News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 23 December 2016

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Update (1/4/2017): corrected Mor Rubinstein's spelling and gender.

News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 23 December 2016
The Information Program NEWS DIGEST, published the second and fourth Thursdays of each month, aims to update colleagues in the Open Society Foundations and friends further afield about the news, opinions and events the Program team have been watching this fortnight. The views expressed in these stories do not necessarily reflect those of the Information Program or the OSF. Prepared by Wendy M. Grossman.

Our staff, advisers and major grantees tweet at Current and former grantees featured in this issue: EDRi, EFF, La Quadrature du Net, Open Rights Group, Privacy International, Tactical Tech.


Life in a Quantified Society
The Open Society Foundation has published a basic guide to its work on the Quantified Society, explaining the underpinning technologies and their impact on individuals' everyday lives. Topics include pervasive data collection, algorithmic decision-making, and the problems these pose for accountability and open access to information.

For breaking news stories, visit:

UK: European Court of Justice rules UK bulk data collection illegal
The Open Rights Group reports that the European Court of Justice has ruled that it is illegal for governments to indiscriminately collect emails and electronic communications in bulk. The ruling may trigger legal challenges to Britain's newly-passed Investigatory Powers Act. Other key points of the judgment: no blanket data retention; notification of the persons affected after the investigation has concluded; limitation to serious crime; independent authorisation. The case, which was backed by ORG, Privacy International, Liberty, and the Law Society, was originally brought by the MPs Tom Watson and David Davis against the 2014 Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act. Davis was forced to drop out when he joined the present government as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

Uber launches self-driving cars in San Francisco
The San Francisco Examiner reports that shortly after Uber sent its self-driving cars out on the streets of San Francisco for the first time, one of the cars was caught on video apparently running a red light, one of two near-accidents that have been reported involving these cars. Uber calls the incidents "driver error", and, the New York Times reports, continues to refuse to apply for permits for the cars, despite orders to do so from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Uber argues that because the cars have human drivers present, permits are not required. Reveal News reports that in a deposition filed in a lawsuit he has brought, the company's former forensic investigator, Ward Spangenberg, says that company employees can and do spy on customers. Spangenberg claims he was fired for objecting to Uber's illegal and reckless practices.
SF Examiner:
NY Times:
Reveal News:

OpenStreetView project seeks to rival Google
The Register reports that Telenav, a supporter of the OpenStreetMap project, has launched OpenStreetView, a project intended to create an open source version of Google's Street View. Contributors use the OpenStreetView software to upload images from GoPro cameras or Android phones fitted with OBD2 dongles that fit into the port supplied on newer cars. So far, contributors have uploaded 40,000 kilometres' worth of images. The Register notes that the effort is at an early stage, and other such projects have been tried before only to fizzle.

US: President-elect Donald Trump meets tech leaders
ReCode's Kara Swisher reports on the meeting US President-elect Donald Trump called with tech company leaders including Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Tim Cook (Apple), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Larry Page (Google), Elon Musk (Tesla), and Peter Thiel. Twitter was notably not invited. In a piece written when the meeting was announced, Swisher argued that these leaders should stand up for the social and democratic values they have often claimed to represent. Afterwards, she reported on the subjects the group actually raised: the need for more H1B visas to enable foreign workers to come to the US; STEM education; maternity leave; China; infrastructure spending; and the tax treatment of repatriated assets. EFF suggests that if Trump really wants to help these companies he should adopt policies that protect users and innovation from policies that threaten privacy, civil liberties, and a free internet. At Medium, Ben Rattray, CEO and founder of, discusses the changes technology platforms need to make to satisfy the public's genuine civic needs.
ReCode (before):
ReCode (after):

Germany: Universities sever Elsevier subscriptions
Intellectual Property Watch reports that more than 60 German universities are preparing to lose access on January 1 to hundreds of journals published by Elsevier after failing to reach agreement on pricing and licensing. British scientists have filed a complaint over market abuse. Overall, 16,000 scientists have signed a pledge to cease providing articles or conducting peer review for Elsevier, following a call by mathematician Tim Gowers in 2012, though Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics estimates that as many as 38% may have continued to publish. Kiwi reports that Finland, where the FinELib consortium of libraries and universities continues to negotiate, may wind up in the same situation as Germany.

