Published as part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Art Triennial 2020 five-volume publication (December 2020). Republished here with permission.

In December 2020 the National Gallery of Victoria launched its second Art Triennial, both onsite in Melbourne and with glimpses of the projects online. It looks incredible, and I’m hoping (pandemic permitting) to be able to visit in person before it closes in April. What follows is an essay the NGV commissioned as part of their triennial publication, exploring the role digital technologies play in our lives and the influence and impact of artificial intelligence.

Images of the Art Triennial publication (source: NGV)

I wrote it in April or May 2020, and so the COVID-19 pandemic that had uprooted our lives was, unsurprisingly, at the forefront of my…


Earlier this week Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that Premiers and Chief Ministers are being asked to share their state and territory driver’s licence data for a national facial recognition database. Today the Premiers and Chief Ministers agreed to do so.

Fraunhofer Face Finder, by Steve Jurvetson (CC-BY)

It’s a hard proposal to argue against.

Law enforcement is important. And facial recognition technology isn’t new anymore. It’s already being used for a variety of purposes within the private and public sectors. …


The Australian government just announced its intention to begin drug testing trials of certain welfare recipients, as part of its 2017 federal budget.

Whether you agree with the policy or not, how welfare recipients will be identified for drug testing has implications for us all.

The 2017 Australian federal government budget proposes a data-driven approach to deciding who gets drug tested:

“Job seekers will be selected for the trial on a random basis, based on a data-driven profiling tool developed for the trial to identify relevant characteristics that indicate a higher risk of substance abuse issues.”

There is a crucial…


Reading the final report of the Australian Productivity Commission on Data Availability and Use

Today the Australian government released the Productivity Commission’s final report on Data Availability and Use, an ambitious plan for data reform in Australia.

An overview and full text of the report (the full text is over 650 pages) are available here.

The Productivity Commission is the Australian Government’s independent advisory body on a range of social, economic and environmental bodies and so its recommendations in the final report are simply that — recommendations. It’s up to the Australian Government now to decide how it will respond to and implement the recommendations contained in the final report.

Untangling Australia’s data landscape issues (image: Tangle by Peter Zoon CC BY 2.0)

Making Australia’s complex data landscape simpler…in a complicated way

The scope of the…


News this week that Unroll.me — a popular tool for organising subscription emails — sold their users’ anonymised email data to Uber has sparked a mass exodus of Unroll.me users.

I’m an Unroll.me user, and I’ve been following the public reaction to their data commercialisation model with interest. I’ve also been writing about data ethics recently, and so have been struggling with two questions:

  1. Was Unroll.me’s management of its’ users data unethical? When should we use that language to describe an organisation’s data practices?
  2. Do people understand what is meant by ‘aggregated and anonymised’ data? …

I was sixteen when I decided I was bad at maths.

I remember it vividly. My year 11 maths teacher Mr. Joyce had asked me to leave the classroom while he handed out the results for the end of year exam in applicable mathematics. After he finished, he came outside and said,

“Well, what do you think you got?”

I think I said something flippant about not caring. And I remember clearly what he said next:

“What do you think you deserve to get?”

Fresh faced and innocent in year 11. Very clearly bad at maths (I am sure Caris and Kelly were better at it than me).

Mr. Joyce and I had had a bad relationship all year. I felt like he picked…


(I will come back and make this a snazzier title)

Yesterday the Australian Productivity Commission published its draft report, Data availability and use, for public comment. The full report is 650 pages long, with 27 draft recommendations. That’s going to take a while for anyone to absorb. On a first read, these are my early thoughts.

It’s enormous and covers almost everything (Image: steeedm)

The report covers open public sector data; access to private sector data; data anonymisation; data standards; pricing for public data; increased rights (a “Comprehensive Right”) for citizens accessing personal data; the creation of National Interest Datasets; the establishment of an Office of the National…


In ten days time I’m saying goodbye to London and moving back to Australia.

My visa expires in early September, and the time feels right to go home. We’ve lived away from Australia for a few years now, and back in Australia friends and family are doing those things people do in life — building great careers, buying houses, getting married, having kids. I’m looking forward to being closer for any future celebrations. And I want to be able to buy a dog and not worry about quarantine restrictions.

This is a Labradoodle. This is the kind of dog I’m going to get (Tarochan, by JD (CC-BY))

I’m sad to be leaving the Open Data Institute, and the…


Last week the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) celebrated 12 months of #OpenDefra: their commitment to releasing 8,000 datasets as open data in one year, and kickstarting a transition across the department to an open culture.

I experienced first hand the changes inside Defra initiated by #OpenDefra, as expert adviser on data to the Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss. I was brought into Defra as part of the Secretary of State’s extended ministerial office (EMO, an acronym I have great affection for), on secondment from the Open Data Institute.

Now that my time in the EMO…

Ellen Broad

ellenbroad.com. 3A Institute, Australian National University. Data ethics | open data | responsible technology. Board game whisperer @datopolis.

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