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HKMA missing opportunity to introduce a foundation for FinTech

HKMA missing opportunity to introduce a foundation for FinTech

Last week the Hong Kong Monetary Authority launched a consultation for “Open API Framework”. The consultation is part of “seven initiatives announced by the HKMA to prepare Hong Kong to move into a New Era of Smart Banking” with the aim to “facilitate the development and wider adoption of API by the banking sector, thereby stimulating innovations and improving financial services through collaboration between banks and tech firms”.

Despite opening up consultation mid January 2018, the original target date to “finalise the policy on Open API” was “by the end of 2017” so it’s unclear if this goal-post is being delayed or not or how serious the HKMA really is for this consultation. More is unclear – under the label of “smart banking”, it’s unclear just what that is. A label left undefined is a label that is hard to argue against. Even a speech by Mr Norman Chan, Chief Executive of the HKMA shepherding “A New Era of Smart Banking” was unclear on the definition beyond listing the laundry list of seven initiatives lacking connective tissue to give a picture of the whole. The convenience of the “Smart Banking” monicker is that it is open-ended enough of a term to be subject to interpretation, and, like other “Smart anything” labels that governments like to attach to initiatives (like “Smart City”), is it sounds good enough to sound like progress no matter what is done.

With the “Open API framework”, this initiative sounds just geeky enough for an industry analyst to gloss over the details and miss out on its importance, and lost opportunity. The Open API framework has roots in the UK, as part of “Open Banking”, a label that already has a recognised definition and history. The HKMA doesn’t have the baggage of Open Banking by using the ambiguous “Smart Banking” term instead, and define it – or not define it – as it sees fit. Taking effect this year, the UK introduced legislation mandating the opening and connectivity of top UK banks, making it more efficient for consumers (personal and commercial accounts) to compare banking products and services, as well as connect third-party banking services (such as lenders and accounting software). It creates the foundation for a more competitive banking environment, as well as an ecosystem to support fintech, opening up much opportunities for achieving the goals shared by HKMA for smart banking: “[facilitate] very rapid innovations that help provide personalised services and much better customer experience”. The UK initiative is taking off worldwide, with much attention. Without much choice, the top UK banks are cooperating on implementing Open Banking, with agreement on its DNA: the Open API framework, which is the set of standards and protocols for data connectivity between banks, third-parties, with full control by the consumer.

The mandate of Open Banking is to “improve competition, efficiency and stimulate innovation” leveraging how “data could be used to help people to transact, save, borrow, lend and invest their money”. Security is built-in from the ground-up, giving consumers control (through permissioning and revoking permissions) over their data. Built on principles of open data, the framework opens up connectivity for the fruits of fintech to flourish, among the connective tissue in an ecosystem of banks, consumers, and data. Without Open Banking, everything remains as it is: a negotiation, trial-and-error, and barriers to exchange and connectivity.  

This is clear in the review of the HKMA Open API consultation. HKMA is skipping the UK’s Open Banking practice of adopting legislation to force banks to participate and cooperate (and compete). As spelled out in the HKMA consultation, the intended benefits and goals are disconnected from the mechanisms to get us there. The HKMA’s Open API framework is a broken set of vague objectives and  inadequate standards. Banks are left to voluntarily adopt their own standards – which are not standards at all – on their own timelines and roadmaps.

The consultation document is honest in its comparison of the UK’s Open Banking initiative and HKMA’s Smart Banking initiative: HKMA will not risk bank profits (or “competitivity”) with Open API, but help nudge them enough to stay up-to-date with international trends:

“The UK needs to adopt this model because there is a specific mandate to address – to allow personal customers and small businesses to compare products and switch between banks – and therefore a set of focused and standardised Open API could be specified“ (paragraph 61) this coincides with “…the policy objectives of Open API for the Hong Kong banking sector to maintain its competitiveness and to offer innovative/convenient service to improve customer experience are general in nature.” (paragraph 64).

If done effectively, Open Banking lays the foundation for consumers and the industry to benefit with competition and connectivity to a digital economy. Without it, and loose strands of Open API standards and disconnected initiatives such as those under HKMA’s “Smart Banking” direction, at best the benefits remain to be seen.

Hong Kong’s parking data failure

Hong Kong’s parking data failure

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 15.16.02Parking is a big deal in HK. It’s a nauseating vicious cycle on the streets: cars circling in search for parking spaces add to congestion, making it even more difficult to find available parking spaces. Compounded by ever-increasing number of drivers and cars on roads in an already dense city bursting at the seams, congestion and traffic delays have a detrimental effect on city efficiency, navigation, and liveability. Some drivers give up, with little consequence, parking illegally and gambling on getting an affordable parking ticket that just makes it worth it to occupy illegal spaces anywhere they can find and park.

