News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 14 July 2017

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 14 July 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, ProPublica.

For breaking news stories, visit:

EU fines Google €2.42 billion for breaching antitrust rules
The EU has announced that it is fining Google a record-breaking €2.42 billion for violating competition law by biasing its search results in favor of its own services. At Politico, Nicholas Hirst recounts competition commissioner Margarethe Vestager's work deciding the case and garnering support for her decision. Google is expect to appeal to the EU General Court in Luxembourg. At Freedom to Tinker, Princeton University professor Ed Felten, who was at the FTC when it decided not to prosecute a similar case in 2011-2012, compares the EU and FTC decisions. In the UK, the Guardian's John Naughton reports that the Information Commissioner's Office has issued a finding that the Royal Free Hospital Hospital violated the law in sharing 1.6 million patient records with Google's DeepMind subsidiary.
Freedom to Tinker:

US: Airport authorities roll out facial recognition
Mashable reports that Customs and Border Patrol has begun scanning passengers' faces on specific flights at airports in Boston and Houston, a move that has never been authorized by the US Congress for US citizens. American Security Today reports that similar systems are being tested at Dulles (Washington, DC). reports that JetBlue already uses facial recognition systems to identify boarding travelers, a move Delta Airlines expects to follow, beginning in Minneapolis.

W3C adopts copyright protection standard for the open web
At EFF, Cory Doctorow reports that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) as a new standard for handling copy-protected video but rejected safeguards proposed by EFF and myriad other organizations and activists. The safeguards would have protected from prosecution users bypassing digital rights management (DRM) for legal purposes such as making EME files accessible to those with disabilities. Doctorow lists the many ways he believes the decision is damaging and suggests next steps, which include continuing to try to change the relevant law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and appealing the W3C decision. In postings, W3C and Ars Technica defend the W3C's reasoning. At The Verge, Jacob Kastrenakes surveys the adverse consequences for security researchers. At EFF, Kris Erickson, Jesus Rodriguez Perez, and Swagatam Sinha, from the University of Glasgow, note that their ongoing research on the economics of DRM indicates that the market values interoperability, which DRM impedes.
EFF (decision):
Ars Technica:
EFF (interoperability):

New York court awards Elsevier $15 million in damages against Sci-Hub
At the Private Internet Access blog, Glyn Moody reports that Elsevier has won a $15 million judgment against Alexandra Elbakyan, the Kazakh neuroscience researcher who set up Sci-Hub, which now claims to offer free access to more than 62 million science journal articles. Even though Elsevier is unlikely to be able to collect its court-awarded damages and Russia refuses to enforce US courts' rulings, the American Chemical Society has followed with its own lawsuit. Moody calls the case an indication of how broken copyright is. At her blog, Elbakyan corrects errors in Wikipedia's Sci-Hub article. At his blog, Richard Poynder summarises his paper arguing that copyright has proven an immovable barrier to the open access movement and that the movement is failing as a result. At the Guardian, Stephen Buranyi charts the profitable history of scientific publishing and asks if scientists' opposition to the status quo will bring about change.

SE Asia: Financial technology start-ups adopt alternative scoring methods
Fintechnews Singapore reports on a list of financial technology startups in Southeast Asia, where only 27% of the region's 600 million people have a bank account. The startups depend on alternative methods of credit scoring that depend on analysing the data on the user's mobile phone, their social media profiles, or other financial relationships.

Facebook: Censorship rules favor white men
In a study of Facebook's censorship rules and training documents, ProPublica's Julia Angwin finds that the social media site protects white men from hate speech but not black children. The company's hundreds of rules guide decisions aboutwhat should and should not be allowed. ProPublica concludes that at least in some cases the company's rules favor elites and governments over grassroots activists and racial minorities, serving the global company's business interests. An additional complication is how the rules are applied: content reviewers typically have only a few seconds to decide on each post.

US: Blocked Twitter users sue US President Donald Trump
At Ars Technica, David Kravetz reports that a handful of Twitter users, backed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, are suing US President Donald Trump on the basis that he has violated their constitutional rights by blocking them from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed. The suit claims that Trump's Twitter feed is an official channel for the president and that blocking people for reading it and posting critical responses is a breach of the First Amendment. The suit seeks a ruling barring Trump from blocking followers as an unconstitutional restriction on their participation in a designated public forum.
Ars Technica:

China: ISPs told to block personal VPNs by February 2018
Bloomberg reports that the Chinese government has told the country's three state-run telecommunications carriers - China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom - to block individuals' access to virtual private networks by February 1, 2018. VPNs are widely used by both individuals and companies wanting to bypass the Chinese firewall to access blocked information sources.

