News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 27 May 2016

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 27 May 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.

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Google appeals French "right to be forgotten" ruling
The Guardian reports that Google has appealed to the Conseil d'Etat against a French court ruling requiring the company to remove results requested for delisting under the right to be forgotten from all its sites worldwide and for all users, not just from searches conducted from the EU. In an op-ed for France's Le Monde newspaper, Google global general counsel Kent Walker announced the company will appeal the ruling. Walker argues that French jurisdiction should not extend to requiring the removal of content from other national sites that is legal in those other countries. To do so, he says, would create the conditions for a "global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one's own country."

US: John Crane exposes the lives of Whistleblowers
A Guardian excerpt from Mark Hertsgaard's new book Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden, reports the story of John Crane, a former senior official in the US Department of Defense. For years, Crane fought his superiors to provide fair treatment for pre-Snowden whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake and William Binney. Despite the provisions of the Whistleblower Act, Crane was stopped from providing necessary documents in time for Drake's trial; instead, he now recounts, his superiors lied to the judge that the documents had been destroyed prior to the indictment. Forced out in 2013, Crane filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Project over the above and many other misdeeds; the Justice Department is investigating.

Twitter blocks law enforcement access to data mining service
The ACLU reports, based on a (paywalled) Wall Street Journal article, that Twitter is to stop allowing US federal intelligence to access its affiliated Dataminr service, which compiles and analyses the hundreds of millions of tweets users post daily. ACLU argues that Twitter should extend the ban to local law enforcement, which similarly is buying surveillance tools that exploit Twitter user data, and goes on to advocate greater transparency about the many other such services on the market, such as Media Sonar and Geofeedia.

Mozambique: $140 million Chinese system enables government surveillance
Global Voices reports on the independent media outlet @Verdade's investigation of surveillance in Mozambique, where the government has been secretly listening to phone calls, reading emails and other text messages, and monitoring social media and web activity using a system reportedly built by the Chinese company ZTE Corporation. Built during the latter years of Armando Guebuza's 2005-2015 presidency, the scheme costs the Mozambique government US$140 million in a deal mediated by Guebuza's son's company, Msumbiji Investment Limited. Interceptions are managed by the military command, and neither judicial authorisation nor telecommunications company cooperation is needed.
Global Voices:

US: Oracle v. Google to determine the future of software
As the six-year-old copyright dispute between Google and Oracle over 37 Java APIs (application programming interfaces; that is, technical specifications that allow third parties to write programs using others' services or software) winds to a close, Wired explains why the case is crucially important for the future of software and what Google's loss could mean to start-ups and established developers alike. In prior hearings, Google won a ruling that APIs were not subject to copyright, but it was overturned on appeal and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The District Court will now decide whether Google's usage constitutes "fair use". As Sarah Jeong recounts at Motherboard, one of the most difficult aspects of the case has been explaining what APIs are to the non-expert judge and jury. Oracle is asking for $9.3 billion in damages.

Elsevier acquires SSRN
Nature reports that Elsevier has acquired the highly popular Social Science Research Network, an open-access research preprint repository, for an undisclosed sum. Elsevier says it intends to keep SSRN's leadership and user policies unchanged. The oldest and largest preprint server, arXiv, is funded by a host of institutions and operated by Cornell University; co-founder Paul Ginsparg told Nature there are no plans for it to change ownership.

