News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 26 January 2018

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 26 January 2018


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: Bits of Freedom, Derechos Digitales América Latina, EDRi, EFF, Fundación Karisma, La Quadrature du Net, Panoptykon Foundation.



For breaking news stories, visit:

Apple health app data provides crucial evidence at murder trial


At Gizmodo, Kristen V. Brown reports that Apple's Health App, which is pre-installed on the iPhone 6S and later models and records steps taken, nutrition and sleep patterns, and other body measurements, has provided crucial evidence at a German trial in which a refugee, known as "Hussein K", has pleaded guilty torape and murder. Police showed that app data suggesting the suspect was climbing stairs could correlate to his dragging his victim down a riverbank and back up by reenacting the movements to produce similar results. Chief of police Peter Egetemaier told the court it was the first time they have been able to correlate health and geodata.

India: Authority addresses privacy concerns with Virtual ID


Rediff Business reports that the Unified Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the ministry responsible for India's Aadhaar identification system, has introduced Virtual IDs to attempt to counter privacy concerns after a widely reported hack of the numbering system resulted in inexpensive online access to user details. Users can generate these Virtual IDs on its website to use instead of their official 12-digit number for purposes of authentication when opening a new bank or telephone account. Users may generate as many Virtual IDs as they like; old ones get canceled automatically when a new one is created. At the New York Times, Reetika Khera calls the Aadhaar system "a big flub" that has created new problems while failing to solve the ones it was created to fix. In September, an 11-year-old girl died in the poverty-stricken eastern state of Jharkhand when her family was denied benefits after failing to link an Aadhaar number to their ration card. Khera concludes that the system should be returned to voluntary status.

Apple's Safari tracking blocker costs publishers millions


At the Guardian, Alex Hern reports that Apple's September 2017 block on pervasive tracking in its Safari web browser, which has 15% of market share, is costing advertising companies millions; Criteo alone is likely to cut its 2018 revenues by more than a fifth. Things are likely to get worse for these companies: in February 2018 Google will roll out a built-in blocker of "intrusive ads" for Chrome, which has 55% of the global browser market.

China: Google cross-licenses patents with Tencent


The South China Morning Post reports that Google and Tencent have agreed to share patents covering a range of products and technologies, including artificial intelligence software, and collaborate on future development. SCMP suggests that the collaboration is Google's way of continuing to expand its presence in the Chinese market even though it withdrew its search engine from the country in 2010. At the Guardian, Mark Sweney profilesTencent, which remains largely unknown in the West despite being a $500 billion company and, with Ali Baba, one of China's two biggest internet companies. Tencent's success rests on three prongs: the messaging app WeChat; its gaming franchies, which are the largest in the world; and its ecosystem, which offers its 1 billion users the services Silicon Valley companies do not operate in China, including Tencent Video (like Netflix), Tencent Music (Apple's iTunes and Spotify). About 40% of the company's revenues come from gaming: it owns Clash of Clans, League of Legends, and Honour of Kings, and has stakes in Epic and Activision Blizzard.

Tunisia: Government withdraws biometric ID after protest


Access Now reports that the country's biometric ID card proposal has officially been withdrawn by the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP). Access Now and local Tunisian NGO AlBawsala proposed amendments to protect citizens' data and their right to consult and correct their information. After nearly all these amendments were adopted by the Consensus Commission, the Ministry of the Interior dropped the proposal.

Indonesia: Central bank bans cryptocurrencies


The Jakarta Post reports that in mid-January Bank Indonesia (BI), the country's national bank, and the National Police are collaborating to prevent bitcoin transactions in Bali after BI issued regulations declaring that rupieh is the only valid currency in Indonesia. A few days later, the Post also reported that Bank Indonesia is investigating two bitcoin transactions alleged to have been made in Bali, in which two cafes accepted bitcoin invoice payments of more than IDR243,000 ($18.25, or BTC0.001). Each transaction took and hour and a half to process and cost IDR123,000. Earlier, BI banned financial technology companies using cryptocurrencies without prohibiting trading of the currencies themselves.



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

Privacy International's amicus brief in support of Microsoft


In this amicus brief, Privacy International, joined by EDRi, Bits of Freedom, Derechos Digitales América Latina, Fundación Karisma, La Quadrature du Net, Panoptykon Foundation, and numerous other human rights and digital rights organizations, submits arguments to the Supreme Court. PI argues that construing the Stored Communications Act to require Microsoft to turn over email data stored on its Irish servers in contravention of Irish and EU data protection law would create international conflicts that should be avoided. PI believes that instead US law enforcement should use established channels, such as "mutual legal assistance treaties" (MLATs), to accomplish such data transfers.

