These are the news items I've curated in my monitoring of the API space that have some relevance to the API definition conversation and I wanted to include in my research. I'm using all of these links to better understand how the space is testing their APIs, going beyond just monitoring and understand the details of each request and response.07 Jun 2017
I believe that APIs can bring some important transparency to the web, mobile, and device applications that seem to be invading our life. I hesitate using the word transparency because it has been weaponized by Wikileaks and others in the current cyber(in)secure landscape, but for the purposes of this story, it will work. APIs by default do not mean transparency, but when done in the right way they can pull back the curtain a little on what is going on when a company, organization, institution, or agency behind is truly committed to transparency.
I’ve long had a portion of my research dedicated to studying intentional transparency efforts by API providers, giving me a place to publish any organizations, links, and stories that I publish on the subject of API transparency. As part of my API research I was looking at some university API efforts the other day when I came across the Apply Magic Sauce API, a personalisation engine that accurately predicts psychological traits from digital footprints of human behavior, which had a pretty interesting section dedicated to the subject of transparency. Here is some background on their approach:
Our methods have been peer-reviewed and published in open access journals since 2013, and new services that sound similar to Apply Magic Sauce API (AMS) are springing up every day. As this technology becomes more accessible and its impact increases, we would like to ensure that citizens have clarity on who we do and do not work with. We are therefore committed to keeping an up to date list of every organisation that we have formally authorised to use AMS for commercial purposes. These clients are advised to follow our ethical guidelines and are bound by our terms and conditions regarding the need to obtain the informed consent of individuals about whom predictions are made. We encourage other providers of predictive technologies to honour the principles of privacy, transparency and relevance and publish a similar list of their own.
The Apply Magic Sauce API provides me with a solid example of an existing institution, “…committed to keeping an up to date list of every organization that we have formally authorised to use AMS for commercial purposes”, and encouraging their partners to “publish a similar list of their own”. What an important example to set when it comes to APIs, especially APIs that involve the amount of personally identifiable information (PII) that a social network possesses. It provides a positive model that ANY application who allows for the OAuth’ing of a user via their Twitter, Facebook, or another social network should be emulating.
Honestly, I’m still not 100% sure about what they are up to at the University of Cambridge with their Apply Magic Sauce API–I am still getting going with my dive into their operations. However, from the amount of work they’ve put into the ethics behind their API platform, as well as the high bar for transparency being set, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are up to good things. I’ll keep diving into their API, and monitor the activity in the community to make sure they are standing behind their pledge, and see whether or not their API partners are respecting the pledge as well.
I am hoping that the University of Cambridge provides me with a solid ethical example of not just how an API provider can behave and communicate around the transparency of their API consumption, but also how they can set the same expectations within their API community. If I had my way this would be the standard operating procedure for EVERY company, organization, institution, and a government agency that possess any PII for ANY citizen–100% transparency of EVERY single partner, customer, and application developer who has access to any personal data.
I know this will sound funny to many folks, but when I see APIs, I see language and communication, and humans learning to speak with each other in this new digital world we are creating for ourselves. My friend Erik Wilde (@dret) tweeted a reminder for me that APIs are indeed a language.
APIs are languages. show me one #API aspect that cannot be adequately framed in the context of language design practices and challenges.— Erik Wilde (@dret) June 4, 2017
Every second on our laptops and mobile phone we are communicating with many different companies and individuals. With each wall post, Tweet, photo push, or video stream we are communicating with our friends, family, and the public. Each of these interactions is being defined and facilitated using an API. An API call just for saying something in text, in an image, or video. API is the digital language we use to communicate online and via our mobile devices.
Uber geeks like me spend their days trying to map out and understand these direct interactions, as well as the growing number of indirect interactions. For every direct communication, there are usually numerous other indirect communications with advertisers, platform providers, or maybe even law enforcement, researchers, or anyone else with access to the communication channels. We aren’t just learning to directly communicate, we are also being conditioned to participate indirectly in conversations we can’t see–unless you are tuned into the bigger picture of the API economy.
When we post that photo, companies are whispering about what is in the photo, where it was taken, and what meaning it has. When we share that news link of Facebook, companies have a discussion about the truthfulness and impact of the link, maybe the psychological profile behind the link and where we fit into their psychological profile database. In some scenarios, they are talking directly about us personally like we are sitting in the room, other times they are talking about us like we are just a number in a larger demographic pool.
In alignment with the real world, the majority of these conversations being held between men, behind closed doors. Publicly the conversations are usually directed by people with a bullhorn, talking over others, as well as whispering behind, and around people while they completely unaware that these conversations about them are even occurring. The average person is completely unaware these conversations are happening. They can’t hear the whispering, or just do not speak the language that is being used around them, about them, each moment of each day.
Those of us in the know are scrambling to understand, control, and direct the conversations that are occuring. There is a lot of money to be made when you are part of these conversations. Or at least have a whole bunch of people on your platform to have a conversation about, or around. People don’t realize that for every direct conversation you have online, there are probably 20 conversations going on about this conversation. What will they buy next? Who do they know? What is in that photo they just shared? Is this related post interesting to them? API-driven echoes of conversation upon conversations into infinity.
Sometimes I feel like Dr. Xavier from the X-men in that vault room connected to the machine when I am on the Internet studying APIs. I’m seeing millions of conversations going on–it is deafening. I don’t just see or hear the direct conversations, I hear the deafening sounds of advertisers, hackers, researchers, police, government, and everyone having a conversation around us. Many folks feel like the average person shouldn’t be included in the conversation–they do not have the interest or awareness to even engage. To me, it just feels like a new secretive world augmenting our physical worlds, where our digital selves are learning to speak with each other. What troubles me though, is that not everyone is actually engaged in the conversations they are included in, and are often asleep or sedated while their personal digital self is being manipulated, exploited, and p0wn3d.
The way we view personal data in this early Internet age will continue to change and evolve, until one day we are looking back at this period and find we are shocked regarding how we didn’t see people’s digital bits as their own, and something we should respect and protect the privacy and security of.
Right now my private, network shared, or even public posts are widely viewed as a commodity, something the platform operator, and other companies have every right to buy, sell, mine, extract, and generally do as they wish. Very few startups see these posts as my personal thoughts, they simply see the opportunity for generating value and revenue as part of their interests. Sure, there are exceptions, but this is the general view of personal data in this Internet age.
We are barely 20 years into the web being mainstream, and barely over five years into mobile phones being mainstream. We are only beginning to enter even more immersions of Internet in our lives via our cars, televisions, appliances, and much more. We are only getting going when it comes to generating and understanding personal data, and the impacts of technology on our privacy, security, and overall human well-being. What is going on right now will not stay the norm, and we are already seeing signs of pushback from humans regarding ownership of their data, as well as our privacy and security.
While technology companies and their investors seem all powerful right now, and many humans seem oblivious to what is going, the landscape is shifting, and I’m confident that humans will prevail, and there will be pushback that begins helping us all define our digital self, and reclaiming the privacy and security we are entitled to. When we look back on this period in 50 years we will not look favorably on companies and government agencies who exploited human’s personal data. We will see the frenzy over big data generation, accumulation, and treating it like a commodity, over something that belongs to a human as deeply troubling.
Which side of history are you going to be on?
When I suggest modern approaches to API management be applied to public data I always get a few open data folks who push back saying that public data shouldn’t be locked up, and needs to always be publicly available–as the open data gods intended. I get it, and I agree that public data should be easily accessible, but there are increasingly a number of unintended consequences that data stewards need to consider before they publish public data to the web in 2017.
I’m going through this exercise with my recommendations and guidance for municipal 211 operators when it comes to implementing Open Referral’s Human Services Data API (HSDA). The schema and API definition centers around the storage and access to organizations, locations, services, contacts, and other key data for human services offered in any city–things like mental health resources, suicide assistance, food banks, and other things we humans need on a day to day basis.
This data should be publicly available, and easy to access. We want people to find the resources they need at the local level–this is the mission. However, once you get to know the data, you start understanding the importance of not everything being 100% public by default. When you come across listings Muslim faith, and LGBTQ services, or possibly domestic violence shelters, and needle exchanges. They are numerous types of listings where we need to be having sincere discussions around security and privacy concerns, and possibly think twice about publishing all or part of a dataset.
This is where modern approaches to API management can lend a hand. Where we can design specific endpoints, that pull specialized information for specific groups of people, and define who has access through API rate limiting. Right now my HSDA implementation has two access groups, public and private. Every GET path is publicly available, and if you want to POST, PUT, or DELETE data you will need an API key. As I consider my API management guidance for implementors, I’m adding a healthy dose of the how and why of privacy and security using existing API management solutions and practice.