For more features and analysis selected by the Program team, visit:

Fighting back against the "war on cash"
In this posting at The Long and Short, Brett Scott argues that it's essential to fight back against "the war on cash", as the cashless society will see all transactions intermediated, and says that we should be concerned for those who will be excluded and left behind by such a system. Venezuela and India provide cases in point, as both have abruptly "demonetised" some of their higher-value notes. Mashable reports on the resulting currency crunch in India, and also finds that deaths have resulted when hospitals, ambulances, and pharmacies have refused to accept the old money. The Economic Times reports on the more chaotic situation in Venezuela, where the much less popular government discontinued the highest-value bank note on three days' notice before replacements were ready.
Long and Short:
Economic Times:

Fake news and how to stop it
In this podcast at Radio Berkman, Zeynep Tufecki and Jonathan Zittrain discuss the mechanics of fake news dissemination and express concern about some of the strategies proposed to combat it. At his blog, science fiction writer Charlie Stross kicks off a wide-ranging, multi-faceted discussion with eleven tweets that explain why Twitter and fake news were made for each other. In an interview with National Public Radio, Buzzfeed editor Craig Silverman discloses the results of his site's investigation: the vast majority are funded via Google's AdSense. At the Guardian, Carole Cadwalladr finds out how to bump the neo-Nazi, white supremacist group Stormfront off the top of Google's search results for "Did the Holocaust happen?": buy an ad. In her recent documentary, The Brainwashing of My Dad, filmmaker Jen Senko studies the development of the right-wing media machine built in the US over the last several decades, basing its success on emotion over facts.
Radio Berkman:

Open Government Partnership Summit in review
In this blog posting at OKFN, Mor Rubinstein reviews this year's Open Government Partnership Summit. Rubinstein praises better gender diversity but is concerned at the absence of government ministers and the relative silence of UK civil society. The latter leads her to point to a recent posting at CivicHall by mySociety co-founder Tom Steinberg, who argues that open data efforts to date have been too polite and constructively collaborative; transparency, Steinberg writes, is only ever beaten out of governments with a stick.

Google, the EU, and antitrust
In this article at the Harvard Business Review, Bala Iyer and U. Srinivasa Rangan discuss Google's defence against the European Commission's charges that the company unfairly advantages its own shopping service over those of competitors; uses its AdSense service to improperly restrict third-party websites from displaying ads served up by competitors; and exploits the dominant position of its Android operating system. The authors believe Google has mounted an effective rebuttal to the first two charges but believe to prevail on the third Google will need to argue that competition in the mobile space is qualitatively different. Specifically, they suggest that antitrust law needs to change to accept that a company isn't dominant in the classical sense simply because it is dominant in one ecosystem; winners can change at any time when newer innovation appears.

AI snake oil, fake tech, good stories, and uncritical media
In this blog posting, the first of a series, Dan Simon discusses how to tell if the claims someone is making for artificial intelligence software are true. The questions he suggests asking include: where the training data will come from and whether an evaluation procedure is built in. At ReCode, Phil Baker discusses "fake tech" using the recent failures of Magic Leap and Theranos as examples. Magic Leap, an augmented reality company, hired a New Zealand special effects company to create video simulations it claimed were genuine product demonstrations, netting it $1.9 billion in funding. Theranos claimed to be able to conduct dozens of tests from the tiny amounts of blood collected from a finger stick; its value topped $9 billion before its claims were discredited earlier this year. Vanity Fair's Nick Bilton tells the Theranos story in detail, starting with the scepticism of Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou when confronted with the company's refusal to disclose to either investors or scientists how its medical technology worked. Both Baker and Bilton argue that what's needed is a more critical, better-trained technology press.
Dan Simon:
Vanity Fair (Theranos):
Vanity Fair (press):

The Glass Room
On these web pages, Tactical Tech wraps up its Glass Room exhibition, which sought to demonstrate to visitors the data collection present in everyday life. The site provides photographs, interviews with visitors, and a "data detox kit" to help individuals identify and limit the many sources of data collection in their lives.
Tactical Tech:

China: Building the world's first digital totalitarian state
In this article, The Economist outlines the "digital totalitarian state" that China is building via its "social credit" system. Although a 2014 pilot scheme in Suining county, north of Shanghai, was a failure, about 30 governments are collecting data to support the system. By 2020, the Chinese government intends the system to "allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step". The Economist foresees two big hurdles for a surveillance system at such a scale: first, the quality of data; second, the ability to analyse it. Nonetheless, it concludes, many of the pieces are ready.