The solution seems straight-forward: if drivers can know where their needed parking space is available, then they can just get to them and be on their way with their day. It’s nothing new, really, many cities around the world already employ this tactic and take steps to easing their congestion. Not for lack of trying, this is not the case in Hong Kong. Still stuck behind the times, the government has adopted a paradigm of pushing their own apps (which are already under fire for being a waste of resources to develop) instead of focusing on the accessibility of the data for users, app developers, and anyone else willing to mine the data for patterns that can become insights to diagnose the problem and arrive at solutions. The effect has been locking valuable data behind an app, and leaving an industry of app developers and collaborators in the dark to duplicate government efforts to make the same information available, resulting in a lacking experience for users alike.

A year ago, Hong Kong’s Transport Department underestimated the ease with collecting and disseminating parking space availability for users via their “eRouting app” stating “only slight adjustments to its existing traffic information system is needed such that real-time information on parking vacancies can be disseminated to the public through websites and mobile applications. The implementation of this arrangement will probably not require a huge amount of resources“. A press release half a year ago says the app “contains information provided by car park operators on real-time parking vacancies at some car parks. The [Transport Department] will continue to encourage more car park operators to provide their parking vacancy information so as to help the motorists searching for parking spaces via ‘Hong Kong eRouting’.”

It would be hard to complain about the eRouting app if it even modestly delivered on its commitment to provide “parking information: on-street parking space and car park information (including real-time parking vacancy information of some car parks)”.

By my count:

  • Out of 1465 total parking spaces or parking lots listed in the app:
    • A total of 135 (9.3%) can tell you if they have space available or not.
      • only 112 of these actually indicate the number of spaces in “real-time” (7.6%), with:
      • the remaining 24 only indicating if they have spaces or not (1.6%)

How useful is an app that can tell you what you need to know roughly 9.3% of the time? Not very.

This doesn’t make the eRouting government app very useful. What would be useful is if the government made this data at least accessible publicly, instead of locked away, behind Terms and Conditions (called “Important Notices”) that states:

“any reproduction, adaptation, distribution, redistribution, dissemination, modification, copying, uploading, transmission, retransmission, commercial exploitation of the Work, publication, or making available of the Work to the public is strictly prohibited”

In no uncertain terms, even if you could crack this data, you are not permitted to do anything with it unless given permission. Oddly, the government does provide “real time parking data” to the public, but sadly, this data is even worse than the app data, demonstrating further the Hong Kong government’s break with the aims of other governments, that open data provided to the public should be as useful for the government itself to use.

Hosted on the government’s “Public Sector Information” portal of data (at data.gov.hk), the oddly-named government’s supply of “Real-Time Parking Vacancy Data” is anything but real-time parking vacancy data. It’s a list of parking lots – and a plethora of other data (like location, opening hours, website, contact info, charges) – except the number of spaces available real-time. It’s useless unless you want to plot the parking lots of HK. It is unclear who this data can be useful for. This seems to further reaffirm that the Transport Department has not made progress in understanding what Open Data is.

This data set is altogether counter-intuitive, considering the data portal was built on a “[belief] that the community, particularly technology startups, can develop more innovative and practical applications and services with their creativity and ingenuity. The PSI initiative helps to open up new business opportunities, bring convenience to the public and benefit society as a whole.“. The irony here is we have two government departments working either in opposition, or both failing to deliver on goals and commitments.

The lack of useful real-time parking data on the PSI portal can already claim on parking app victim: TingPark, hailed as a savior to driver’s parking woes and a startup darling and incubated project of Cyberport, has gone bust after spending a few hundred thousand dollars in Cyberport seed money. The app simply couldn’t use the PSI portal’s data in any useful way, or even gather the data from parking lots directly. It’s unfortunate that the app developers couldn’t build on the Transport Department’s progress or resources either.

The recommendation here is straight-forward:

  • Provide the same data set supporting the eRouting app as data on the government’s PSI portal, and have this data support the app (and not the other way around);
  • Deliver on the commitment to gather and disseminate real-time parking vacancies across Hong Kong, as data at a minimum, or provide incentives for the community to gather and disseminate this data.

Further reading

Guest Post: A Data Driven Look At Refugee Crime

Guest Post: A Data Driven Look At Refugee Crime

Like many societies, Hong Kong is having a heated discussion about immigration. Especially in regards to refugees. A common believe here is that refugees commit more crime than the general population and that most criminals are of South East Asian ethnicity. Further some have suggested the increase in refugees has let to a general increase in crime within Hong Kong. This has let to strong comments by some politicians (e.g. Dominic Lee in Sham Shui Po calling for internment camps). However, there is surprisingly little public data available to base these on.