I am not interested in playing decider when it comes to what data is public, private, and requires approval before getting access. I’m merely thinking about how API management can be applied in the name of privacy and security when it comes to public data, and how I can put tools in the hands of data stewards, and API providers that help them make the decision about what is public, private, and more tightly controlled. The trick with all of this is how transparent should providers be with the limits and restrictions imposed, and communicate the offical stance with all stakeholders appropriately when it comes to public data privacy and security.
I just got back from two weeks in the United Kingdom, which was my first international travel in a Trump and Brexit dystopia. My travel leaving the country, and coming back through LAX were uneventful, but it gave me the opportunity to begin pulling together my procedures for crossing borders with my digital devices.
Pausing, and thinking about which devices I will be traveling with, what I am storing on these devices, and the applications I'm operating provided a significant opportunity to get my security and privacy house in order. It allows me to go through my digital self, think about the impact of traveling with too much data, and prepare and protect myself from potentially compromising situations at the border.
When I started my planning process I had invested in a burner Google Chromebook, but because I'm currently working on some projects that require Adobe products, I resorted to taking my older Macbook Air, that if I had confiscated I would be alright leaving behind (who wants a violated machine?). When it comes to my iPhone and iPad, I cannot afford to leave them behind, as I need the most recent iPhone to work with my new Mavic drone, and my Osmo+ video camera--both from DJI.
Any law enforcement looking to get access to my MacBook, iPhone, or iPad are going to go after all my essential bits: contacts, messages, images, audio, and video. So I made sure that all of these areas are cleared before I crossed any border. I keep only the applications I need to navigate and stay in touch with key people--no social media except Twitter. Since I use OnePass for my password management, I don't actually know any of my passwords, and once I remove the OnePass application, I can't actually get into anything I'm not already logged into.
The process of developing my border processing procedure also helped me think through my account hierarchy. My iCloud and Google are definitely my primary accounts, with everything else remembered by OnePass. I even set up an alternate Kin Lane for iCLoud, Twitter, and Google, which I log into with all of my devices when crossing a border. I made sure all social and messaging applications are removed except for the essentials, and double checked I had two-factor authentication turned on for EVERYTHING.
I store nothing on the iPhone or the iPad. Everything on my Macbook is stored in a synced Dropbox folder, which is removed before any border is crossed. I clear all SD cards and camera storage on the device. Everything is stored in the cloud when I travel, leaving nothing on the device. When you are really in tune with the bits you create and need to operate each day, it isn't much work to minimize your on-device footprint like this. The more you exercise, the easier it is to keep the data you store on-device as minimal as you possibly can. One footnote on storage though--if you can't get all your data uploaded to the cloud in time because of network constraints, store on mini-SD cards, which can be hidden pretty easily.
The areas I focused on as part of my procedure were focused on device storage, application connections to the cloud, and what is baked into the device like address book, etc.--running everything in the lightest, bare bones mode possible. It really sucks that we have to even do this at all, but I actually find the process rewarding--think of it like fasting, but for your digital self. I'm looking forward to furthering refining my approach and keeping it as something that I do EVERY time I cross a border. Eventually, it will just become standard operating procedure, and something I do without thinking, and will definitely begin to impact my more permanent digital footprint--keeping everything I do online as thoughtful, meaningful, and secure as possible.
Evernote employees have not read, and do not read, your note content. We only access notes under strictly limited circumstances: where we have your permission, or to comply with our legal obligations.Your privacy, and your trust in Evernote are the most important things to us. They are at the heart of our company, and we will continue to focus on that now and in the future.
While I am thankful for their change of heart, I wanted to take a moment to point out the wider online environment that incentivizes this type of behavior. This isn't a single situation with Evernote reading our notes, this is the standard mindset for startups operating online, and via our mobile devices in 2017. This is just one situation that was called out, resulting in a change of heart by the platform. Our digital bits are being harvested in the name of machine learning and artificial intelligence across the platforms we depend on daily for our business and personal lives.
In these startup's quest for profit, and ultimately their grand exit, they are targeting our individual and business bits. Use this free web application. Use this free mobile application. Plug this device in at home on your network. Let our machine learning evaluate your database for insights. Let me read your most personal and intimate thoughts in your diary, journal, and notebook. I will provide you with entertainment, convenience, and insight that you would never be able to achieve on your own, without the magic of artificial intelligence.
In my experience, the position a company takes on their API provides an early warning system for these situations. Evernote sent all the wrong signals to their developer community years ago, letting me know it was not a platform I could depend on, and trust for my business operations, let alone my personal, private thoughts. I was able to get off the platform successfully, but the trick in all of this is identifying other platforms who are primed for making similar decisions and helping the average users understand the motives behind all of these "solutions" we let into our lives, so they can make an educated decision on their own.
I am reading through the API task force recommendations out of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), to help address privacy and security concerns around mandated API usage as part of the Common Clinical Data Set, Medicare, and Medicaid Electronic Health Records. The recommendations contain a wealth of valuable insights around healthcare APIs but are also full of patterns that we should be applying across other sectors of our society where APIs making an impact. To help me work through the task force's recommendations, I will be blogging through many of the different concepts at play.
Beyond the usage of "patient-directed APIs" that I wrote about earlier, I thought the pragmatic view on API privacy and security was worth noting. When it comes to making data, content, and other digital resources available online, I hear the full spectrum of concerns, and it leaves me optimistic to hear government agencies speak about security and privacy in such a balanced way.
Here is a section from the API task force recommendations:
Like any technology, APIs allow new capabilities and opportunities and, like any other technology, these opportunities come with some risks. There are fears that APIs may open new security vulnerabilities, with apps accessing patient records "for evil", and without receiving proper patient authorization. There are also fears that APIs could provide a possible "fire hose" of data as opposed to the "one sip at a time" access that a web site or email interface may provide.
In testimony, we heard almost universally that, when APIs are appropriately managed, the opportunities outweigh the risks. We heard from companies currently offering APIs that properly managed APIs provide better security properties than ad-hoc interfaces or proprietary integration technology.
While access to health data via APIs does require additional considerations and regulatory compliance needs, we believe existing standards, infrastructure, and identity proofing processes are adequate to support patient directed access via APIs today.
The document is full of recommendations on how to strike this balance. It is refreshing to hear such a transparent vision of what APIs can be. They weigh the risks, alongside the benefits that APIs bring to the table while also being fully aware that a "properly managed API" provides its own security. Another significant aspect of these recommendations for me is that they also touch on the role that APIs will play in the regulatory and a compliance process.
I have to admit, the area of healthcare APIs isn't one of the most exciting stacks in the over 50 areas I track on across the API space, but I'm fully engaged with this because of the potential of a blueprint for privacy and security that can be applied with other types of APIs. When it comes to social, location, and other data the bar has been set pretty low when it comes to privacy and security, but health care data is different. People tend to be more concerned with access, security, privacy, and all the things we should already be discussing when it comes to the rest of our digital existence--opening the door for some valuable digital literacy discussions.
Hopefully, I don't run you off with all my healthcare API stories, and you can find some gems in the healthcare API task force's recommendations, like I am.
I always dig it when API stories spin out of control, and I end up down story holes. I'm sure certain people waiting for other work from me do not appreciate it, but these are where some of the best stories in my world come from. As I was writing the story about Best Buy limiting access to their API when you have a free email account, which resulted in the story about Best Buy using Medium for their API platform blog presence, which ended up pushing me to read Medium's terms of service.
Maintaining the legal side of your platform operations on Github, taking advantage of the version control build in makes a lot of sense. Something that also opens the door for using Github Issue Management, and the other more social aspects of Github for assisting in the communication of legal changes, as well as facilitate ongoing conversations around changes in real time. I can see eventually working this into some sort of rating system for API providers, a sort of open source regulatory consideration, that is totally opt in by API platforms -- if you give a shit you'll do it, if you don't, you won't.
The NextWeb had a great story today that Google has redesigned its developer policies with clearer language and visual examples, and normally I don't jsut parrot what the tech blogosphere publishes, but it's an important enough API message, I think it warrants repeating. In my experience, API providers just emulate what they hear in the space, and stories like this need amplifcation.
What Google did isn't rocket surgery, they just simplified the legalize around what they expect of developers. What better way to actually help ensure these best practices around the platform actual happen, then by actually providing simple titles, summary description, images, and other relevant links, on a developer policy page. In most scenarios developers aren't malicious, they are just usually ignorant of the best practices that often exist in the platforms legalize we agree to, but seldom ever read.
My friend Tyler Singletary (@harmophone) stated that, "the organization here for policy is fun, mostly clear, and interactive. A company the size of Google distilling the deep TOS policy into such a user and developer friendly front end is pretty astounding.” -- I agree. Simple like this, when you operate at Google scale can be pretty hard, and is somthing I'd love see standardized across Google offerings.
