News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 23 June 2017

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 23 June 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: Citizen Lab, Cracked Labs, EFF, Human Rights Data Analysis Group, Stiftung Neue Verantwortung

For breaking news stories, visit:

Ethiopia restores internet access
AfricaNews reports that the Ethiopian government claims to have restored internet access after shutting it off between May 31 and June 8 to prevent cheating on university entrance exams. At Ezega, Seble Teweldebirhan discusses the politics of Ethiopian shutdowns: they impose considerable collateral damage in the form of financial losses, inconvenience, and delay upon many national and international organizations. Yet their use is increasing. Teweldebirhan finds that the problems with social media are exacerbated in countries that, like Ethiopia, lack strong and credible traditional media.
Africa News:

EU: Court rules that internet intermediaries may be liable for user content
TorrentFreak reports that the European Court of Justice has ruled in the case between Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN and Dutch ISPs Ziggo and XS4ALL that the operators of platforms play an "essential role" in making copyrighted works available and that this activity constitutes "communication to the public". By exposing them to more direct liability, the ruling is likely to force Google and YouTube to change the way they operate. In a blog posting, Andres Guadamuz, a senior lecturer in intellectual property law at the University of Sussex, worries that the court is adding potential liability for intermediaries that, if upheld by the national court, may lead to internet intermediaries being ordered to block indexing sites. Guadamuz notes that The Pirate Bay is unlikely to be affected, as the only thing reducing piracy is the consumer shift to streaming. TorrentFreak agrees, and reviews the remarkable durability of The Pirate Bay.
TorrentFreak (ruling):
TorrentFreak (Pirate Bay):

Mexico: government spyware targets journalists, activists, and lawyers
The New York Times reports that Mexican human rights lawyers, journalists, and anti-corruption activists have been targeted by advanced spyware that was sold to the Mexcian government on condition that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists. The Pegasus spyware, created by Israel's NSO Group, infiltrates mobile phones when subjects click on links in highly personalized phishing emails, monitors all aspects of their use, and turns the microphone and cameras for surveillance. The government denies it would take such actions without prior judicial authorization; however, researchers at Citizen Lab view finding NSO code on several phones belonging to Mexican journalists and activists as a clear indicator.
NY Times:

EU: Unified Patent Court opening slips
Intellectual Property Watch reports that the prospective Unified Patent Court, due to open in December 2017, will be delayed due to a court action in Germany and uncertainty due to the results of the June 8 UK election. Both countries have consented to be bound by the UPC protocol but have yet to ratify the pact, which must be ratified by 13 countries including these two.
IP Watch:

EFF seeks aid from machine learning researchers
EFF is calling on machine learning researchers to help it build a good single place to find the state of the art on well-specified machine learning metrics and the many problems in AI that are so hard that there are no good datasets and benchmarks to tackle them.

China: Criminal gang arrested for selling Apple users' private data
The Guardian reports that the Chinese authorities have arrested 22 people under suspicion of running an underground criminal operation to steal and sell Apple users' private data. Twenty of the suspects were employees of companies that worked with Apple who allegedly used internal systems to gather the data. SupChina translates and summarizes a report from December 2016 in Gangzhou's Southern Metropolis Daily studying the illegal trade in personal information in China. Through simple mobile transactions you, too, the report says, can be Big Brother.

German chancellor Angela Merkel calls for global internet regulations
Reuters reports that German chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the digital world needs regulations like those that govern trade under the WTO and financial markets in the G20. Merkel hopes to raise the issue at the G20 meeting during Germany's presidency. Buzzfeed notes that the UK's Conservative election manifesto expressed the intention to significantly extend internet regulation. Varied proposals include making it harder for people to access pornography and violent images, requiring internet companies to promote counter-extremism narratives, and force social media companies to accept a regulator's rulings or face sanctions. By contrast, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye has released a report proposing a set of principles to guide the private sector to respect human rights.

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

Mapping corporate surveillance
In this blog posting, Cracked Labs' Wolfie Christl summarizes its report on corporate surveillance: who the main players are, what they can infer from the data they collect on all of us, and how they use and trade it. Besides well-known companies such as Facebook and Google, more obscure data brokers like Acxiom are stockpiling billions of consumer profiles that it combines across hundreds of data and advertising companies. New developments include Oracle's entry into the consumer data market, alongside players in many other industries, and the beginnings of real-time monitoring via data gathered by physical-world sensors.