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

Educating journalists how to spot forged document traps
In this video clip from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, host Rachel Maddow details her staff's investigation of a purportedly highly classified document received via the show's secure drop at that claimed to be a smoking-and-still-firing gun proving that Russian interference in the US election was coordinated with a named Trump campaign insider. Authenticating such a document is difficult because experts won't jeopardize their security clearance by looking at it. Maddow's team examined tell-tale details such as the document's metadata, the yellow dots printers add, subtle elements such as typos and odd spacing, and, most significantly, the mention by name of a US citizen, and concluded the document was a cut-and-paste forgery derived from the NSA classified report published by The Intercept a month ago. The real story, Maddow concludes, is that someone is shopping forged documents to lay traps for journalists seeking to report on the Russian hacking story and plant permanent doubts about all reporting on the subject. The Intercept is less impressed.
Maddow (YouTube):

Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism
In this feature at the Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan discusses efforts to understand the Antikythera Mechanism, retrieved in 1901 from a shipwreck and considered to be the world's oldest computer. For the last ten years, a group of scientists have worked with X-ray scanning and imaging to understand the machine's inner workings. The machine, which was designed to predict eclipses to the day, along with the color of the moon and the weather on that day, reflects the values of the society around it.
Washington Post:

Financial sector's "weblining" war on the sex industry
In this article at Engadget, Violet Blue examines "weblining", discriminatory practices in the financial industry that blocks access to services, including payments, to individuals and businesses in legal areas of the sex industry. Blue's list of targets includes porn performers, sex workers, independent retailers, erotic writers, and the internet's new generation of online pornographers, who are, she writes, disproportionately women and LGBT people. Companies like Paypal, Square, and WePay blame the banks and credit card companies, who call the sector "high risk" and cite vaguely-worded policies in pressuring third-party sites like Patreon to jettison these businesses. The credit card companies deny that they're involved. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's new guidelines clarifying "high risk" for banks do not include sex.

AI's trouble with kangaroos
At the Guardian, Naaman Zhou reports that Volvo's self-driving cars have trouble recognizing kangaroos because hopping confounds the way the cars' intelligence systems estimate distance. The Register reports on a Facebook research project in which two bots, set to negotiate with each other, taught themselves how to lie as a negotiating tactic. In a series of blog postings, analyst and writer Thomas Euler examines the state of AI in the field of computational creativity for the benefit of practitioners and executives in the creative industries, covering music, writing, fine arts, advertising, video and movies, and games. At Gizmodo, George Dvorsky dissects testimony IBM recently presented to Congress saying Americans have nothing to fear from AI. Dvorsky cites many experts who say there are good reasons to be alarmed.
Euler (1):
Euler (2):

Regulating the internet
In this Guardian article, Charles Arthur examines the prospects for regulating the technology giants. Like climate change, the problems posed by hate speech, extremist content, online abuse, and uncrackable encryption have grown slowly over time to become global issues that can't easily be solved by any one government. Arthur concludes that as a "free zone" the internet be celebrated as well as policed, but that what needs regulation is the surveillance state. Also at the Guardian, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz summarizes the racism, gender bias, and sexual practices that surface in his studies of Google searches
Guardian (Arthur):
Guardian (Stephens-Davidowitz):

Smart cities and surveillance
In this blog posting, EFF discusses a proposal under consideration by the San Jose City Council to install over 39,000 "smart" streetlights, already being piloted. EFF has written to the council asking them to ensure that decisions regarding how to use the streetlights' ports for microphones and video cameras will be subject to democratic control. EFF is supporting similar efforts in Santa Clara, Oakland, Palo Alto, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit System. In 2015, CommonSpace noted similar problems with streetlamps in Glasgow, where the city council has partnered with the Israeli surveillance company NICE Systems to use the system to detect "unusual behavior".


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.

August 9-13, 2017
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Wikimania's keynotes, hackathons, preconferences, workshops, and community-submitted talks will include sessions on the future of editing Wikipedia; outreach in Africa; library partnerships - Wikidata tools - what readers visit - communicating your work - Wikimedia's strategy - legal threats to free knowledge - Wikipedia in minority and endangered languages; Wikipedia in Iraq; medicine and emergency response; the gender gap; preventing online harassment; sounds and video; implicit bias; citations and references; the future of Wikisource and Wikiversity; real-time collaboration; global trends; leading teams; Wikidata and museums; making access affordable; the future of news; collaboration under censorship; and education.

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.

OpenCon 2017
November 11-13, 2017
Berlin, Germany
OpenCon is the conference and community for students and early career academic professionals interested in advancing Open Access, Open Education and Open Data. Applications to attend are due by August 1.

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 July 20, 2017 5:50 PM.

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