I will be adding any of the elements from the simplified Google Play developer policy that are missing in my API terms of service, privacy, licensing, and branding research. I will also add the concept of having visuals for each area, or building block, and add the common them of "keep it simple", helping API providers remember that they actually want developers reading and understanding this stuff, not having it buried in the legaleze that nobody will give shit about.
As we get close to wrapping up the first month in 2015, it is clear that Internet security and privacy will continue to be front and center this year. As technology continues to play a central role in our personal and business lives--security, transparency, and respect for privacy is only growing more critical.
I know I'm biased in thinking that APIs will continue to take a central role in this conversation, but I feel it is true. Many of the existing conversations around security about platforms like Snapchat, and MoonPig, are directly related to APIs, while other security scope at companies like Sony, JP Morgan Chase, and beyond could easily be reduced with a sensible API strategy.
Companies are increasingly operating online, but do not act like any of information lives in an online environment. Adopting an API approach to defining company resources, helps map out this surface area, acknowledging it is available over the Internet, and works to define, secure, and monitor this surface in a healthier way.
Mobile users need access to their data, and by applying an API centric approach, providing account management, data portability, and access and identity controls using oAuth, you can increase transparency, while also strengthening overall security. If your company operations is centered around customer and end-user data transactions, you should be making all data points available via an API, accompanied by a well oiled oAuth layer to help end-users manage their resources, playing a significant role in their own privacy and security.
I'm not delusional in thinking that APIs provide a perfect solution for all our security and privacy woes, it doesn't, but it does set a tone for a more healthy conversation about how companies are doing business on the open Internet, and how we can better secure the online web, mobile, and device-based applications we are increasingly depending on in this new world we have created.
As I read and listen to all of the Internet of Things stories coming out of CES, I’m happy to be hearing discussions around privacy and security, come out of the event. I feel better about IoT security and privacy when I hear things like this, but ultimately I am left with overwhelming concern about of the quantity of IoT devices.
There are many layers to securing IoT devices, and protecting the privacy of IoT users, but I can't help but the think that Internet of Things security and privacy will always begin by asking ourselves if we should be doing this at all. Do we need this object connected to the Internet? Are we truly benefiting from having this item enabled with cloud connectivity?
I'm going to try and keep up with tracking on the API layer being rolled out in support of IoT devices, but not sure I will be able to keep up with the number of devices, and the massive amount of hype around products and services. At some point I may have to tap out, and focus on specific aspects of IoT connectivity ,around what I consider the politics of APIs.
My Response To How Can the Department of Education Increase Innovation, Transparency and Access to Data?02 Jun 2014
I spent considerable time going through the Department of Education RFI, answering each question in as much detail as I possibly could. You can find my full response below. In the end I felt I could provide more value by summarizing my response, eliminating much of the redundancy across different sections of the RFI, and just cut through the bureaucracy as I (and APIs) prefer to do.
Open Data By Default
All publicly available data at the Department of Education needs to be open by default. This is not just a mandate, this is a way of life. There is no data that is available on any Department of Education websites that should not be available for data download. Open data downloads are not separate from existing website efforts at Department of Education, they are the other side of the coin, making the same content and data available in machine readable formats, rather than available via HTML—allowing valuable resources to be used in systems and applications outside of the department’s control.
Open API When There Are Resources
The answer to whether or not the Department of Education should provide APIs is the same as whether or not the agency should deploy websites—YES! Not all individuals and companies will have the resources to download, process, and put downloadable resources to use. In these situations APIs can provide much easier access to open data resources, and when open data resources are exposed as APIs it opens up access to a much wider audience, even non-developers. Lightweight, simple, API access to open data inventory should be default along with data downloads when resources are available. This approach to APIs by default, will act as the training ground for not just 3rd party developers, but also internally, allowing Department of Education staff to learn how to manage APIs in a safe, read-only environment.
Using A Modern API Design, Deployment, and Management Approach
As the usage of the Internet matured in 2000, many leading technology providers like SalesForce and Amazon began using web APIs to make digital assets available to 3rd party partners, and 14 years later there are some very proven approaches to designing, deploying and management APIs. API management is not a new and bleeding edge approach to making assets available in the private sector, there are numerous API tools and services available, and this has begun to extend to the government sector with tools like API Umbrella from NREL, being employed by api.data.gov and other agencies, as well as other tools and services being delivered by 18F from GSA. There are many proven blueprints for the Department of Education to follow when embarking on a complete API strategy across the agency, allowing innovation to occur around specific open data, and other program initiatives, in a safe, proven way.
Use API Service Composition For Maximum Access & Control
One benefit of 14 years of evolution around API design, deployment, and management is the establishment of sophisticated service composition of API resources. Service composition refers to the granular, modular design and deployment of APIs, while being able to manage who has access to these resources. Modern API access is not just direct, public access to a database. API service composition allows for designing exactly the access to resources that is necessary, one that is in alignment with business objectives, while protecting the privacy and security of everyone involved. Additionally service composition allows for real-time awareness of how all data, content, and other resources at the Department of Education are accessed and put to use, allowing new APIs to be designed to support specific needs, and existing APIs to evolved based upon actual demand, not just speculation.
Deeper Understanding Of How Resources Are Used
A modern API service composition layer opens up possibility for a new analytics layer that is not just about measuring and reporting of access to APIs, it is about understanding precisely how resources are accessed in real-time, allowing API design, deployment and management processes to be adjusted in a more rapid and iterative way, that contributes to the roadmap, while providing the maximum enforcement of security and privacy of everyone involved. When the Department of Education internalizes a healthy, agency-wide API approach, a new real-time understanding will replace this very RFI centered process that we are participating in, allowing for a new agility, with more control and flexibility than current approaches. A RFI cycle takes months, and will contain a great deal of speculation about what would be, where API access, coupled with healthy analytics and feedback loops, answers all the questions being addressed in this RFI, in real-time, reducing resource costs, and wasted cycles.
APIs Open Up Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication Channels
Open data downloads represents a broadcast approach to making Department of Education content, data and other resources available, representing a one way street. APIs provide a two-way communication, bringing external partners and vendors closer to Department of Education, while opening up feedback loops with the Department of Education, reducing the distance between the agency and its private sector partners—potentially bringing valuable services closer to students, parents and the companies or institutions that serve them. Feedback loops are much wider currently at the Department of Education occur on annual, monthly and at the speed of email or phone calls , with the closest being in person at events, something that can be a very expensive endeavor. Web APIs provide a real-time, synchronous and asynchronous communication layer that will improve the quality of service between Department of Education and the public, for a much lower cost than traditional approaches.
Building External Ecosystem of Partners
The availability of high value API resources, coupled with a modern approach to API design, deployment and management, an ecosystem of trusted partners can be established, allowing the Department of Education to share the workload with an external partner ecosystem. API service composition allows the agency to open up access to resources to only the partners who have proven they will respect the privacy and security of resources, and be dedicated to augmenting and helping extend the mission of the Department of Education. As referenced in the RFI, think about the ecosystem established by the IRS modernized e-file system, and how the H&R Blocks, and Jackson Hewitt’s of the world help the IRS share the burden of the country's tax system. Where is the trusted ecosystem for the Department of Education? The IRS ecosystem has been in development for over 25 years, something the Department of Education has to get to work on theirs now.
Security Fits In With Existing Website Security Practices
One of the greatest benefits of web APIs is that they utilize existing web technologies that are employed to deploy and manage websites. You don’t need additional security approaches to manage APIs beyond existing websites. Modern web APIs are built on HTTP, just like websites, and security can be addressed right alongside current website security practices—instead of delivering HTML, APIs are delivering JSON and XML. APIs even go further, and by using modern API service composition practices, the Department of Education gains an added layer of security and control, which introduces granular levels of access to all resource, something that does not exist for website. With a sensible analytics layer, API security isn’t just about locking down, it is about understanding who is access resources, how they are using them, striking a balance between the security and access of resources, which is the hallmark of APIs.
oAuth Gives Identity and Access Control To The Student
Beyond basic web security, and the heightened level of control modern API management deliver, there is a 3rd layer to the security and privacy layer of APis that does not exist anywhere else—oAuth. Open Authentication or oAuth provides and identity and access layer on top of API that gives end-users, and owner of personal data control over who access their data. Technology leaders in the private sector are all using oAuth to give platform users control over how their data is used in applications and systems. oAuth is the heartbeat of API security, giving API platforms a way to manage security, and how 3rd party developers access and put resources to use, in a way that gives control to end users. In the case of the Department of Education APIs, this means putting the parent and student at the center of who accesses, and uses their personal data, something that is essential to the future of the Department of Education.