Therefore, Open Data Hong Kong has attempted to acquire some data on the topic, especially Scott Edmunds who has spend a lot of time collecting the data by contacting individual police districts and police regions in Hong Kong through accessinfo requests. So here I will take a look at the data and see if I can find some answers.

The data

First I should mention something about refugees in Hong Kong in general. I was unable to find some accurate numbers on the total numbers of asylum seekers in Hong Kong. According to the immigration department there were around 9 618 people claiming asylum in HK in 2014, 10,922 in 2015, and 9,981 in 2016.

HK never joined the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, and asylum seekers can only apply under the UN Convention Against Torture. Or at least cite as a reason for protection. Furthermore, the recognition rate is very low. About 0.16% of applicants are accepted (the global average is 27%). The application process is quite slow as well. This results that many applicants stay in the city for years and many asylum seeker whose application have been rejected cannot be deported due to a lack of extradition agreement with the corresponding home countries. During their stay applicants, as well as those who are rejected, are not allowed to work, but the government provides some minimal rental, food and medical subsidy (HK allocated HK$450 Million in the budget of 2013/2014). Some have suggested that these subsidies are too low to maintain a living in HK and provide incentives to be involved with criminal activities. The majority of claimants are from South and South East Asia.

To asses crimes committed by refugees in HK I took a look at the data provided by Open Data Hong Kong, as well as publicly available census data and crime statistics. Unfortunately, not all police districts in HK were able to provide the criminal statistics of refugees. In fact only West Kowloon region was able to provide a complete picture across their district. Furthermore, these numbers are arrest statistics and not convictions (ODHK has collected data showing roughly 50% of arrests result in convictions). So any conclusions should be viewed with care.

Is there an increase in arrests?

This question is relatively easy to answer and I have plotted the overall number of arrests for each region by year below.

As you can see there seems to be no overall dramatic increase in arrests for all of the regions. However, there is a slight increase in crime Kowloon East and West, but in general the trend points downwards. This would suggest crime in HK is not increasing.

Arrests of refugees

Since I only have limited data available about refugees in HK I was only able to look at Kowloon West. Hence I compared the number of arrests of refugees with the total number of arrests within this region.

Let me explain this plot in bit more detail. I used data available for 2014 and 2015. Since Hong Kong does not use the phrase refugee as Hong Kong does not recognise the UN Refugee Convention, so the exact legal classifications are a bit vague. Nevertheless, some police stations have called refugees “Form 8” (F8) holders, so I will use this phrase here as well. Thus the plot above shows the number of arrests made in Kowloon West by F8 holders and all arrests between 2014 and 2015.

So comparable those arrests rate look quite small. Indeed in 2014 and 2015 the proportion of arrests of F8 holders was 4% and 5% respectively. So these numbers seem rather stable and would suggest no major change between 2014 and 2015, despite a slight increase in the number of refugees.

Do refugees commit more crime than others?

This question turned out to be much more difficult to answer than I thought. One problem is that I do not know how many refugees live in Kowloon West, further police districts are not the same as council districts. This makes it difficult to get an population estimate since the census data from 2011 only looked at council districts. Thus I am unable to answer this question with the current data. Only the availability of the exact arrest numbers of refugees for the whole of Hong Kong or the exact numbers of refugees living in Kowloon would help to answer this question.

Conclusion

There is no evidence of an increase in crime in Hong Kong (at least from the data available), also there seems to be a slight increase from 2014 to 2015 (looks more like random noise to me however). Arrests of F8 holders was relatively stable between 2014 and 2015. Intuitively I think the proportions of arrests of F8 holders are higher than one would expect given a small population of around 10,000, but one needs to keep in mind that arrests are not convictions. In general the data is not really sufficient to make a conclusive statement. Except that HK is incredibly safe compared to other major cities (0.4 murders per 100,000 people in 2016; one of the lowest in the world).

Thanks for Open Source HK for putting together the ODD event this year. See the interesting round table discussion with three LegCo members on our periscope stream. For more on this particular project, interact with this data via some Shiny visualisations and the raw data being collected at ODHK’s CKAN installation.