How to fix Facebook before it fixes us


At Washington Monthly, technology investor Roger McNamee recounts his efforts to get Facebook, Google, and the public to take seriously the threat of bad actors exploiting social media's attention-maximizing business model and his alliance with the Open Markets group, and publishes recommendations for tackling the problem. Among his suggestions: ban bots that pretend to be human; block all new mergers and acquisitions until the platforms have addressed the present damage; force platforms to be more transparent about the sources of their ads and their algorithms; make the contract with users more equitable; require platforms to allow users to opt back to the EULA they accepted when they joined; limit their ability to exploit the data they collect; reopen discussions about market power and antitrust. In the Guardian, John Naughton considers Facebook's recent announcement that the site will change its algorithms to focus on social interactions rather than finding relevant content. Naughton argues that Facebook is acting strategically to avoid further political action against it over fake news. Also at the Guardian, Emily Bell argues that the changes are bad for democracy. At the Economist, Eve Smith drafts an email to the CEOs of Apple, Google, and Amazon warning of the regulatory backlash and antitrust litigation that are likely to hit them in the US in the next few years.

The Golden Age of (democracy-poisoning) free speech


In this article for Wired and video-recorded TED talk, Zeynep Tufekci discusses the modern version of censorship: optimization for engagement by a few global-scale advertising companies. Traditionally, censors found the right choke point and then squeezed it; today's version is to meddle with trust and attention. We think of Twitter and Facebook as public spaces, but in fact all posts are targeted and delivered privately, fragmenting the public sphere and creating new forms of censorship that do not obviously breach the US First Amendment or the European Charter of Human Rights. At the Los Angeles Review of Books, John Bell and John Zada review Tim Wu's latest book, The Attention Merchants, and study the way our attention has been turned into a profitable commodity.!

Canada: Privacy protests and Google's Sidwalk Labs


In this article at Civicist, John Loring discusses the doubts being expressed by public agencies and participants in Toronto about the privacy implications of Google's Sidewalk Labs' (SWL) pitch to redevelop the city's waterfront. SWL's plan is to leverage data gathered in the public realm to meet public-service goals such as improving traffic flow, reducing emissions, and enabling autonous vehicles on a brownfield site known as Quayside while turning the 12-acre area into a technology hub. SWL has made much of its planned privacy pledge, led by Canadian privacy advocate Ann Cavoukian. Even so, specifics about how the project will use data are scarce.

Global threat actor Dark Caracal's infrastructure of malicious apps


In this blog posting and report, EFF unveils the results of a collaboration with the cybersecurity company Lookout uncovering Dark Caracal, a global threat actor that spreads malicious fakes to impersonate the Android versions of popular privacy-preserving apps like Signal and WhatsApp. Those who have downloaded their apps from Google's Play Store should be unaffected, but the new infrastructure makes it harder to attribute attacks and malware campaigns to a particular nation or state and exposes the increased danger to the targets of such attacks, typically individuals and entities that a nation-state might target, as well as malware researchers. The researchers are aware of hundreds of gigabytes of exfiltrated data in more than 21 countries across thousands of victims, and believe the infrastructure is being used simultaneously by many groups.

Brazil's WhatsApp fake news problem


In this article in Vice, Noah Kulwin reports on WhatsApp's fake news problem in Brazil, where the service is the dominant messaging platform. Because WhatsApp is closed and private, researchers have little insight into how fake news spreads over it; their primary information comes from lurking in large WhatsApp political groups and studying tiny contextual clues. The secrecy-protecting design also amplifies the toxic aspects of fake news, since nothing is visible enough to be challenged. As a result, Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept, a top Brazilian police official has threatened to identify and punish the authors of fake news in the run-up to the 2018 presidential election, similar to a law La Quadrature du Net reports that French president Emmanual Macron proposes to introduce. At the BBC, Kenyan journalist Joseph Warungu identifies six approaches WhatsApp administrators use to run the groups they manage, which may represent local communities, professions, or topics of common interests. Wurungu, who was recently promoted to become the administrator of such a group mobilizing support for development projects in his home village, is disturbed by the power of such administrators to silence others.




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

Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency


February 23-24, 2018

New York, NY, USA

FAT* is an international and interdisciplinary peer-reviewed conference that seeks to publish and present work examining the fairness, accountability, and transparency of algorithmic systems. The FAT* conference solicits work from a wide variety of disciplines, including computer science, statistics, the humanities, and law. It intends to bring together the community that has grown through a number of workshops at other conferences.