How Will Policy Be Changed?
I'm not a policy wonk, nor will I ever be one. One thing I do know is you will never understand the policy implications in one RFI, nor will you change policy to allow for API innovation in one broad stroke--you will fail. Policy will have to be changed incrementally, a process that fits nicely with the iterative, evolutionary life cyce of API managment. The cultural change at Department of Education, as well as evolutionary policy change at the federal level will be the biggest benefits of APIs at the Department of Education.
An Active API Platform At Department of Education Would Deliver What This RFI Is Looking For
I know it is hard for the Department of Education to see APIs as something more than a technical implementation, and you want to know, understand and plan everything ahead of time—this is baked into the risk averse DNA of government. Even with this understanding, as I go through the RFI, I can’t help but be frustrated by the redundancy, bureaucracy, over planning, and waste that is present in this process. An active API platform would answer every one of your questions you pose, with much more precision than any RFI can ever deliver.
If the Department of Education had already begun evolving an API platform for all open data sets currently available on data.gov, the agency would have the experience in API design, deployment and management to address 60% of the concerns posed by this RFI. Additionally the agency would be receiving feedback from existing integrators about what they need, who they are, and what they are building to better serve students and institutions. Because this does not exist there will be much speculation about who will use Department of Education APIs, and how they will use them and better serve students. While much of this feedback will be well meaning, it will not be rooted in actual use cases, applications and existing implementations. An active API ecosystem answers these questions, while keeping answers rooted in actual integrations, centered around specific resources, and actual next steps for real world applications.
The learning that occurs from managing read-only API access, to low-level data, content and resources would provide the education and iteration necessary for the key staff at Department of Education to reach the next level, which would be read / write APIs, complete with oAuth level security, which would be the holy grail in serving students and achieving the mission of the Department of Education. I know I’m biased, because of my focus on APIs, but read / write access to all Department of Education resources over the web and via mobile devices, that gives full control to students, is the future of the agency. There is no "should we do APIs", there is only the how, and I’m afraid we are wasting time, and we need to just do it, and learn to ask these questions along the way.
There is proven technology and processes available to make all Department of Education data, content and resources available, allowing both read and write access in a secure way, that is centered around the student. The private sector is 14 years ahead of the government in delivering private sector resources in this way, and other government agencies are ahead of the Department of Education in doing this as well, but there is an opportunity for the agency to still lead and take action, by committing the resources necessary to not just deploy a single API, but internalize APIs in a way that will change the way learning occurs in the coming decades across all US institutions.
A. Information Gaps and Needs in Accessing Current Data and Aid Programs
1. How could data sets that are already publicly available be made more accessible using APIs? Are there specific data sets that are already available that would be most likely to inform consumer choice about college affordability and performance?
Not everyone has the resources download, process and put open datasets to use. APIs can make all of the publicly available datasets more available to the public, allowing for easy URL access, deployment of widgets, visualizations as well as integration with existing tools like Microsoft Excel. All datasets should have option of being published in this way, but ultimately the Dept. of Ed API ecosystem should speak to which datasets would be most high value, and warrant API access.
2. How could APIs help people with successfully and accurately completing forms associated with any of the following processes: FAFSA; Master Promissory Note; Loan Consolidation; entrance and exit counseling; Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) programs,ï¿¼ 15 such as Pay As You Earn; and the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program?
APIs will help decouple each data point on a form. Introductory information, each questions, and other supporting resources can be broken up and delivered via any website, and mobile applications. Evolving a form into a linear, 2-dimensional form into an interactive application that people can engage with, providing the assistance needed to properly achieve the goals surrounding a form.
Each form initiative will have its own needs, and a consistent API platform and strategy from the department of Education will help identify each forms unique requirements, and the custom delivery of just the resources that are needed for a forms target audience.
3. What gaps are there with loan counseling and financial literacy and awareness that could be addressed through the use of APIs to provide access to government resources and content?
First, APIs can provide access to the content that educates students about the path they are about to embark on, before they do, via web and mobile apps they frequent already, not being required to visit the source site and learn. Putting the information students need into their hands, via their mobile devices will increase the reach of content and increase the chances that students will consume.
Second, APIs plus oAuth will give students access over their own educational finances, forcing them to better consider how they will manage all the relationships they enter into, the details of loans, grants and with the schools they attend. With more control over data and content, will come a forced responsibility in understanding and managing their finances.
Third, this process will open up students eyes to the wider world of online data and information, and that APIs are driving all aspects of their financial life from their banking and credit cards to managing their online credit score.
APIs are at the heart of all of the API driven digital economy, the gift that would be given to students when they first leave home, in the form of API literacy would carry with them throughout their lives, allowing them to better manage all aspects of their online and financial lives—and the Department of Education gave them that start.
4. What services that are currently provided by title IV student loan servicers could be enhanced through APIs (e.g., deferment, forbearance, forgiveness, cancellation, discharge, payments)?
A consistent API platform and strategy from the department of Education would provide the evolution of a suite of verified partners, such as title IV student loan services. A well planned partner layer within an ecosystem would allow student loan services to access data from students in real-time, with students having a say in who and how they have access to the data. These dynamics introduced by, and unique to API platforms that employ oAuth, provide new opportunities for partnerships to be established, evolve and even be terminated when not going well.
API platform using oAuth provide a unique 3-legged relationship between the data platform, 3rd party service providers and students (users), that can be adopted to bring in existing industry partners, but more importantly provide a rich environment for new types of partners to evolve, that can improve the overall process and workflow a student experiences.
5. What current forms or programs that already reach prospective students or borrowers in distress could be expanded to include broader affordability or financial literacy information?
All government forms and programs should be evaluated for the pros / cons of an API program. My argument within this RFI response will be focused on a consistent API platform and strategy from the department of Education. APIs should be be part of every existing program change, and new initiatives in the future.
B. Potential Needs to be Filled by APIs
1. If APIs were available, what types of individuals, organizations, and companies would build tools to help increase access to programs to make college more affordable?
A consistent API platform and strategy from the department of Education will have two essential components, partner framework, and service composition. A partner framework defines which external, 3rd party groups can work with Department of Education API resources. The service composition defines how these 3rd party groups can can access and ultimately use Department of Education API resources.
All existing groups that the Department of Education interacts with currently should be evaluated for where in the API partner framework they exists, defining levels of access for general public, student up to certified and trusted developer and business partnerships.
The partner framework and service composition for the Department of Education API platform should be applied to all existing individuals, organizations and companies, while also allow for new actors to enter the game, and potentially redefining the partner framework and add new formulas for API service composition, opening up the possibilities for innovation around Department of Education API resources.
2. What applications and features might developers, schools, organizations, and companies take interest in building using APIs in higher education data and services?
As with which Department of Education forms and programs might have APIs apply, which individuals, organizations and companies will use APIs, the only way to truly understand what applications might developers, schools, organizations and companies put APIs cannot be know, until it is place. These are the questions an API centric company or institution asks of its API platform in real-time. You can’t define who will use an API and how they will use it, it takes iteration and exploration before successful applications will emerge.
3. What specific ways could APIs be used in financial aid processes (e.g., translation of financial aid forms into other languages, integration of data collection into school or State forms)?
When a resource is available via an API, it is broken down into the smallest possible parts and pieces possible, allowing them to be re-used, and re-purposed into every possible configuration management. When you make form questions independently available via an API, it allows you to possible reorder, translate, and ask in new ways.
This approach works well with forms, allowing each entry of a form to be accessible, transferable, and open up for access, with the proper permissions and access level that is owned by the person who owns the format data. This opens up not just the financial aid process, but all form processes to interoperate with other systems, forms, agencies and companies.
With the newfound modularity and interoperability introduced by APIs, the financial aid process could be broken down, allowing parents to take part for their role, schools for theirs, and allow multiple agencies to be engaged such as IRS or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). All of this allows any involved entity or system to do its part for the financial aid process, minimizing the friction throughout the entire form process, even year over year.
4. How can third-party organizations use APIs to better target services and information to low-income students, first-generation students, non-English speakers, and students with disabilities?
Again, this is a questions that should be asked in real-time of a Department of Education platform. Examples of how 3rd party organizations can better target services and information to students, is the reason for an API platform. There is no way to no this ahead of time, I will leave to domain experts to attempt at answering.
5. Would APIs for higher education data, processes, programs or services be useful in enhancing wraparound support service models? What other types of services could be integrated with higher education APIs?
A sensibly design,deployed, managed and evangelized API platform would establish a rich environment for existing educational services to be augmented, but also allow for entirely new types of services to be defined. Again I will leave to domain experts to speak of specific service implantations based upon their goals, and understanding of the space.