Norway: Consumer council exposes app terms and conditions
In February, the Norwegian Consumer Council published the results of a survey of mobile apps, which detailed the ways that their terms and conditions are opaque and privacy-invasive. The NCC went on to file a complaint against FitnessKeeper after finding that its Runkeeper app was leaking location information to an unknown third-party advertising company. Ars Technica reports that in response Runkeeper has fixed the bug that caused this issue. On May 24, the NCC staged a live-streamed full reading of all the T&Cs that apply to an average smartphone to demonstrate the burden on consumers. Deutsche Welle reports that reading the full text, longer than Moby Dick, took nearly 32 hours.
NCC (study):
Ars Technica:
NCC (reading):
Deutsche Welle:

UK: Pressure mounts for a "digital bill of rights"
CDT reports that the UK think tank Cybersalon has launched a cross-party campaign, backed by a range of civil liberties groups, for a "digital bill of rights". The launch follows a series of efforts by Cybersalon to raise issues of technology and policy via live events. Further events and a process of collecting public opinions are planned before the bill is drafted. In response to Prime Minister David Cameron's call to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, the Guardian published a spoof video in which Patrick Stewart asks what the ECHR has ever done for the UK.
Digital Liberties:

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

The magic of technology
In this Medium article former magician and Google design ethicist Tristan Harris discusses the psychological and design tricks technology companies use to manipulate customers and keep them hooked on their apps and services.

Sessions from RightsCon
Among this selection of recorded videos from April's RightsCon are discussions of surveillance in Brazil, and the chilling effect of government programmes, largely targeting Muslims, aiming to counter extremism, particularly in schools (in one case, a child's comment on a school document led to her previously blameless physician father's investigation and arrest for insurance fraud). Particularly interesting is the discussion of surveillance, race, and movement building, which features an intelligent dissection of race, class, and power by Malkia Cyril, who notes that communities of colour have long been watched in everything they do for purposes of control (starting at about 4:00).

The rise of the mitigators
In this blog posting at Civicist, mySociety founder Tom Steinberg divides internet-related organisations into two camps, "promoters" (technology companies, including non-profits such as Wikipedia and Mozilla) and "mitigators" (primarily non-profits such as EFF, Data & Society, the Chaos Computer Club, and Open Rights Group). While both groups have bloomed over the last two decades, Steinberg believes we are entering a period where mitigators will grow substantially and promoters will stall. While Steinberg is unsure what to think - in part, his posting is a request for thoughts - he is sad about the fading of the excitement over "public-interest technologies of real scale".

The false promise of DNA testing
In this Atlantic article, Matthew Shaer explores the flaws in DNA evidence created by changes in how forensic science is used, particularly focusing on the Houston forenscis lab, which was implicated in a number of false convictions. The increasing sensitivity of DNA testing has raised the probability of contamination through traces that formerly were too small for testing. Some US states have created conflicts of interest by paying forensic labs for successful convictions. Probabilistic genetic typing software may help solve the first problem; changing incentives and firewalling forensic labs from state prosecutors may help the second.

The social licence of publishing
In this year's Charles Clark Memorial Lecture (transcribed), University of Sydney professor Michael Fraser warns publishers that they are losing their social licence with the public. Publishers, he says, should re-engineer their business models both to provide better access to their works and better protect authors and should embrace their role as "defenders of freedom".

The benefits of VR
In this blog posting, the science fiction writer Charles Stross discusses his recent experiments with the HTC Vive virtual reality headset, which he finds to be shockingly good. Given the many scare stories about VR that lurk just around the corner (Stross links to some samples), Stross decided to highlight three unexpected benefits he thinks high-quality VR will bring: improved physical fitness, improved eyesight, and better treatments for mental illness.


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

Transparency Camp Europe
June 1, 2016
Amsterdam, Netherlands
This unconference will focus on open data, new technologies, and policies that make the EU work for people, stimulate open government, and help grasp the workings of the various EU institutions. The event will include an online app competition.

Health Privacy Summit
June 6-7
Washington, DC
The 2016 Health Privacy Summit brings together top national and international experts for serious discussion about global health privacy issues and realistic solutions and to ask, Is Big Data effectively the beginning of the end for privacy in health care?

