments, analysis at the time of Harry and Meghan's known flights since their wedding in May 2018 showed six of the ten return trips they took were by private jet - 60 per cent of the total.
Harry dismissed concerns over his carbon footprint by insisting that he 'offsets' his emissions by donating to renewable energy incentives and planting trees.

Sir Elton John said he did this on the prince's behalf when he provided a private plane to fly him and Meghan to his home in the south of France last August.

The prince said: 'I've always offset my CO2. What is offsetting CO2? So many people out there hear about it but don't know about it. In my mind, it's the right thing to do.

'We need to make it cool. But it can't just be a ticking-the-box exercise. Somehow we have to connect people to where that little bit of extra money is actually going.

'The moment you have that connection, you feel like you have a bigger purpose in life, you can actually see the difference you are making.'
What is the Travalyst initiative and why has it been launched? 

Travalyst is a global project to encourage the tourism industry to become more sustainable and make eco-choices simpler for travellers.

Prince Harry has spent three years working on the initiative which he hopes will improve conservation, environmental protection and help increase the economic benefits of tourism for local communities.

The Duke of Sussex and the co-founders of the project -, Ctrip, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and Visa - want to spark a movement of like-minded companies and organisations to make the future of travel more sustainable.

The long-term initiative is focused on tackling the travel industry's impact on climate change, improving wildlife conservation, and protecting the environment in top tourist spots around the world.

The Duke has said on Instagram that the name is a mixture of the words 'travel' and 'catalyst', adding that it comes from 'viewing our role in sustainable travel as catalysts to accelerate positive changes in travel'. 

He added: '#Travalyst aims to make travel more sustainable, to help protect destinations and benefit communities long into the future, and to enable consumers to make more environmental friendly choices whilst traveling.' 

It aims to increase the amount of tourism money that goes to local communities, and find answers to over-tourism.

In 2018, the number of international trips taken globally reached 1.4 billion, a number reached two years faster than originally projected by the United Nations' tourism agency, the World Tourism Organization.

According to the World Bank, the number of trips taken annually by people around the globe has more than doubled since 2000.

Travel and tourism fed $8.8 trillion into the global economy in 2018, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

In 10 years, the number of tourists visiting countries in emerging markets will reach 1 billion annually, comprising 57 percent of all international trips, the UN agency said.

Sunshine Sachs, a US public relations firm, has been assisting the palace press office with the project, liaising with US media and the American-based firms who are part of the scheme. 

Harry added at the time: 'I've learned that we cannot dismiss the idea of trying to do something, just because we can't do everything. We can all do better. And while no one is perfect, we are all responsible for our own individual impact.'

One trip last July saw the sixth in line to the throne fly on a private jet to Sicily to deliver a speech at 'Google Camp'.

He also took holidays to Ibiza and Nice last August with his wife and son that produced 82 tons of CO2. That is the equivalent of the emissions from 17 cars over a whole year.

Sir Elton and other celebrities weighed in to defend the royal couple at the time, saying private jets were their best option in terms of privacy and security.

However, the same month saw the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge photographed flying with their children on a budget flight from Norfolk to Scotland.

Decisions about the most effective, economical and safe way to travel are taken by a royal visits committee.

* * *

Prince Harry to launch eco-friendly holiday scheme tracking flight pollution


Duke of Sussex will share new 'scoring system' to help tourists pick the most eco-friendly flights and hotels
21 February 2020 • 6:00am

The Duke of Sussex is to launch an online scoring system to show travellers how eco-friendly their flights are, as he embarks on the first major project of his new working life.

The Duke, who will return to the UK from Canada next week for the event, will share details of a prototype scheme to “bring more transparency around carbon emissions for individual flights” and make holidays as environmentally-friendly as possible.

The Travalyst project, which he unveiled in the summer, will be the first of several engagements in his 12-day visit to the UK, which will include a recording session with musician Jon Bon Jovi.

In a social media post yesterday, in which the Sussexes’ team mocked up a text conversation with Bon Jovi, Prince Harry hinted he would be joining in the singing on a single to benefit the Invictus Games Choir on February 28th....

Heart News:

What is Prince Harry’s Travalyst project and what is the purpose of the venture?

4 September 2019, 16:34
By Alice Dear

Prince Harry travelled to Amsterdam this week to announced the launch of Travalyst.

Weeks after the backlash Prince Harry and Meghan Markle received for travelling on holiday via private jet, the Duke of Sussex has launched a new project, Travalyst.

This week, the Duke flew to Amsterdam where he announced the new venture which aims to help tourism adopt sustainable practices.

Speaking of the project, Prince Harry said: “As tourism inevitably grows, it is critically important to accelerate the adoption of sustainable practices worldwide and to balance this growth with the needs of the environment and the local population."

Here’s everything you need to know about Travalyst

We are excited to announce the launch of ‘Travalyst’, a global initiative striving to change the impact of tourism, for good. Partnering alongside key travel industry giants @Bookingcom, #Ctrip, @Skyscanner, @TripAdvisor and @Visa_US, our aim is to spark a movement to transform the future of travel, putting communities at the heart of the solution. We believe in the power and importance of travel. We also have a shared responsibility to our planet and to each other. • “I want to start with a little bit of background as to specifically why I’m here today, because as you may know, I am not a tourism or business expert, but through my travels I have observed the unique relationship between community and environment, and have noticed something alarming. There wasn’t the symbiosis or connection there needed to be and I wanted to understand why. I am one of those people fortunate enough to have a platform and I want to use it to tackle hard problems, in the hope of finding solutions…and that’s how Travalyst was born” - The Duke of Sussex The name #Travalyst comes from The Duke and partners viewing our role in sustainable travel as catalysts to accelerate positive changes in travel. Travel + catalyst = Travalyst #Travalyst aims to make travel more sustainable, to help protect destinations and benefit communities long into the future, and to enable consumers to make more environmental friendly choices whilst traveling. The Duke of Sussex, having invited the founding partners to start the conversation, believes that the organisations - with operations in nearly every country, hundreds of millions of customers that use their products every day, and business relationships around the world - have sufficient influence and the critical mass necessary to catalyse real system change in the travel industry, for the benefit of destinations, communities and ecosystems. To discover more about the new initiative, visit

What is Travalyst?
Travalyst is a new initiative led by the Duke of Sussex and founded by, Ctrip, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and Visa.
The project is the first from the Sussex Royal Foundation.
The aim of the venture is to ensure that as tourism grows, companies are adopting sustainable practices in order to protect the environment.
Travalyst looks to bring companies, consumers and communities together to help protect the ecosystem.

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