Facebook content reviews
In this article at Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Till Krause and Hannes Grassegger talk to members of the 600-person Berlin-based team, employed by Bertelsmann subsidiary Arvato, that reviews content at Facebook. Many report struggling with psychological issues due to their exposure to images of torture, murder, and child abuse coupled with their lack of training or support. They also discuss the unclear and inconsistent rules of deletion they must follow and other stresses of their jobs
SDZ Magazin:

The 3D printing revolution that wasn't
In this article at Medium's Backchannel, Andrew Zaleski analyses the failure of MakerBot, which bet unsuccessfully that 3D printers would become as ubiquitous as microwave ovens. What began as an open source company, he writes, over-extended when it acquired venture capital funding and became closed-source after its acquisition in 2013 by Stratasys. The market for home desktop 3D printers has never reached the levels MakerBot founder Bre Prettis thought they would, and the difficulties of design mean it possibly never will. Last year, 270,000 desktop 3D printers were sold, but nearly all went to schools and businesses.


To see more events recommended by the Information Program team, visit: If you would like your event listed in this mail, email

Privacy Camp
January 24, 2017
Brussels, Belgium
Co-organised by EDRi, Privacy Salon, USL-B, and VUB-LSTS, the fifth annual Privacy Camp brings together civil society, policy makers, and academia to discuss existing and looming problems for human rights in the digital environment.

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection
January 25-27, 2017
Brussels, Belgium
The tenth CPDP's main theme is artificial intelligence. The conference is accepting proposals for panels in April (from academic consortia, research projects, think tanks, and other research organisations) and May (from individuals wishing to present academic research papers).

Internet Freedom Festival
March 6-10, 2017
Valencia, Spain
The Internet Freedom Festival gathers the community keeping the Internet open and uncensored for a week of free-form multidisciplinary collaboration intended to help groups achieve their goals. Attendance is free and open to the public.

Rightscon 2017
March 29-31, 2017
Brussels, Belgium
RightsCon will tackle the most pressing issues at the intersection of technology and human rights. Session proposals are being accepted until November 25, 2016.

We Robot
March 31-April 1, 2017
New Haven, Connecticut
The sixth annual We Robot will be held at Yale Law School and will focus on the coming legal and policy conflicts as robots and AI become part of daily life.

TICTeC 2017
April 25-26, 2017
Florence, Italy
This will be the third mySociety conference on the impacts of civic technology.

2017 IFLA International News Media Conference
April 27-28, 2017
Reykjavik, Iceland
This conference will examine issues and challenges in collecting and preserving the news and making it available to users. Do access and preservation have different prerequisites? In addition, the conference will explore how news media is used and transformed by researchers and the public. Can we recognize variable user needs? Do we offer the most suitable APIs?

Creative Commons Global Summit
April 28-30, 2017
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
This event will gather a global community of technologists, academics, activists, creatives, and legal experts to work together on the expansion and growth of the commons, open knowledge, and free culture for all.

MetLib 2017
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
The 2017 programme theme is "Partnerships: Creating a new vision for libraries". Among the subthemes will be discussions of how and why to use, form, and manage partnerships, management tools, and best practices.

4th Africa Library Summit and 2nd AfLIA conference
May 14-20, 2017
Yaounde, Cameroon
Moved from Ethiopia to the site of the second bidder due to safety concerns, this conference co-locates the fourth Africa Library Sumit and the second African Library and Information Associations and Institutions conference.

IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy
May 22-24, 2017
San Jose, California
The 38th annual meeting will present developments in computer security and electronic privacy, and for bringing together researchers and practitioners in the field.

Workshop on Technology and Consumer Protection
May 22-24, 2017
San Jose, California
Co-hosted with the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, ConPro will explore computer science topics with an impact on consumers. This workshop has a strong security and privacy slant, with an overall focus on ways in which computer science can prevent, detect, or address the potential for technology to deceive or unfairly harm consumers.

Next Library Festival 2017
June 11-14, 2017
Aarhus, Denmark
Next Library 2017 will offer a "patchwork" of co-learning, co-creative, participatory, engaging, pluralistic and interactive meetings, and lots of parallel sessions, keynote speakers, wildcard sessions, demos/exhibitions, gaming, Networking Dinner Party, Get2Gether, Social un-conferences, alternative events and surprises.

Open Repositories 2017
June 26-30, 2017
Brisbane, Australia
The annual Open Repositories Conference brings together users and developers of open digital repository platforms from higher education, government, galleries, libraries, archives and museums. The Conference provides an interactive forum for delegates from around the world to come together and explore the global challenges and opportunities facing libraries and the broader scholarly information landscape.

IFLA World Libraries and Information Congress
August 19-25, 2017
Wroclaw, Poland
The theme of the 83rd annual IFLA congress will be "Achieving a healthy future together: diverse and emerging roles for health information professionals".

Privacy + Security Forum
October 4-6, 2017
Washington, DC
The conference breaks down the silos of security and privacy by bringing together leaders from both fields.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on December 26, 2016 7:21 PM.

News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 12 December 2016 was the previous entry in this blog.

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