20th International Conference on Electronic Publishing
June 7-9, 2016
Göttingen, Germany
ELPUB 2016 will take a fresh look at the current ecosystem of scholarly publishing including the positioning of stakeholders and distribution of economic, technological and discursive power. ELPUB will also open the floor for emerging alternatives in how scholars and citizens interact with scholarly content and what role dissemination and publishing plays in these interactions. Questions to be raised include: What is the core of publishing today? How does agenda setting in emerging frameworks like Open Science function and what is the nature of power of the referring scholarly discourses? How does this relate to the European and world-wide Open Science and Open Innovation agenda of funders and institutions, and how does this look like in publishing practice?

Personal Democracy Forum
June 9-10
New York, NY
The 2016 Personal Democracy Forum will feature speakers such as Danah Boyd, Kate Crawford, Douglas Rushkoff, and Anil Dash.

Workshop on the Economics of Information Security
June 13-14, 2016
Berkeley, CA
The Workshop on the Economics of Information Security (WEIS) is the leading forum for interdisciplinary scholarship on information security and privacy, combining expertise from the fields of economics, social science, business, law, policy, and computer science.

OR2016 Conference
June 13-16, 2016
Dublin, NL
The theme of OR2016 is "Illuminating the World." OR2016 will provide an opportunity to explore the impact of repositories and related infrastructure and processes.

June 22-24
Denver, Colorado
The 12th Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security will bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers and practitioners in human computer interaction, security, and privacy. The program will feature technical papers, workshops and tutorials, a poster session, panels and invited talks, and lightning talks.

VOX-Pol Mid-Project conference
June 22-24, 2016
Dublin, Ireland
The VOX-Pol Network of Excellence is an EU-funded academic research network focused on researching the prevalence, contours, functions, and impacts of violent online political extremism and responses to it. The conference will feature sessions describing and discussing in-depth and cutting-edge research on violent political extremism and terrorism and the Internet.

June 24-26
Esino Lario, Italy
Wikimania is the annual conference celebrating Wikipedia and its sibling free knowledge projects with conferences, discussions, meetups, training, and a hackathon. Hundreds of volunteer editors come together to learn about and discuss projects, approaches and issues.

Jisc and CNI Conference 2016
July 6, 2016
Oxford, UK
This year's Joint Information Systems Committee and Coalition for Networked Information conference will bring together leading experts from the US, UK, and Europe to explore the current issues and innovations in digital scholarship and facilitate a rich international exchange on leading practice and policy.

21st-Century Literacies for Public Libraries
August 10-11, 2016
Philadelphia, PA
At this two-day satellite meeting, presented by IFLA's Public Libraries Section, delegates will share and learn from each other's experiences in developing and delivering services that encompass today's expanded concept of literacy, which includes not only the traditional ability to read and write but proficiency in a range of other literacies such as civic, health, financial, digital, and information.

IFLA World Library and Information Congress
August 13-19, 2016
Columbus, OH
The theme of the 82nd IFLA Congress is "Connections. Collaboration. Community." The Congress will feature programmes from myriad library sectors.

Privacy+Security Forum
October 24-26, 2016
Washington, DC
Monday, October 24, is devoted to pre-conference workshops and "intensive days" - advanced discussion focused narrowly on a particular topic or industry. Proposals are welcome until April 30, 2016 based on the following guiding principles: bridge the silos between privacy and security; cover issues with depth and rigour; employ interaction, scenario-based learning, and extensive engagement; deliver practical takeaways from each session.

Mozilla Festival
November 6-8, 2016
London, UK
MozFest is an annual celebration of the open Web. Participants are diverse, including engineers, artists, activists, and educators, but share the common belief that the Web can make lives better, unlocks opportunity, spurs creativity, teaches valuable skills, and connects far-flung people and ideas. The Festival seeks to improve the Web with new ideas and creations.

November 12-14, 2016
Washington, DC
At this event, the next generation can learn about Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data, develop critical skills, and catalyse action toward a more open system of research and education. OpenCon will convene students and early career academic professionals, both in person and through satellite events around the world and serve as a powerful catalyst for projects led by the next generation to advance OpenCon's three focus areas.

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection
January 25-27, 2017
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).


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on May 29, 2016 3:19 PM.

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