TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. America loves to take sides in regional conflicts. In Yemen, we shouldn’t.

By Paul R. Pillar in the National Interest

2. Here’s why Congress should drop the ban on federal funds for needle exchanges. (It’s because they work.)

By Kevin Robert Frost at CNN

3. Cheap coal is a lie.

By Al Gore and David Blood in the Guardian

4. How small-batch distilling could save family farms.

By Andrew Amelinckx in Modern Farmer

5. Can you fix city management with data? Mike Bloomberg is betting $42 million you can.

By Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME world affairs

GDP Is a Bad Measure of Our Economy—Here’s a Better One

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GDP growth is being challenged by a new holistic set of variables and shows the U.S. lags behind in crucial areas

Are we in the midst of a great paradigm shift?

That was the question raised this morning at the Skoll World Forum by Michael Green, the Executive Director of the Social Progress Imperative and the force behind the Social Progress Index (SPI), a new trove of data which offer a holistic snapshot of the health of societies across the world. Using 52 social and environmental indicators across 160 countries, the SPI offers a rigorous, granular and more meaningful alternative to the gospel that is Gross Domestic Product (GDP); what has become the official, if flawed, measure of a nation’s standing in the global economy.

The United States, the world’s wealthiest country in GDP terms, ranks 16th in “social progress.” Compared to our economic peers, we underperform on a number of dimensions, particularly those related to health: life expectancy, premature deaths from diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular and respiratory failure, fatal car accidents, and even maternal and infant mortality rates.

The gap in these standings underscores the limitations of GDP. By focusing exclusively on economic growth, GDP misses – or worse still, externalizes – the costs and value of a number of critical elements of well-being: basic human needs like nutrition, medical care, and shelter; access to education and information; and environmental sustainability – not to mention things harder to measure like rights and freedoms, tolerance, and inclusion.

The SPI is hardly the first challenge to GDP. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first UN Human Development Report, created by Mahbub ul Haq and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and informed by Sen’s work on human capabilities and positive freedom. Accordingly, the UN Development Programme re-conceived of development as a function of human potential, rather than economic growth alone, and its Human Development Index (HDI) measures life expectancy and educational attainment alongside standard of living (GNP per capita). More recently, the UNDP has published HDIs adjusted for inequality and gender inequality along with a multidimensional poverty index. The HDI has also laid the groundwork for a number of different approaches to measuring quality of life, among them, the OECD Better Life Index, gauges of happiness, and important assessments sustainability, among them the Sustainable Society Index.

What distinguishes the SPI is that it is the only comprehensive measure that excludes economic variables.

Instead of replacing GDP, the SPI data complement it by allowing for an assessment of a country’s performance relative to GDP. On this scale, Norway is #1, followed, in a tight band, by Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, and New Zealand. Canada is the highest performing of the G7 countries and Brazil leads the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), followed by South Africa, Russia, China and India. Russia may have a much higher GDP per capita than Brazil or South Africa, but ranks much lower on social progress, coming in at 71.

GDP surely matters. Economic growth and development around the world have raised billions of people out of poverty. The SPI data bear this out; we have made great strides towards the Millennium Development Goals of providing nutrition, basic medical care and access to education for many who lacked such.

But it is important to note that “social progress” does not always correlate with higher GDP—sometimes even when we get richer, things can get worse. Striking examples and areas of concern include environmental sustainability (measured in the SPI by greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and biodiversity). Countries like the U.S., but also rapidly developing countries like China, India, or Brazil consume more as they grow.

The U.S. is also not alone among wealthier countries grappling with diabetes and other issues of morbidity. And of course human rights, and political rights and freedoms, do not always improve with economic growth. Countries like Costa Rica “overperform” on social progress relative to GDP, rich countries like Kuwait, fall significantly short on a number of “progress” measures.

The good news: “GDP isn’t destiny,” says Green. In other words, policy matters, too, and we can choose to invest our surplus GDP in human or environmental capital. Should we choose to. The SPI leaves political economy, and politics, for another day.

In some ways, measures like SPI tell us things we already know: countries that have made substantial and historical investments in their social safety nets score well. The same is true for nations that are relatively homogenous, and—in the case places like New Zealand—somewhat isolated and immune to immigration pressures. It turns out that inclusion counts for a lot. For example, even with impressively high access to advanced education, the U.S. scores much less well on equality in educational attainment. On “access to communications” we rank lower on Internet and mobile phone use than our wealthy peers – despite being home to Silicon Valley.

In other ways, the SPI also allows for counter-intuitive findings, particularly when it comes to inequality.

