March 2017 Archives

News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 24 March 2017

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: EFF, mySociety, Open Rights Group, Privacy International.

For breaking news stories, visit:

Prospective trade deals recycle Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement clauses
EFF reports that some of the proposals it and other civil society organizations opposed in the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement are being recycled into other international trade deals. EFF flags in particular the renegotiation of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Asian Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). EFF advocates opening the negotiation process to meaningful consultation with users and civil society.

Pakistan: Government demands social media block "blasphemous" content
Dawn reports that Facebook is sending a delegation to Pakistan to attempt to reach a mutual understanding following hearings in a related case at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) that claims the dissemination of blasphemous content via social media is "hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims". The IHC has ordered the government to investigate online blasphemy. Dawn also reports that Minister of the Interior Chaudhry Nisar has threatened to block all social media websites containing blasphemous content. Past government bans have included Facebook (for two weeks in 2010) and YouTube (2012-2016).
Dawn (delegation):
Dawn (threat):

US: "Smart" vibrator manufacturer settles privacy case
The Guardian reports that We-Vibe, the maker of a line of Bluetooth-enabled vibrators that can be paired with a remote control app, has agreed a $3.75 million class action settlement after the company was accused of collecting data on when and how customers used its products. The lawsuit, which was filed in an Illinois federal court, alleged that the company collected detailed and personally identifiable information; about 300,000 people bought the vibrators and about a third of those paired them with the app. The security flaws were first revealed by researchers at Defcon 2016.

Advertiser pressure mounts on Google over extremist material
The Guardian reports that numerous major companies such as Vodafone, Sky, several banks, and the Guardian itself are either pulling their ads from Google and its YouTube subsidiary site or considering doing so. The issue: the appearance of their ads in extremist videos on YouTube. Senior Google executives were summoned to the UK's Cabinet Office last week over similar concerns. The Guardian also reports that internet analysts estimate that extremists and hate preachers have netted at least £250,000 from such advertising with $149,000 accruing to Google in commissions. This is not a new problem; the Guardian first covered it in 2012. Separately, Multiplex reports that Google apparently authorized the placement of an ad for the new Disney movie Beauty and the Beast into the voice-powered Google Home device, which included the movie in its daily news summary, and compares the move to earlier advertising mistakes.
Guardian (advertisers):
Guardian (money):
Guardian (2012):

Kenya: Communications surveillance practices
Privacy International reports that the Kenyan National Intelligence Service has direct access to communications networks across Kenya and is sharing the data it collects with the police forces essentially without oversight and outside the procedures required by Kenyan law. PI's newly-published investigation of the techniques, tools and culture of Kenyan police and intelligence agencies' communications surveillance practices finds that intercepted content and data are being used to facilitate gross human rights abuses. The consequences include eroded trust and marred anti-terrorism operations. PI calls for reform in this election year.

Scotland: Government drops university identity register
The Open Rights Group reports that the Scottish government has dropped plans to use the National Health Service central register as the basis for a national identity register. ORG goes on to call for Scotland to drop its poorly-documented identity system, which comprises a unique citizen reference number assigned to each citizen at birth and a national entitlement card, which is run by the private Improvement Service and which gives citizens access to government services such as bus passes, student service cards, and libraries.

Paywalls damage public health
At Medium, Lauren Maggio, Juan Pablo Alperin, Laura Moorhead, and John Willinsky report their finding that over 60% of the journal articles discussed in news stories published in 2016 were locked behind paywalls with no free PDF available on the authors' site. The typical fees of $30 to $50 an article, they argue, present too much of a barrier for the general public and the 12-month embargo allowed by the National Institutes of Health is too long. Much of this research is taxpayer-financed, and public health is being damaged by this lack of access to the evidence base.