Open Data Day 2017, the Hong Kong edition

Open Data Day 2017, the Hong Kong edition

Thankfully no longer clashing with Chinese New Year after some previous lobbying, the 2017 edition of International Open Data Day is Saturday 4th of March. You can see a post on last years edition here. Just to share what Hong Kong is up to for this year, Open Source Hong Kong have done a great job setting up a hackathon at City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon Tong from 10am-6pm. This includes a likely fascinating roundtable at with three data-savvy legislators from LegCo – Charles Mok, Edward Yiu, Chung-Tai Cheng, and Dr Ray Cheung (CityU App Lab), moderated by Dr Haggen So (HKCOTA).

Eventbrite: https://opendatadayhk2017.eventbrite.hk/
Hackpad: https://opensourcehk.hackpad.com/Open-Data-Day-HK-2017-QvQ2MhnhJE6
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/154862401625387/permalink/244902289288064/
Open Data Day Official website: http://opendataday.org/
OKI forum page: https://discuss.okfn.org/t/international-open-data-day-2017-the-hong-kong-edition/4733

Registration is free but is limited to 60 participants, so sign up while there are still places.

Tentative Schedule
10:00 Reception and Networking
10:15 Introduction and Team Forming
11:00 Start of team works / discussions
16:00 Open Data Roundtable with Guests
17:00 Team Presentation
18:00 Closing

Guests at Roundtable (4-5pm) – Discussion of Open Data (Venue: Classroom P4704):
– Hon. Charles Mok 莫乃光 立法會議員 (資訊科技界)
– Hon. 姚松炎 Edward Yiu 立法會議員 (建築、測量、都市規劃及園境界)
– Hon. Chung-Tai Cheng 鄭松泰 立法會議員 (新界西選區)
– Dr. Ray Cheung, Cityu Apps Lab.
(Modarator: Dr. Haggen So, Hong Kong Creative Open Technology Association)

Please register at Eventbrite and visit Hackpad to add your open data day hack ideas. https://opendatadayhk2017.eventbrite.hk/

Venue Sponsor: CityU App Lab
Map/how to get to CityU: https://goo.gl/maps/EBfdwL2eEft

Open Data Day 2017 HK Organising Committee is formed from the following communities and supporters.
Initium Media
Open Data Hong Kong
Open Source Hong Kong

Policy lessons learned from real smart cities

Policy lessons learned from real smart cities

Dumb Versus Smart Cities
img_2608It seemed appropriate in the same week that Hong Kong was hosting a smart city summit to host a meetup getting valuable insight into how a true smart city – Taipei – works. Taipei Mayoral Advisor TH Schee was in town and gave us a “fireside chat” insight into the secrets of Taiwan’s success here, and inspire us with ideas on how to set up an open data policy for Hong Kong. Despite styling itself as Asia’s World City, and “smart city” being the buzzword in Government circles that everybody is targeting to get funding for, Hong Kong has a long way to prove itself in this area. A smart city is an urban development vision to integrate multiple data sources to manage a city’s asset . Without open data to drive them, smart cities are doomed to failure, and Hong Kong’s poor digital policies means it will continue to be overtaken by its neighbours in innovation and technology. This means it is particularly timely and topical to ask policy lessons we can learn from our most successful neighbour in this field, Taiwan.

Hong Kong has dropped out of the top 10 of the WIPO global innovation index in recent years, and is currently ranked 37th in the Open Knowledge Open Data Index. And due to a misreading of the HK Government data licensing policy (which are not open or interoperable by any definition) without this overly generous scoring would mean we would likely rank 20-30 places lower. Contrast this with Taiwan, which in the last Index overtook the UK to be the highest ranked place in the world for Open Data. From the outside it seems a data-driven utopia, with a new “Minister for Data” moving from g0v.tw citizen-run open data groups such as ours to now being in the heart of Government.

TH Schee has been at the front line of this Taiwanese Open Data revolution, and has written interesting blogs on the topic, but it was great having him come and talk us through the backstory and potential policy lessons in person. With extra juice stories of the unsung heroes behind the scenes to be told. Meet.33 was our first gathering in a while, and it was great to see such a huge turnout. Thanks to Justice Centre Hong Kong for giving us the space in Sai Ying Pun at such short notice, and to Adam Severson for giving us an intro on the great work they do single handedly supporting refugee legal services in Hong Kong. Adam also give us a quick intro on the difficulties they as a NGO face decision making in an information vacuum where the government politicizes immigration and crime data but refuses to share any of it.