With detailed information about access to basic services and opportunities, from healthcare, education, and housing to decent policing, freedom of movement and religion, and freedom from discrimination, the SPI is a measure of inclusivity and distribution; as with other alternative indices, a country cannot improve its progress score by simply boosting GDP. However, there is little or no correlation between Social Progress Index scores and the standard measure of income inequality, the GINI Coefficient. One implication: pro-poor measures and investments may matter more than redistribution per se.

All this suggests that measures like SPI offer more than a snapshot; they can be harnessed as a policy tool. Interest in applying the Social Progress Index, an idea hatched at the World Economic Forum two years ago and put into motion as the Social Progress Imperative with support by Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter, has grown dramatically; initiatives using it are under way in 40 countries and the European Commission is creating a customized SPI for the EU. In the U.S., Michigan will announce that it is using an adaptation of the SPI to guide a development agenda for Detroit and other cities. Somerville, Massachusetts is also on board. Expect to see more.

The SPI is also part of a larger revolution – across business, civil society, and government – to measure what matters. Asking the right questions is a critical step towards getting us to better answers and social outcomes, which would be progress indeed.

More from New America:

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The truth is, California doesn’t have a water problem. We all do.

By Steven Johnson in Matter

2. Uber isn’t selling rides. It’s selling data.

By Ron Hirson in Forbes

3. A blind scientist wants to reinvent how the vision-impaired ‘watch’ movies.

By Chris Colin in California Sunday

4. Cute little details may make an app “delightful,” but they’re crowding out thoughtful design.

By John Pavlus in Co.Design

5. These giant robot traffic signals/red-light cameras are actually making the streets of Kinshasa safer.

By Mark Hay in Good

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY

You’ll Be Freaked Out to Learn How Often Your Apps Share Your Location

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Alamy

Most of us are unaware of just how much location sharing is going on with our smartphones.

Even for researchers experienced at examining technology that might be invasive, this warning was alarming: “Your location has been shared 5,398 times with Facebook, Groupon, GO Launcher EX and seven other apps in the last 14 days.”

The warning was sent to a subject as scientists at Carnegie Mellon University were studying the impact of telling consumers how often their mobile phones shared their location and other personal data. Software was installed on users’ phones to better inform them of the data being sent out from their gadgets, and to offer a “privacy nudge” to see how consumers reacted. Here’s how one anonymous subject responded when informed a phone shared data 4,182 times:

“Are you kidding me?… It felt like I’m being followed by my own phone. It was scary. That number is too high.”

Mobile phone users are told about the kinds of things that might be shared when they install apps on their phones, but they have a tendency to “set and forget” the options. That means a single privacy choices, usually made in haste when clicking “install,” governs thousands of subsequent privacy transactions.

“The vast majority of people have no clue about what’s going on,” said Norman Sadeh, a professor in the School of Computer Science’s Institute for Software Research, who helped conduct the study.

But when consumers are reminded about the consequences of choices they make, “they rapidly act to limit further sharing,” the researchers found.

The study covered three weeks. During week one, app behavior data was merely collected. In week two, users were given access to permissions manager software called AppOps. In week three, they got the daily “privacy nudges” detailing the frequency at which their sensitive information was accessed by their apps.

Researchers found that the privacy managing software helped. When the participants were given access to AppOps, they collectively reviewed their app permissions 51 times and restricted 272 permissions on 76 distinct apps. Only one participant failed to review permissions. The “set and forget” mentality continued, however. Once the participants had set their preferences over the first few days, they stopped making changes.

But privacy reminders helped even more. During the third week, users went back and reviewed permissions 69 times, blocking 122 additional permissions on 47 apps.

Nudges Lead to Action

“The fact that users respond to privacy nudges indicate that they really care about privacy, but were just unaware of how much information was being collected about them,” Sadeh said. “App permission managers are better than nothing, but by themselves they aren’t sufficient … Privacy nudges can play an important role in increasing awareness and in motivating people to review and adjust their privacy settings.”

Of course, it’s hard to say if the research participants would have kept futzing with their privacy settings, even inspired by nudges, as time wore on. Sadeh suspected they would not: Privacy choices tend to wear people down. Given the new types and growing numbers of apps now in circulation, “even the most diligent smartphone user is likely to be overwhelmed by the choices for privacy controls,” the study’s authors said.