Internet Freedom Festival


March 5-9, 2018

Valencia, Spain

The global unconference of the Internet freedom communities brings together those who defend digital rights around the world - journalists, activists, technologists, policy advocates, digital safety trainers, and designers - with the goals of creating an inclusive space, increasing diversity, and improving the services, strategies, and tools offered to the most vulnerable individuals on the frontlines.



March 10-15, 2018

San Juan, Puerto Rico

ICANN's Community Forum for 2018 will be focused on outreach, capacity building, and showcasing ICANN's work to a broader global audience.

We Robot 2018


April 12-14, 2018

Palo Alto, California, USA

This conference is the annual gathering of academics, policy makers, roboticists, economists, ethicists, entrepreneurs, and lawyers who care about robots and the future of robot law and policy. We Robot fosters conversations between the people designing, building, and deploying robots, and the people who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots operate.


April 25, 2018

Winchester, UK

The fifth interdisciplinary Winchester conference on Trust, Risk, Information and the Law has as its overall theme "Public Law, Politics and the Constitution: A new battleground between the Law and Technology?"

Tomorrow's Transactions Forum


April 24-25, 2018

London, UK

The 21st edition of Tomorrow's Transactions will provide an opportunity to look back at the lessons that have been learned across the past decades and cast an eye toward the future to ask, where will technology and regulation, take our world of transactions? For 2018, topics will include AI, futures, open banking, and conversational and contextual commerce.

Internet Freedom Forum


April 24-26, 2018

Abuja, Nigeria

The sixth edition of the Internet Freedom Forum will present a unique platform for discussions and engagement around current trends and emerging issues affecting internet freedom in Africa. Participants at IFF include civil society organizations, policy actors/makers, legal/policy experts, academics, advocates, tech enthusiasts, industry representatives and active citizens among others.

Open Knowledge Summit 2018


May 3-6, 2018

Thessaloniki, Greece

For 2018, the Open Knowledge Foundation has replaced the OKFestival with a summit intended to gather the Open Knowledge network to collaboratively build the future of the Open Knowledge Network. The format and programming will be developed as a collaboration between Open Knowledge International, Open Knowledge Greece, and all other groups in the network.



May 16-18, 2018

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

RightsCon has become one of the world's largest gatherings on human rights and technology, and it's people like you that make it an engine for change. The 2018 event is staged in Canada for a conversation built on the principles of diversity, inclusion, and respect.

Workshop on Technology and Consumer Protection


May 24, 2018

San Francisco, CA, USA

ConPro #18 will explore computer science topics with an impact on consumers. This workshop has a strong security and privacy emphasis, 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. Participants will consist heavily of academic and industry researchers but are also expected to include researchers from the Federal Trade Commission - the U.S. government's primary consumer protection body - and other government agencies with a consumer protection mission.

Privacy Law Scholars


May 30-31

Washington, DC, USA

PLSC is a paper workshop with the goal of improving and providing support for in-progress scholarship. To achieve this, PLSC assembles a wide array of privacy law scholars and practitioners from around the world to discuss the papers. Scholars from many disciplines (psychology/economics, sociology, philosophy, political science, computer science, and even math) also participate.

LIBER Annual Conference


July 4-6, 2018

Lille, France

The 47th annual conference of the Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER) will include plenary sessions with top international speakers, presentations on current research, posters, and an exhibition of products and services for the library sector, as well as a comprehensive social programme.

The Circle of HOPE


July 20-22, 2018

New York, NY, USA

Organized by 2600 Magazine, the 12th biennial Hackers on Planet Earth conference celebrates the hacker spirit. Talks typically feature new ways of examining and dissecting technology to reveal inconvenient truths.



August 9-12, 2018

Las Vegas, NV, USA

The heart of the DEF CON 26 theme is the concept of the counterfuture. The counterfuture is the open-source alternative to totalitarian dystopia; a world where we use tech and ingenuity for empowerment and connection rather than isolation and control.

World Library and Information Congress


August 24-30, 2018

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The 84th edition of the World Library and Information Congress has the theme, "Transform Libraries, Transform Societies" with the additional tagline, "Reaching out to the hard to reach", which was chosen in recognition of the critical role played by libraries in the development of a nation, particularly in their ability to transform societies.

International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners


October 22-26, 2018

Brussels, Belgium

The 40th version of this event will be hosted by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Giovanni Buttarelli and the chair of the Commission for Personal Data Protection of the Republic of Bulgaria, Ventsislav Karadjov. The conference is expected to focus on the recently launched international debate on the ethical dimension of data protection in the digital era. Accompanying conference events will also take place in Bulgaria.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on February 10, 2018 4:44 PM.

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