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

Three challenges for the web
In this posting, Tim Berners-Lee highlights three problems that he finds critical for the web: 1) our loss of control over our personal data; 2) the ease of spreading misinformation; and 3) the need for transparency about political online advertising. Working on these forms part of the World Wide Web Foundation's new five-year strategy; Berners-Lee calls for help in building "the web we want".
Web Foundation:

Cataloguing the world's politicians
In this blog posting, mySociety describes progress made by its EveryPolitician project, which by now has collected data on over 72,000 politicians from 233 countries. They go on to explain the decisions they've made in collecting the data and discuss some early projects making use of the data. The project, for example, has built a platform for gathering opinions and votes that can be shared with politicians and constituency MPs.

Interview with SocArXiv founder Philip Cohen
In this blog posting, Richard Poynder interviews Philip Cohen, the founder of the SocArXiv social sciences pre-print server. Since its soft launch last summer, the server has amassed over 800 papers; it will hold its first conference in October. In the near term, Cohen intends for SocArXiv to allow new research to reach readers in a timely fashion while preserving the ability to publish in regular journals. Longer-term, he hopes to participate in the movement to build a new and better form of scholarly communications system.

Interview with Brazilian TRIPS negotiator Celso Amorim
In this interview at Intellectual Property Watch, William New asks Brazilian minister Celso Amorim to recount his part in negotiating to secure flexibilities for developing countries in the 1994 WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). He also negotiated the landmark 2001 Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health. During that time, the climate changed dramatically, first because of the advent of HIV/AIDS and then due to 9/11. Amorim worries that the new US administration will pursue unilateral sanctions, fragmenting the genuinely worldwide agreements of the past.
IP Watch:

The Rise of the Weaponized Propaganda Machine
In this piece at Medium, Berit Anderson and Brett Hovath discuss automated propaganda in global politics. Beginning with an outline of Cambridge Analytica's role in the 2016 US presidential election and its influence on Trump's ongoing policy decisions, the authors go on to examine how the various technical pieces work: data, engagement scripts, networking, and bots. Future elections, Anderson and Horvath argue, will be battles of automated behavior change. Buzzfeed offers a skeptical take on some of the claims regarding the use of behavioral targeting during the US elections. Scientific American asks whether democracy can survive these technologies. The price of personalized information, the authors write, is collective and local decision-making. Calling top-down, centralized control a solution of the past, they suggest ten principles for avoiding totalitarianism.
Scientific American:

The technology industry at South by Southwest
In this Wired article, Issie Lapowsky finds the technology industry rethinking itself at the annual Austin, Texas South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. The BBC interviews Bishop Paul Tighe, who this year became the first representative sent to SXSW by the Vatican to learn more about the digital world and to promote human values. At The Verge, Nick Statt complains that SXSW is failing to tackle hard questions. Statt also summarizes the SXSW talk by roboticist Matt Rendall, who argued that the US's failure to invest in industrial robotics may cause the country to lose out on the next industrial revolution.
Verge (SXSW):
Vere (investment):

Palantir, Peter Thiel, Big Data, and the DHS
In this blog posting, Edward Hasbrouck discusses recent protests at Palantir, which have seen technology industry employees object to the use of technical tools to assist the Department of Homeland Security to implement the exclusionary policies of the Trump administration. Hasbrouck explains what is known about the tools Palantir is building and their consequences when put to use.


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

Robots Exhibition
February 8 - September 13
London, UK
The Science Museum's 2017 robots exhibition includes robotic artifacts over five centuries, from a 16th century mechanized monk to the latest research developments. Focusing on why they exist rather than on how they work, the exhibition explores the ways robots mirror humanity and the insights they offer into our ambitions, desires and position in a rapidly changing world.

Human Rights Watch Film Festival
March 6-June 18
London, UK; Chicago Illinois; Toronto, Canada; New York, NY
The 16 human rights documentaries included in this peripatetic festival highlight individuals and groups exhibiting courageous resilience in challenging times. Among the human rights topics represented are the integrity of the press; the experience of refugees seeking safety; and factory workers protesting chemical harms from their work in the Chinese electronics industry. Nicholas de Pencier's BLACK CODE, based on Ronald Deibert's book of the same name, follows members of Toronto-based Citizen Lab as they document civil society activism in Tibet, Syria, Brazil, and Pakistan.