The findings will be presented at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Seoul, South Korea, next month. The research is supported by the National Science Foundation, Google, Samsung and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

For now, what can smartphone users do to better protect themselves? It’s not easy. For example: A study by IBM earlier this year found that roughly two-thirds of dating apps were vulnerable to exploitation, and in many cases, would give attackers location information. The AppOps software used in the Carnegie Mellon study used to be available to Android users, but was pulled by Google in 2013. The firm said the experimental add-on to the Android operating system had a tendency to break apps. So Android users are left to manually review app permissions one at a time — not a bad way to spend time the next time you are waiting for a bus. It’s always a good idea to turn off location sharing unless you know the software really needs it, such as map applications. IPhone users have the benefit of privacy manager software, but it doesn’t offer great detail on how data is used, and it doesn’t offer privacy nudges or any other kinds of reminders. A manual review is best for iPhone users, too.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

TIME apps

Your Smartphone Could be Tracking You Every 3 Minutes, Study Says

TIME.com stock photos Social Apps iPhone
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Your apps want to know where you are

Smartphone apps regularly collect large amounts of data on users’ locations, sometimes as often as every three minutes, new research suggests.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study where they asked 23 people to use their Android smartphones normally, and tracked location data requests from each device with specially designed software, the Wall Street Journal reports. The researchers found that many popular Android apps tracked their users an average 6,200 times per participant over a two-week period, or about every three minutes.

The WSJ writes:

Even apps that provided useful location-based services often requested the device’s location far more frequently than would be necessary to provide that service, the researchers said. The Weather Channel, for example, which provides local weather reports, requested device location an average 2,000 times, or every 10 minutes, during the study period. Groupon, which necessarily gathers location data to offer local deals, requested one participant’s coordinates 1,062 times in two weeks.

Some of the apps came pre-installed on the phone, and were not as easily deleted, the WSJ reports. The researchers were also looking at whether users would benefit or appreciate software “nudges” that would alert them when sensitive data was being collected by their apps. The researchers found that the participants often changed settings when they learned that their apps were collecting information about them or their location.

The research will be presented at the CHI 2015 conference.

[WSJ]

TIME relationships

Teens Are Totally Over Valentine’s Day

Young love on social media isn't all it's cracked up to be, according to new research provided to TIME

Ah, to be young on Valentine’s Day: walking past aisles of CVS chocolates to pick up your acne medication, stalking your sister’s college roommate on Instagram to admire her cute boyfriend, glaring at the one couple in your high school who prove that teenage love isn’t a cruel rom-com fantasy. Nobody ever said adolescence was a bunch of roses, but now there’s data to prove how sad it really is.

Teenagers are the most miserable group on Valentine’s Day, according to new data compiled by social-media platform We Heart It and provided to TIME. The vast majority of 21,000 responses (over 98%) were from teenage girls, and they didn’t have a lot of love for the holiday. Only 13% of teenagers under 15 think Valentine’s Day is “painful,” while 22% say it’s “overrated,” and 24% think it’s irrelevant. Teenagers are also the least likely age group to send Valentines, with over 53% saying they’re not sending any at all (compared with 41% of respondents over 25).

Teens also have very different attitudes about social media on Valentine’s Day — and it’s giving new meaning to the phrase “love hurts.”

Young teens seem to think that social media is essential to the Valentine’s Day experience: 21% of respondents under 15 said social media was “extremely important” on Valentine’s Day, and over 64% said it was “somewhat” important. By contrast, only 10% of respondents over 25 said they thought it was “very important” to Instagram or Tweet their chocolates and flowers.

But all those vicarious Valentines aren’t making teens feel better — instead, social media make them feel worse. Only 36% said they thought social media made Valentine’s Day more fun, while 65% said social media either made them feel jealous or stressed out (34% said they got jealous, 31% said they got stressed). By contrast, 54% of respondents over 25 said they thought social media made the day more fun.

In other words: Valentine’s Day, like red wine and stinky cheese, just gets better with age.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 11

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Syria’s own ‘Monuments Men’ are trying to stop antiquities from becoming looted to finance terrorism.

By Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak and Duncan Mavin in the Wall Street Journal

2. Scientists have combined a bionic leaf with a bioengineered bacteria to convert solar energy into liquid fuel.

By Elizabeth Cooney at Harvard Medical School

3. A dozen states are using a smart data center to keep voter information up to date. Meet ERIC.

By the Pew Charitable Trusts on YouTube

4. Deciding to embrace big data is a lot easier than changing your culture to use it well.

By Matt Asay in ReadWrite

5. Fighting malaria is going to take more than just nets.

By Utibe Effiong and Lauretta Ovadje with Andrew Maynard in the Conversation

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Data

It’s Better to Be Single on Valentine’s Day

Single Woman
Getty Images

Neil McArthur is a philosopher specializing in ethical issues around sex and love. Marina Adshade is the author Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love.

Valentine's Day is almost always a fail for people in relationships.

“I really love Valentine’s Day!” said no unattached person, ever. And why shouldn’t the holiday be depressing for singles, when everyone else is basking in the glory that is romantic love. While this feeling is understandable, it’s not exactly rational; being in love is no more wonderful, and probably quite a bit less so, on Valentine’s Day than it is on any other day of the year.