C. Existing Federal and Non-Federal Tools Utilizing APIs
1. What private-sector or non-Federal entities currently offer assistance with higher education data and student aid programs and processes by using APIs? How could these be enhanced by the Department’s enabling of additional APIs?
There are almost 10K public APIs available in the private sector. This should be viewed as a pallet for developers, and something that developers use as they are developing (painting) their apps (painting). It is difficult for developers to know what they will be painting with, without knowing what resources are available. The open API innovation process rarely is able to articulate what is needed, then make that request for resources—API innovations occurs when valuable, granular resources are available fro multiple sources, ad developers assemble them, and innovate in new ways.
2. What private-sector or non-Federal entities currently work with government programs and services to help people fill out government forms? Has that outreach served the public and advanced public interests?
Another question that should be answered by the Department of of Education, and providing us with the answers. How would you know this without a properly definitely partner framework? Stand up an API platform, and you will have the answer.
3. What instances or examples are there of companies charging fees to assist consumers in completing otherwise freely available government forms from other agencies? What are the advantages and risks to consider when deciding to allow third parties to charge fees to provide assistance with otherwise freely available forms and processes? How can any risks be mitigated?
I can't speak to what is already going on in the space, regarding companies charging feeds to consumers, I am not expert on the education space at this level. This is just such a new paradigm made possible via APIs and open data, there just aren’t that many examples in the space, built around open government data.
First, the partner tiers of API platforms help verify and validate individuals and organizations who are building applications and charging for services in the space. A properly design, managed and policed partner tier can assist in mitigating risk in the evolution of such business ecosystems.
Second API driven security layers using oAuth give access to end-users, allowing students to take control over which applications and ultimately service providers have access to their data, revoking when services are done or a provider is undesirable. With proper reporting and rating systems, policing of the API platform can be something that is done within the community, and the last mile of policing being done by the Department of Education.
Proper API management practices provide the necessary identity, access and control layers necessary to keep resources and end-users safe. Ultimately who has access to data, can charge fees, and play a role in the ecosystem is up to Department of education and end-users when applications are built on top of APIs.
4. Beyond the IRS e-filing example, what other similar examples exist where Federal, State, or local government entities have used APIs to share government data or facilitate participation in government services or processes - particularly at a scale as large as that of the Federal Student Aid programs?
This is a new, fast growing sector, and there are not a lot of existing examples, but there area few:
An API driven system that allows citizens to report and interact with municipalities around issues within communities. While Open311 is deployed in specific cities such as Chicago and Baltimore, it is an open source platform and API that can be deployed to serve any size market.
The US Census provides open data and APIs, allowing for innovation around government census survey data, used across the private sector in journalism, healthcare, and many other ways. The availability of government census data is continually spawning new applications, visualizations and other expressions, that wouldn’t be realized or known, if the platform wasn’t available.
We The People
The We The People API allows for 3rd-Party integration with the White House Petition process. Currently only allowing for read only access to the information, and the petition process, but is possibly one way that write APIs will emerge in federal government.
There are numerous examples of open APIs and data being deployed in government, even from the Department of Education. All of them are works in progress, and will realize their full potential over time, maturation and much iteration and engagement with the public.
D. Technical Specifications
1. What elements would a read-write API need to include for successful use at the Department?
There are numerous building blocks can be employed in managing read-write APIs, but there are a couple that will be essential to successful read-write APIs in government:
Defined access tiers for consumers of API data, with appropriate public, partner and private (internal) levels of access. All write methods are only accessible by partner and internal levels of access, requiring verification and certification of companies and individuals who will be building on top of API resources.
The ability to compose many different types of API resource access, create service bundles that are made accessible to different levels of partners. Service management allows for identity and access management, but also billing, reporting, and other granular level control over how services are composed, accessed and managed.
Open Authentication (oAuth 2.0)
All data made available via Department of Education API platforms and involves personally identifiable information will require the implementation of an open authentication or oAuth security layer. oAuth 2.0 provides an identity layer for the platform, requiring developers to use token that throttle access to resources for applications, a process that is initiated, managed and revoked by end-users—providing the highest level of control over who has access to data, and what they can do with it, by the people who personal data is involved.
Federated API Deployments
Not all APIs should be deployed and managed within the Department of Education firewall. API platforms can be made open source so that 3rd party partners can deploy within their own environments. Then via a sensible partner framework, the Department of Education can decide which partners they should not just allow to write to APIs, but also pull data from their trusted systems and open API deployments.
APIs provide the necessary access to all of federal government API resources, and a sensible partner framework, service management layer in conjunction with oAuth will provide the necessary controls for a read / write API in government. If agencies are looking to further push risk outside the firewall, federated API deployments with trusted partners will have to be employed.
2. What data, methods, and other features must an API contain in order to develop apps accessing Department data or enhancing Department processes, programs, or services?
There are about 75 common building blocks for API deployments (http://management.apievangelist.com/building-blocks.html), aggregated after looking at almost 10K public API deployments. Each government API will have different needs when it comes to other supporting building blocks.
3. How would read-only and/or read-write APIs interact with or modify the performance of the Department’s existing systems (e.g., FAFSA on the Web)? Could these APIs negatively or positively affect the current operating capability of such systems? Would these APIs allow for the flexibility to evolve seamlessly with the Department’s technological developments?
There are always risks with API access to resources, but a partner framework, service management, oAuth, and other common web security practices these risks can be drastically reduce, and mitigated in real-time
Isolated API Deployments
New APIs should rarely be deployed and directly connected to existing systems. APIs can be deployed as an isolated interface, with an isolated data store. Existing systems can use the same API interface to read / write data into the system and keep in sync with existing internal systems. API developers will never have access to existing system and data stores, just isolated, defined API interfaces as part of a secure partner tier, only accessing the services they have permission to, and the end-user data that has been given access to by end-users themselves.
As described above, if government agencies are looking to further reduce risk, API deployments can be designed and deployed as open source software, allowing partners with the ecosystem to download and deploy. A platform partner framework can provide a verification and certification process for federal API deployments, allowing the Department of Education to decide who they will pull data from, reducing the risk to internal systems, providing a layer of trust for integration.
Beyond these approaches to deploying APIs, one of the biggest benefits of web API deployments is they use the same security as other government websites, just possessing an additional layer of securing determining who has access, and to what.
It should be the rare instance when an existing system will have an API deployed with direct integration. API automation will provide the ability to sync API deployments with existing systems and data stores.
4. What vulnerabilities might read-write APIs introduce for the security of the underlying databases the Department currently uses?
As stated above, there should be no compromise in how data is imported into existing databases at the Department of Education. It is up to the agency to decide which APIs they pull data from, and how it is updated as part of existing systems.
5. What are the potential adverse effects on successful operation of the Department’s underlying databases that read-write APIs might cause? How could APIs be developed to avoid these adverse effects?
As stated above, isolated and external, federated API deployments will decouple the risk from existing systems. This is the benefit of APIs, is they can deployed as isolated resources, then integration and interoperability, internally and externally is up to the consumer to decide what is imported and what isn’t.
6. How should APIs address application-to-API security?
Modern API partner framework, service management and oath provide the necessary layer to identify who has access, and what resources can be used by not just a company and user, but by each application they have developed.
Routing all API access through the partner framework plus associated service level, will secure access to Department of Education resources by applications, with user and app level logging of what was accessed and used within an application.
OAuth provides a balance to this application to API security layer, allowing the Department of Education to manage security of API access, developers to request access for their applications, but ultimately control is in the hand of end users to define which applications have access to their data.
7. How should the APIs address API-to-backend security issues? Examples include but are not limited to authentication, authorization, policy enforcement, traffic management, logging and auditing, TLS (Transport Layer Security), DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) prevention, rate limiting, quotas, payload protection, Virtual Private Networks, firewalls, and analytics.
Web APIs use the exact same infrastructure as websites, allowing for the re-use of existing security practices employed for websites. However APIs provide the added layer of security, logging, auditing and analytics provided through the lens of the partner framework, service composition and only limited by the service management tooling available.
8. How do private or non-governmental organizations optimize the presentation layer for completion and accuracy of forms?
Business rules. As demonstrated as part of a FAFSA API prototype, business rules for each form field, along with rejection codes can also be made available via an API resources, allowing for developers to build in a form validation layer into all digital forms.
After submission, and the first line of defense provide red by API developers building next generation forms, platform providers can provide further validation, review and ultimately a status workflow that allows forms to be rejected or accepted based upon business logic.
9. What security parameters are essential in ensuring there is no misuse, data mining, fraud, or misrepresentation propagated through use of read- only or read-write APIs?
A modern API service management layer allows the platform provider to see all API resources that are being access, by whom, and easily establish patterns for healthy usage, as well as patterns for misuse. When misuse is identified, service management allows providers to revoke access, and take action against companies and individuals.