Open Data versus Natural Disasters
Getting a government sceptical of transparency to share data is a challenge, but one that Taiwan seems to have managed admirably. The process of trust building and collaboration between civic hackers and government in Taiwan had an unlikely ally: mother nature. Or more specifically, natural disasters such as the many earthquakes and typhoons that pound Taiwan with unfortunate regularity. The disastrous typhoon Morakot in 2009 was the turning point in how Taiwan dealt with data. Official government communication early in the crisis failed, causing people to turn to websites run NGOs and the civic hacker community. Web users began reporting the real-time situation on the bulletin board forum PTT and on early social media platforms like plunk. At the height of the crisis an unofficial Morakot Online Disaster Report Center was established by a group of internet users from the Association of Digital Culture. The government quickly realized that this information was saving lives, and this website was then integrated into local governments’ communication systems and updated from the official disaster response center. From the trust and experience gathered in the front line of “internet rescue management” the people involved help seed the initial environment that has allowed this open data driven society to bloom (see this published case study for more). TH presented a very detailed timeline of this covering the founding of communities such as g0v.tw and opendata.tw, data journalism and open data social enterprises spin offs, and how many the people involved in these citizen organization then made their way into the heart of government. Initially from the Mayors of Taipei and Taichung running on open data policy driven platforms, culminating in Audrey Tang becoming minister without portfolio in the new national government.
How we can take policy lessons from this in soft , natural-disaster-free Hong Kong is another matter, but it shows we need to be prepared, and we need to build similar networks of organisations leading by example. One advantage Taiwan has had is a strong open source and open access community in academia (particularly Academia Sinica) that has always been a safe haven and place of continuous support for these efforts. We don’t yet have an equivalent in Hong Kong, but some members of ODHK have just put together an overview and survey on research data policy (see the pre-print), a nascent Asian open access network is forming, and this years Open Access Week looks to be the biggest in Hong Kong so far, with 3 events organised already. We recorded TH’s talk on periscope so you can see the archive there, as well as inspect his incredibly detailed slides. A one hour discussion really wasn’t enough, and we hope we can tempt TH back another time to give us more insight. We have more regular meetups in the pipeline, and our next one is on the Wednesday 12th October on open data tools at Campfire in Kennedy Town. We hope to see many of you there, and continue to build these communities that will hopefully let Hong Kong follow a similar trajectory to Taiwan.

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Crowdsourcing the Smart City

Crowdsourcing the Smart City

Crowdsourcing the Smart City – New Methodologies for Participatory Mapping & Civic Co-Management of Urban EnvironmentsCrowdsourcing the Smart City –
New Methodologies for Participatory Mapping & Civic Co-Management of Urban Environments

Public lecture by Dr. Tomas Holderness
Tuesday, 26 April, 2016

6:30-8:00pm
V302, 3/F, Jockey Club Innovation Tower
School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Abstract

The concurrent rise of Internet-connected smart phones, access to global navigation satellite systems, and social media networks have created a geospatial data revolution in cities aroundthe world. The smartphone’s ability to capture, compute and communicate data in collaboration with platforms such as OpenStreetMap, and the power afforded to organize mass participation by social media, have imploded traditional data vacuums and access protocols in cities around the world. It has now been proven that when it is shared in an open manner, crowd-sourced geospatial media collected by residents can be used to solve real-world engineering challenges. Furthermore, the instantaneous nature of data sharing between mobile devices enabled by social media networks means that cities can harness this information to respond to critical events in real-time.

This public lecture explores the design, creation and deployment of the world’s first real-time megacity flood map PetaJakarta.org in Jakarta, Indonesia. Using a geosocial intelligence approach to megacity flooding, the project engages social media, citizen journalism, digital sensors and government alerts to plot locations of flooding in real-time on a free and open map. By connecting both informal and formal data sources, the map acts as a cartographic interface for civic co-management, enabling individuals, communities, government agencies and NGOs to respond more effectively to flood events caused by the annual monsoon rains. PetaJakarta.org is now used operationally by the Jakarta Emergency Management Agency to collect and communicate locations of flooding with residents. In conclusion, the presentation will examine how these methodologies and techniques can be applied to different application domains and geographic regions, as a platform for information gathering and sharing in cities around the world.

Biography

Dr. Tomas Holderness is a Geomatics Specialist and Chartered Geographer at the SMART Infrastructure Facility, University of Wollongong where he leads the Open Source Geospatial Lab and co-directs the PetaJakarta.org project with Dr. Etienne Turpin. His research focuses on understanding the response of megacities to extreme weather events, through the development of new geographical information systems. His research into the use of social media to crowdsource real-time flood information in Jakarta has been featured in the World Disasters Report, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian and National Geographic.

This lecture is jointly organized by Melissa Cate Christ (School of Design, PolyU), Dr. Daisy Tam (Department of Humanities and Creative Writing, HKBU) and Open Data Hong Kong and supported by the General Research Fund HKBU12609215 and HKBU Faculty Research Grant