From an economic perspective, the value of Valentine’s Day is that it creates an environment in which those in relationships can get information about how committed their partner is. Of course, we look for this information throughout the year, but February 14 is the one day when you have to show your hand. From this perspective, Valentine’s Day is a massive coordinated effort in which men and women have little choice but to spend time and money to assure their partners that they are loved.

And boy do they spend. The National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend a total of $19 billion on Valentine’s giving this year. That averages out to $142 per person celebrating the holiday.

But it is not just the expense that makes it better to be single on Valentine’s Day. To understand why you are better off unattached, it is best to think of gift giving on this day as a type of Prisoner’s Dilemma, the outcome of which determines whether or not a person wants to stay in a relationship.

Valentine’s Day, essentially, is a game in which each person who is in a relationship must choose between two strategies; buy a gift for their significant other or do nothing to celebrate the day. Given that there are two players, each with two strategic options, there are three possible outcomes that can happen on the big day.

The first outcome is that both choose to buy gifts. In this case, both will be satisfied that their partner is committed to the relationship, but that satisfaction comes at a cost. Unlike Christmas, when you occasionally get things you actually want, the vast majority of spending on Valentine’s Day is on items that people do not choose for themselves; 53% receive candy, 38% receive flowers, 21% receive jewelry, and 51% receive greeting cards. The reason we rarely buy these things for ourselves is because they cost more than we personally value them. So when our partners buy them for us, they are not getting the biggest bang for their buck in terms of our happiness.

And on Valentine’s Day, these things often cost more than they do on other days of the year.

The second outcome is that one person in the relationship buys a gift and the other does not. This will likely leave the gift giver with the impression that his or her partner is not committed to the relationship. From now until the middle of March is the one of the biggest times of the year for break ups, according to data from Facebook, and 53% of women say they would dump a guy who ignored Valentine’s Day, two facts that suggest that people who choose this strategy do not end up with much relationship happiness.

The final outcome is that neither person in the relationship gives a gift. This is the outcome that has the biggest return for the couple, especially for those who are already confidently committed. But it is also the outcome that is least likely to occur; the risk is just too high that one person will decide, maybe even at the last minute, to buy a gift for either partner to take the chance that they are going to find themselves in the second outcome — and potentially in the dog house.

The best strategy would be for couples to ignore the holiday altogether, but they won’t because there is just too much pressure to conform to the holiday traditions from both inside and outside the relationship. From a game strategic perspective, participating in the holiday just leads to sub-optimal outcomes.

So, if you are single on Valentine’s Day, you are only missing out on the opportunity to participate in an exercise that makes everyone involved worse off than they would have been had the holiday not existed at all.

Clearly, you are better off being single on Valentine’s Day. And you are certainly no worse off by being single this Saturday than you are any other day of the year.

So, if you really want to enjoy the day, go buy yourself something that you actually want. And, in the future, you might think about dating someone with whom you arrange an efficient allocation of resources on Valentine’s Day; we recommend dating an economist.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 23

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Though the “No Child Left Behind” brand is thoroughly tarnished, the law sparked the revolution of data-driven educating.

By Nick Sheltrown in EdSurge

2. To help cities plan for flooding, drought, wildfires and other effects of climate change, the University of Michigan built an adaptation tool for the Great Lakes region.

By Lisa A. Pappas at University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute

3. Teachers are underpaid in America. Early childhood workers earns even less for setting the foundation of all future learning for our children. That should change.

By Laura Bornfreund at New America Foundation

4. Chicago’s ‘Crime Lab’ — which uses scientific research to understand and experiment with innovative ways to prevent crime — could be replicated in other cities.

By Tina Rosenberg in Fixes, at the New York Times

5. To reduce billions of needless miles driving, a startup is bringing the Uber model to the trucking industry.

By Liz Gannes in Re/code

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 13

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. could improve its counterinsurgency strategy by gathering better public opinion data from people in conflict zones.

By Andrew Shaver and Yang-Yang Zhou in the Washington Post

2. The drought-stricken western U.S. can learn from Israel’s water management software which pores over tons of data to detect or prevent leaks.

By Amanda Little in Bloomberg Businessweek

3. Beyond “Teach for Mexico:” To upgrade Latin America’s outdated public education systems, leaders must fight institutional inequality.

By Whitney Eulich and Ruxandra Guidi in the Christian Science Monitor

4. Investment recommendations for retirees are often based on savings levels achieved by only a small fraction of families. Here’s better advice.

By Luke Delorme in the Daily Economy

5. Lessons from the Swiss: We should start making people pay for the trash they throw away.

By Sabine Oishi in the Baltimore Sun

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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