Beyond the platform provider, APIs allow for management by end-users through common oAuth flows and management tools. Sometimes end-users can identify an app is misusing their data, even before a platform provider might. oAuth gives them the control to revoke access to their data, via the API platform.
oauth, combined with API service management tooling has allowed for a unique security environment in which the platform can easily keep operations healthy, but end-users and developers can help police the ecosystem as well. If platform providers give users the proper rating and reporting tools, they can help keep API and data consumers in check.
10. With advantages already built into the Department’s own products and services (e.g., IRS data retrieval using FAFSA on the Web), how would new, third-party API-driven products present advantages over existing Department resources?
While existing products and services developed within the department do provide great value, the Department of Education cannot do everything on their own. Because of the access the Department has, some features will be better by default, but this won’t be the case in all situations.
The Department of Education and our government does not have unlimited resources, and with access to ALL resources available via the department the private sector can innovate, helping share the load of delivering vital services. Its not whether or not public sector products and services are better than private sector or vice vera, it is about the public sector and private sector partnering wherever and whenever it make sense.
11. What would an app, service or tool built with read-write API access to student aid forms look like?
Applications will look like turbotax and tax act developed within the IRS ecosystem, and look like the tools developed by the Sunlight Foundation on top of government open data and APIs.
We will never understand what applications are possible until the necessary government resources are available. All digital assets should be open by default, with consistent API platform and strategy from the department of Education, and the platform will answer this question.
E. Privacy Issues
1. How could the Department use APIs that involve the use of student records while ensuring compliance with potentially applicable statutory and regulatory requirements, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) and the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. § 552a and 34 CFR Part 5b)?
As described above the partner framework, service management and oAuth layer provides the control and logging necessary to execute and audit as part of any application statutory and regulatory requirement.
I can’t articulate enough how this layer provides a tremendous amount of control over how these resources are access, giving control to the involved parties who matter the most—end-users. All API traffic is throttled, measured and reviewed as part of service management, enforcing privacy that in a partnership between the Department of Education, API consumers and end-users.
2. How could APIs ensure that the appropriate individual has provided proper consent to permit the release of privacy-protected data to a third party? How can student data be properly safeguarded to prevent its release and use by third parties without the written consent often required?
As articulated above the partner framework, service management and oAuth address this. This is a benefit of API deployment, breaking down existing digital access, providing access and granular control, combined with oAuth and logging of all access—APIs take control to a new level.
oAuth has come to represent this new balance in security and control of digital resources, allowing the platform, developers and end-users to execute within their defined role on the platform. This balance introduced by APIs and oAuth, allow data to be safeguarded, while also opening up for the widest possible use in the next generation applications and other implementations.
3. How might read-only or read-write APIs collect, document, and track individuals’ consent to have their information shared with specific third parties?
4. How can personally identifiable information (PII) and other financial information (of students and parents) be safeguarded through the use of APIs?
Access of personally identifiable information (PII) via Department of Education APIs will be controlled by students and their parents. The most important thing you can do to protect PII is to give the owner of that data, education about how to allow developer access to it in responsible ways that will benefit them.
APIs open up access, while oAuth will give the students and parents the control they need to integrate with apps, and existing system to achieve their goals, while retaining the greatest amount of over safeguarding their own data.
5. What specific terms of service should be enabled using API keys, which would limit use of APIs to approved users, to ensure that information is not transmitted to or accessed by unauthorized parties?
A well designed partner layer would define multiple level of access, combined with sensible service packages, will establish the terms of service levels that will be bundled with API keys and oAuth level identity and access to personally identifiable information.
Common approaches to deploying partner layers with appropriate service tiers, using oAuth have been well established over the last 10 years in the private sector. Controlling access to API resources at a granular level, providing the greatest amount of access that makes sense, while knowing who is access data and how they are using is what APIs are designed for.
6. What are the relative privacy-related advantages and disadvantages of using read-only versus read-write APIs for student aid data?
You will face many of the similar privacy concerns whether an API is read or write. If it is personably identifiable information, read or write access to the wrong parties violates a student's privacy. Just ensure that data is updated via trusted application providers is essential.
A properly defined partner layer will separate who has read and who has write access. Proper logging and versioning of data is essential to ensure data integrity, allowing end-users to manage their data via an application or system with confidence.
F. Compliance Issues
1. What are the relative compliance-related advantages and disadvantages of using read-only versus read-write APIs for student aid data?
APIs provide a single point of access to student aid data. With the implementation of proper partner framework, service management and oAuth every single action via this doorway is controlled and logged. When it comes to auditing ALL operations whether it is from the public, partners or internal, APIs excel in satisfying compliance concerns.
2. How can the Department prevent unauthorized use and the development of unauthorized products from occurring through the potential development of APIs? How might the Department enforce terms of service for API key holders, and prevent abuse and fraud by non-API key holders, if APIs were to be developed and made available?
As described above the partner framework, service management and oAuth will provide the security layer needed to manage 99% of potential abuse, but overall enforcement via the API platform is a partnership between the Department of Education, API consumers as well as end-users. The last mile of enforcement will be executed by the Department of Education, but it will be up to the entire ecosystem and platform to police and enforce in real-time.
3. What kind of burden on the Department is associated with enforcing terms and conditions related to APIs?
The Department of Education will handle the first line of defense, in defining partner tiers and service composition that wraps all access to APis. The Department will also be the last mile of decision making and enforcement when violations occur. The platform should provide the data needed by the department to make decision as well as the enforcement necessary in the form of API key and access revocation, and banning apps, individuals and business from the ecosystem.
4. How can the Department best ensure that API key holders follow all statutory and regulatory provisions of accessing federal student aid funds and data through use of third-party products?
First line of define to ensure that API key holders follow all statutory and regulatory provision will be verification and validation of partners upon registration, applications going into production and availability in application galleries and other directories in which students discover apps.
Second line of defense will be reporting requirements and usage patterns of API consumers and their apps. If applications regular meet self-reporting requirements and real-time patterns establishing healthy or unhealthy behavior, they can retain their certification. If partners fail to comply they will be restricted from the API ecosystem.
Last line of defense is the end-users, the students and parents. All end-users need to be educated regarding the control they have, given reporting and ranking tools that allow them file complaints and rank the applications that are providing quality services.
As stated several times, enforcement will be a community effort, something the Department of Education has ultimate control of, but requires giving the community agency as well.
5. How could prior consent from the student whom the data is about be provided for release of privacy- protected data to third party entities?
An API with oAuth layer is this vehicle. Providing the access, logging all transactions, and holding all partners to a quality of service. All the mechanism are there, in a modern API implementation, the access just needs to be defined.
6. How should a legal relationship between the Department and an API developer or any other interested party be structured?
I’m not a lawyer. I’m not a policy person. Just can’t contribute to this one.
7. How would a legal relationship between the Department and an API developer or any other interested party affect the Department’s current agreements with third-party vendors that operate and maintain the Department’s existing systems?
All of this will be defined in each partner tier, combined with appropriate service levels. With isolated API deployments, this should not affect currently implementations.
However a benefit of consistent API strategy is that existing vendors can access resources via APis, increasing the agility and flexibility of existing contracts. APIs are a single point of access, not just for the public, but 3rd party partners as well as internal access. Everyone involved can participate and receive benefits of API consumption.
8. What disclosures should be made available to students about what services are freely available in government domains versus those that could be offered at a cost by a third party?
A partner tier for the API platform will define the different levels of partners. Trusted, verified and certified partners will get different recommendation levels and access than lesser known services, and applications from 3rd party with lesser trusted levels of access.
9. If the Department were to use a third-party application to engage with the public on its behalf, how could the Department ensure that the Department follows the protocols of OMB Memorandum 10-23?
Again, the partner tier determines the level of access to the partner and the protocols of all OMB memorandum call be built in. Requiring all data, APIs and code is open sourced, and uses appropriate API access tiers showing how data and resources are accessed and put to use.
API service management provides the reporting necessary to support government audits and regulations. Without this level of control on top of an API, this just isn’t possible in a scalable way, that APIs plus web and mobile applications offer.
G. Policy Issues
1. What benefits to consumers or the Department would be realized by opening what is currently a free and single-point service (e.g., the FAFSA) to other entities, including those who may charge fees for freely-available services and processes? What are the potential unintended consequences?
Providing API access to government resources is an efficient and sensible use of taxpayers money, and reflect the mission of all agencies, not just the Department of Education. APIs introduce the agility and flexibility needed to deliver the next generation government application and services.