Germany's intelligence reform
In this paper, Stiftung Neue Verantwortung discusses the December 2016 legal reform of German intelligence, which sets new international standards for authorization procedures now required for the surveillance of non-national data and the legal requirements for Germany's participation in international intelligence cooperation. By contrast, recent reforms in the United Kingdom or the U.S. offer no such standard for non-national data. Despite this, the reform still marks a clear victory for the Chancellery and the German security and intelligence establishment. The reform for example placed much of the BND's foreign communications data surveillance on a legal footing but did not fix the country's woefully inadequate judicial oversight system.

Gaming Google's news algorithm
In this blog posting, senior Citizen Lab researcher John Scott-Railton examines sites that are gaming the health section of Google News to redirect to spam sites after discovering that approximately 50% of the news he was seeing was "odd". At The Register, Jude Karabus lays out the detail of how the system works. Given how many people rely on Google News, Karabus finds the hours-long persistence of these attacks disturbing.

Personal Democracy Forum
This page of YouTube video clips from the 2017 Personal Democracy Forum includes Kate Crawford discussing the inequality built into our machine learning and AI systems; Safiya Noble outlining her research into the oppression built into search algorithms, which began with her discovery in 2011 that the top results of online searches for "black girls" were pornographic sites; and Julie Menter's keynote arguing that in the changing landscape for funders as technologists and political activists begin to cross into each other's spheres, funders need to look for emerging grassroots leaders with direct activist experience, become less risk-averse (like venture capitalists), and letting go of funding silos and top-down control.

Predicting gun violence in Chicago
In this New York Times article, Jeff Asher and Rob Arthur reverse-engineer public data released by the Chicago Police Department to understand the proprietary (and therefore undisclosed) algorithm being used to predict who will be involved in gun violence. The writers find disparities between the data and the CPD's comments, and note that even if these risk scores are useful in predicting violence, which is not clear, their effectiveness in fighting crime is questionable. In a blog posting at ConceptNet, Rob Speer discusses the problem of bias in word vectors, numerical representations computers use to "understand" human language. ConceptNet has been attempting to "de-bias" its Numberbatch set of word vectors: computers learn to be racist and sexist from what we say - including on the porn pages that make up a substantial portion of the web. The work was partly inspired by Speer's experience with building an algorithm for sentiment analysis and discovering that when he applied it to restaurant reviews Mexican restaurants scored poorly even though people do like Mexican food. At net.wars, Wendy M. Grossman interviews Patrick Ball, technical director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, about why and how profoundly these systems fail at fairness.
NY Times:

The Facebook of the elite
In this article, Share Lab maps the interconnections of Facebook's top executives and board members to political parties, competitor organizations where they previously worked, and the US universities where they obtained their degrees. The study finds that Facebook's leadership is drawn from the small minority of existing US political, social, and economic elites rather than expanding its diversity to reflect the gender, culture, and race of its global, or even its American, market.
Share Labs:


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.

Workshop on the Economics of Security
June 26-28
San Diego, California, US
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.

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.

AI Now Symposium
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
July 10, 2017
The second annual symposium of the AI Now Initiative, led by Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker, will be held at the MIT Media Lab. AI Now works across disciplines to understand the social impact of AI.

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".

WikiCon 2017
September 8-10, 2017
Leipzig, Germany
The meeting of German-language Wikipedia, its sibling projects, and anyone who is interested in free knowledge. WikiCon will provide space for workshops, lectures, and panel discussions to be designed in collaboration with its participants.

#CivicTechFest 2017
September 10-16. 2017
Taipei, China
Asia's first-ever civic technology festival and conference, #CivicTechFest" will feature a series of forums, workshops, roundtables, conferences, and hackathons related to open data and open government.

Expanding from its annual conference in Florence in April, mySociety's annual conference, TICTeC, which focuses on the impacts of civic technology, will provide two days of sessions as part of #CivicTechFest.

Summit on Internet Freedom in Africa
September 27-29, 2017
Johannesburg, South Africa
This event convenes various stakeholders from the internet governance and online rights arenas in Africa and beyond to deliberate on gaps, concerns and opportunities for advancing the right to privacy, access to information, free expression, non-discrimination, and the free flow of information online.

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.

ORGcon 2017
November 4, 2017
London, UK
ORGCon is the UK's biggest digital rights conference. This year's theme is: The Digital Fightback.

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection
January 24-26, 2018
The theme of the 11th edition of CPDP is the "Internet of Bodies". Data collection increasingly focuses on the physical body. Bodies are increasingly connected, digitized, and informatized. In turn, the data extracted is reassembled in ways that give rise to significant questions - challenging fundamental assumptions about where the corporeal ends and the informational begins. Biometrics, genetic data processing and the quantified self are only some of the trends and technologies reaching into the depths of our bodies. Emerging technologies such as human enhancement, neural implants, and brain wave technology look likely to soon become a daily reality.

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.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on June 26, 2017 3:36 PM.

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