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.

ILIDE 2017
April 3-5, 2017
Jasna, Slovakia
This year's Innovative Library in the Digital Era conference will discuss repositories and research data archiving, open science, digital humanities and digital scholarship.

OpenAIRE Workshop
April 4, 2017
Barcelona, Spain
As an adjunct to the RDA plenary, the Research and Data Alliance will hold a workshop on legal issues in open research data.

OER 17
April 5-6, 2017
London, UK
This year's OER will present an opportunity for open practitioners, activists, educators, and policy makers to come together to reflect on 'The Politics of Open'. Up for discussion are questions such as: What are our current key challenges and strengths - locally, nationally, and internationally? What are our priorities - in terms of political governance, organisational and personal politics? What are the changes that we want to effect together? The conference will be chaired by social and educational technologist and Wikimedia UK Trustee Josie Fraser, and Alek Tarkowski, Director of Centrum Cyfrowe, co-founder and coordinator of Creative Commons Poland.

Research Data Alliance Plenary
April 5-7, 2017
Barcelona, Spain
The main theme for the 9th Research Data Alliance plenary meeting, organised by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center-Centro Nacional de Supercomputación and supported by RDA Europe, will be Data Infrastructures for Open Science.

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2017
April 6-7
Gdansk, Poland
The 5th edition of Personal Democracy Forum will serve as a platform for exchanging ideas and experiences for people using new technologies to work for civic participation and transparency in public life in Central and Eastern Europe.

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.

IFLA MetLib 2017
April 30-May 5, 2017
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
The 2017 program 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.

May 13, 2017
London, UK
OpenTech 2017 is an informal, low cost, one-day conference on slightly different approaches to technology, experience and democracy. Talks by people who work on things that matter guarantee a day of thoughtful talks leading to conversations with friends.

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.

Citizen Science Conference 2017
May 17-20, 2017
St Paul, Minnesota
The biennial citizen science conference brings together a diverse group of researchers, practitioners, community organizations, and participants.

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.

Privacy Law Scholars
June 1-2
Berkeley, California
The tenth annual Privacy Law Scholars workshop will assemble a wide array of privacy law scholars and practitioners from around the world to discuss papers in progress. Scholars from many disciplines, including psychology, economics, sociology, philosophy, political science, computer science, and mathematics also participate.

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2017
June 8-9, 2017
New York, NY
The theme is PDF17 is "What We Do Now". Attendees will get connected, get inspired, learn with today's new and veteran organizers alike, and discover how what we do now can make all the difference.

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.

CERN Workshop on Innovations in Scholarly Communication
June 21-23, 2017
Geneva, Switzerland
The organizers of the biennial CERN Workshop on Innovations in Scholarly Communication - OAI10 - include representatives from the Open Society Foundations, SPARC, PloS, CERN, UCL, and other academic institutions..

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.

Summer courses on privacy and international copyright laws
July 3-7, 2017
Amsterdam, Netherlands
These courses, run by the Institute for Information Law, are intensive post-graduate courses aimed to help professionals stay abreast of changing rules. The first, on privacy law and policy, focuses on recent developments in EU and US privacy law relating to the internet and online media. The second, on international copyright law, comprises nine seminars, each focused on one specific copyright issue.

Citizen Lab Summer Institute
July 12-14
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
This year's conference is organized around five research streams: Network Interference and Freedom of Expression Online, Surveillance and Counter Surveillance, Security and Privacy of Apps, Corporate Transparency and Public Accountability, and a special session on Information Controls and Armed Conflict.

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.

Mozfest 2017
October 27-29, 2017
London, UK
The world's leading festival for the open internet movement will feature influential thinkers from around the world to build, debate, and explore the future of a healthy internet.


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