The economy in a digital age will require a real-time partnership between the public sector and the private sector, and APIs are the vehicle for this. Much like it has done for private sector companies like Amazon and Google, APIs will allow the government to create new services and products that serve constituents with the help of the private sector, while also stimulating job growth and other aspects of the economy.
APIs will not all be an up-side, each program and initiative will have its own policy problems and unintended consequences. One problem that plagues API initiatives is enough resources in the form of money and skilled works to make sure efforts are successful. Without the proper management, poorly executed APIs can open up huge security holes, introduce privacy concerns at a scale never imagined.
APIs need to be managed properly, with sensible real-time controls for keeping operations in check.
2. How could the Department ensure that access to title IV, HEA student aid programs truly remains free, even amidst the potential development of third-party apps that may charge a fee for assistance in participating in free government programs, products, and services with or without providing legitimate value-added services?
Partner Framework + Service Management = Quality of Service Across Platform
3. What other policy concerns should the Department consider with regard to the potential development of APIs for higher education data and student aid processes at the Department?
Not a policy or education expert, I will leave this to others to determine. Also something that should be built into API operations, and discovered on a program by program basis.
4. How would APIs best interact with other systems already in use in student aid processes (e.g., within States)?
The only way you will know is if you do it. How is the IRS-efile system helping with this, but it isn’t even a perfect model to follow. We will never know the potential here until a platform is stood up, and resources are made available. All signs point to APIs opening up a huge amount of interoperability between not just states and the federal government, but also with cities and counties.
5. How would Department APIs benefit or burden institutions participating in title IV, HEA programs?
If APIs aren’t given the proper resources to operate it can introduce security, privacy and support concerns that would not have been there before. A properly run API initiative will provide support, while an underfunded, undermanned initiative will just further burden institutions.
6. While the Department continues to enhance and refine its own processes and products (e.g., through improvements to FAFSA or the IDR application process), how would third-party efforts using APIs complement or present challenges to these processes?
These two things should not be separate. The internal efforts should be seen as just another partner layer within the API ecosystem. All future service and products developed internally within the Department of Education should use the same API infrastructure developed for partners and the public.
If APIs are not used internally, API efforts will always fail. APIs are not just about providing access to external resources, it is about opening up the Department to think about its resources in an external way that benefits the public, partners as well as within the government.
On the second anniversary of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), where we are celebrating a "global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance", and that:
OGP has grown to 60 countries that have made more than 1000 commitments to improve the governance of more than two billion people around the globe. OGP is now a global community of government reformers, civil society leaders, and business innovators working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms and advance good governance.
That is some pretty significant platform growth! While reading this I'm reminded of how any amount of perceived growth and value delivered via an "open data or API platform" can be immediately muted by the omission of very fundamental building blocks like privacy.
Let's review the building blocks of the Open Government Alliance:
- Expand Open Data - Open Data fuels innovation that grows the economy and advances government transparency and accountability. Government data has been used by journalists to uncover variations in hospital billings, by citizens to learn more about the social services provided by charities in their communities, and by entrepreneurs building new software tools to help farmers plan and manage their crops. Building upon the successful implementation of open data commitments in the first U.S. National Action Plan, the new Plan will include commitments to make government data more accessible and useful for the public, such as reforming how Federal agencies manage government data as a strategic asset, launching a new version of Data.gov, and expanding agriculture and nutrition data to help farmers and communities.
- Modernize the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) - The FOIA encourages accountability through transparency and represents a profound national commitment to open government principles. Improving FOIA administration is one of the most effective ways to make the U.S. Government more open and accountable. Today, the United States announced a series of commitments to further modernize FOIA processes, including launching a consolidated online FOIA service to improve customers’ experience and making training resources available to FOIA professionals and other Federal employees.
- Increase Fiscal Transparency - The Administration will further increase the transparency of where Federal tax dollars are spent by making federal spending data more easily available on USASpending.gov; facilitating the publication of currently unavailable procurement contract information; and enabling Americans to more easily identify who is receiving tax dollars, where those entities or individuals are located, and how much they receive.
- Increase Corporate Transparency - Preventing criminal organizations from concealing the true ownership and control of businesses they operate is a critical element in safeguarding U.S. and international financial markets, addressing tax avoidance, and combatting corruption in the United States and abroad. Today we committed to take further steps to enhance transparency of legal entities formed in the United States.
- Advance Citizen Engagement and Empowerment - OGP was founded on the principle that an active and robust civil society is critical to open and accountable governance. In the next year, the Administration will intensify its efforts to roll back and prevent new restrictions on civil society around the world in partnership with other governments, multilateral institutions, the philanthropy community, the private sector, and civil society. This effort will focus on improving the legal and regulatory framework for civil society, promoting best practices for government-civil society collaboration, and conceiving of new and innovative ways to support civil society globally.
- More Effectively Manage Public Resources - Two years ago, the Administration committed to ensuring that American taxpayers receive every dollar due for the extraction of the nation’s natural resources by committing to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). We continue to work toward achieving full EITI compliance in 2016. Additionally, the U.S. Government will disclose revenues on geothermal and renewable energy and discuss future disclosure of timber revenues.
How can you argue with that? Its very sensible set of open government platform building blocks right? However, when you look at the bigger picture you realize there is a significant building block, that us in the tech sector have realized is essential to a healthy platform ecosystem missing:
- Citizen Data Privacy - Ensuring that government respects the online privacy of each and every U.S. citizen, preventing unwanted harvesting of private data or meta data that exists in cloud environments, computer and mobile devices as well as transported across telecommunications infrastructure locally or abroad. When privacy is compromised in the name of law enforcement or national security, the laws, rules and procedures around these accepted situations are made publicly accessible.
It is great that our government is committed to expanding open data, increasing transparency and efficiently engaging citizens, and sensibly manage public resources. However if our government wants to act as an open platform, just like any private sector platform, they must respect user privacy.
Without ensuring privacy for users, it doesn't matter how forward thinking your open data, information and API strategy is. Privacy and security are essential building blocks any private or public sector entity looking to build an open platform.
Nice work around the Open Government Partnership, but without addressing the privacy of citizens it is rendered pretty useless.
Access, Interoperability, Privacy and Security Of Technology Will Set The Stage For The Future of Education12 Oct 2013
In 2010 when I started API Evangelist I saw the technological potential of APIs, but while the rest of the online space was focused on what APis could do for developers, I was focused on what APIs could do for the average person. APIs don't just open up access for developers, they open up access for end-users, introducing interoperability, data portability and ultimately tools that give them control over their own data, content and other valuable resources.
This realization has been central to my mission at API Evangelist, which is about educating the masses about APIs. What is an API? Why are APIs important? I strongly feel that APIs empower end-users to make better decisions about which platforms they use, which applications they adopt, and gives them more ownership, control and agency in their own worlds. When you help an individual understand they can host their own Wordpress blog and migrate from the cloud hosted version of Wordpress, or migrate their blog from Blogger to Wordpress via APIs, you are giving the gift of web literacy.
Leading technology platforms like Amazon, Google, eBay and Flickr have long realized the potential of opening up APIs and empowering end-users. Since then, thousands of platform providers have also realized that opening up APIs enables developers and end-users to innovate around their platform and services, and that there is much more opportunity for growth, expansion and revenue when end-users are API literate. Users are much more likely to adopt a platform and deeply integrate it into their personal or business lives, if they are able to connect it with their other cloud services, taking control and optimizing their information and work flow.
Helping business owners, developers and end-users understand the potential that APIs introduce is essential to the future of education, and will be the heart of a healthy and thriving economy. There is a key piece of technology that reflects this new paradign and is currently operating and thriving across the web, called oAuth. This open authentication (oAuth) standard provides the ability for platforms to open up access to content and data that enables developers to build web and mobile applications, but in a way that gives the control to end-users, who are ulimately the owners of a platforms content and data, and are the target of the applications that developers are building.
oAuth has introduced a new online dance, that is widely known as three-legged authentication, and is being used across common platforms from Google to Facebook, allowing end-users, developers and platforms to interact in a way that makes the Internet go round. If any of these three legs are out of balance and security or privacy is compromised, or one of the players is not educated and exploitation occurs, the cycle quickly breaks down. This delicate balance encourages all three legs to be educated, empowered and in control over their role in this critical supply chain of the Internet.
Online platforms, and the web and mobile applications that are built on them, are playing an ever increasing role in every aspect of our personal, professional and public lives, from turning in class assignments in high school to paying our taxes as adults. APIs and oAuth are being used as the pipes and gatekeepers for everything from photos and location data to our vital healthcare records. These online platforms will play a central role in our education from infancy to retirement, and being educated, aware and literate in how these platforms operate is essential to it all working--for everyone involved.
The future of education depends on all online platforms providing access, interoperability and data portability, while also fully respecting end-users privacy and security and investing in their education about these features and the opportunities they open up. Education will continue to exist within traditional institutions, but will persist throughout our lives in this new online environment. It is imperative that every citizen possesses a certain level of web literacy to be able to learn, grow and evolve as a human being in this increasingly digital society.
I will be speaking at OpenVA, Virginia’s First Annual Open and Digital Learning Resources Conference on this topic and continue to work this message into my overall API Evangelist message. The link between APIs, the access they provide, and education is critical. It is something that I feel provides just as many opportunity for exploitation as it does for benefiting end-users, developers and platforms--requiring a great deal of transparency and scrutiny.
Lots to think about, and discuss. I look forward to seeing you at University of Mary Washington for OpenVA.
I have a panel this week at Nordic APIs called Business Models in an Internet of Things, with Ellen Sundh (@ellensundh) of Coda Collective, David Henricson Briggs of Playback Energy, Bradford Stephens of Ping Identity and Ronnie Mitra(@mitraman/a>) of Layer 7 Technologies. My current abstract for the panel is:
As we just begin getting a hold on monetization strategies and business models for APIs delivering data and resources for mobile development. How will we begin to understand how to apply what we have learned for the Internet of Things across our homes, vehicles, sensors and other Internet enabled objects that are being integrating with our lives.
In preparation for the event I am working through my thoughts around potential monetization strategies and business models that will emerge in this fascinating adn scary new world where everything can be connected to the Internet---creating an Internet of Things (IoT).
Where Is The Value In The IoT?
When it comes to monetizing APIs of any type, there first has to be value. When it comes IoT where is the value for end-users? Is it the device themselves, is it the ecosystem of applications built around a device or will it be about the insight derived from the data exhaust generated from these Internet connected devices?
Evolving From What We Know
After almost 10 years of operating web APIs, we are getting a handle on some of the best approaches to monetization and building business models in this new API economy. How much of this existing knowledge will transfer directly to the IoT? Freemium, tiered plans, paid API access and advertising--which of these existing models will work, and which won't.
Another existing model to borrow from when it comes to IoT is the telco space. The world of cellphone and smart phones are the seeds of IoT and one of the biggest drivers of the API economy. How will existing telco business models be applied to the world of IoT? Device subsidies, contracts, data plans, message volumes are all possible things that could be borrowed from the existing telco world, but we have to ask ourselves, what will work and what won't?
Will Developers Carry the Burden?
When it comes to API access, developers often pay for access and the privilege of building applications on top of API driven platforms. Will this be the case in the IoT? Will the monetization of IoT platforms involve charging developers for API usage, number of users and features? Is this a primary channel for IoT device makers to make money off their products? In the beginning this may not be the case, with providers needing to incentivize developers to build apps and crunch data, but it is likely that eventually developers will have to carry at least some of the burden.
The payment industry is booming in the API Economy, but micro-payments are still getting their footing, doing better in some areas than others. Certain areas of IoT may lend itself to applying micro-payment approaches to monetization. When you pass through toll booths or parking, there are clear opportunities for micro-payments to engage with Internet connected automobiles. Beyond the obvious, think of the opportunities for traffic prioritization--do you want intelligence on where you should drive to avoid traffic or possibly pay per mile to be in a preferred lane? Another area is in entertainment, in generating revenue from delivering music, audiobooks and other entertainment to drivers or passengers in IoT vehicles and public transportation.
Will IoT Be All About The Data
As we sit at the beginning of the era of big data, driven from mobile, social and the cloud, what will big data look like in the IoT era. Will the money be all about the data exhaust that comes from a world of Internet connected device, not just at the individual device and the insight delivered to users, but at the aggregate level and understand parking patterns for entire cities or the electricity consumption for a region.
Security Will Be Of High Value In IoT
We are already beginning to see the importance of security in the IoT world, with missteps by Tesla and camera maker TRENDnet. Will security around IoT be a monetization opportunity in itself? Device manufacturers will be focused on doing what they do best, and often times will overlook security, leaving open huge opportunities for companies to step up and deliver b2b and b2c security options and layers for IoT. How much will we value security? Will we pay extra to ensure the devices in our lives are truly secure?
I Will Pay For My Privacy In An IoT World
When all devices in my life are connected to the Internet, but also the world around me is filled with cameras, sensors and tracking mechanisms, how will privacy change? Will we have the opportunity to buy privacy in an IoT world? Will the wealthy be able to pay for the privilege of being lost in a sea of devices, not showing up on cameras, passed by when sensors are logging data? Privacy may not be a right in an IoT world it by be purely something you get if you can afford it. Will companies establish IoT business models and drive monetization through privacy layers and opportunities?
A IoT Las Vegas for Venture Capital
With IoT centered around costly physical devices, and potentially large platforms and networks, will anything in the IoT space be able to be bootstrapped like the web 2.0 and mobile space was? Or will all IoT companies require venture capital? At first glance IoT looks like a huge opportunity for VC firms, allowing them to specialize for the win, or gamble on the space like they would in Las Vegas.
Will We Plan For Monetization Early On In IoT?
When it comes to IoT, it is easy to focus on the monetization the physical device, either leaving money on the table with new an innovative ways of generating revenue, or possibly having monetization strategies that are behind the scenes and not obvious to users--something that could be damaging to security, privacy and overall trust in the IoT space.
We learned a lot from mistakes made in early social, cloud and mobile API monetization. We need to make sure and have open conversation around healthy IoT business models and monetization strategies. Generating revenue from IoT needs to be a 3-legged endeavor that includes not just IoT platform providers, but sensibly includes ecosystem developers as well as end-users.
The world of IoT is just getting going, but is picking up momentum very quickly. We are seeing IoT devices enter our homes, cars, clothing, bodies and will become ubiquitous in the world around us, embedded in signs, doorways, roadways, products in rural and metropolitan areas. It is clear there is huge opportunities to make money in this new Internet connected world, but let's make sure and have open conversations about how this can be done in sensible ways to make sure the IoT space grows in a healthy and vibrat way.
I just spent 30 minutes on the phone with an important group in the European Union called OPENi, which is aiming to be an open-source, web-based, framework for integrating applications with cloud-based services via APIs. Straight from the organization's mouth:
OPENi aims at inspiring innovation in the European mobile applications industry, by radically improving the interoperability of cloud-based services and trust in personal cloud storage through the development of a consumer-centric, open source mobile cloud applications platform.
I will be providing feedback and guidance as a member of the group's user advisory board. While on the call today, there was a mention of concerns around being seen as the usual, heavy handed EU entity that is too focused on user privacy and ownership, which could prevent the group from being well received, but also ignore the economic opportunities APIs and interoperability afford businesses, developers and end users.
This is a reminder for me of how EU tech companies, and the countries where they reside, are often perceived around the globe and here in the US. But also stands in stark contrast to the illness I see from the Silicon Valley, and U.S side of the discussion. In a world where everything is about economic opportunity, and the data in these API pipes are the new oil, aka the new resource, that is meant to be extracted, with little or no concern for privacy and ownership of the end-users.
In 2014, there is a huge opportunity for all of us to meet in the middle, acknowledging that there is great economic opportunity around APIs, cloud services, interoperability and the data that flows between platforms. But there is even greater economic opportunity if we acknowledge and respect the privacy, ownership of users of the web, mobile and Internet of Things we develop in the cloud.
I would also add a 3rd dimension to this discussion. That there is also a massive non-commercial opportunity for APIs, interoperability and cloud services. When it comes to more efficient government, healthcare, education, journalism, media and other aspects of our society, if we can better educate end-users, developers and platform owners while also improve technological approaches by honing concepts like hypermedia, licensing and ownership models defined on top of oAuth--everyone in the game will benefit.
There is a lot at stake right now. It isn't black or white, but many, may shades of gray. It is not all about privacy and ownership, or all about making money. APIs enable interoperability, data portability, transparency and openness that can really benefit society as well as open up opportunities for economic growth for everyone involved.
Even after 3 years doing this, I still get very hopeful for the potential of APIs on the global landscape. I predict 2014 will be a critical year.
Since Github will allow document types other than code, such as markdown and PDF, it can make sense to use Github for managing the legal side of your API.
Using Github for the legal aspects of API operation will provide a level of transparency developers will appreciate, allowing them to download and store for their own records while being able to see the difference between each version, in a format that makes sense to them.
Just as with all other areas of an API, Github will allow you to completely manage the evolution of your API terms, privacy and branding in a way that is in sync with all the other technical and business building blocks of your API.
Consider using Github for API legal building block management.
If you think there is a link I should have listed here feel free to tweet it at me, or submit as a Github issue. Even though I do this full time, I'm still a one person show, and I miss quite a bit, and depend on my network to help me know what is going on.