News Digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 2 September 2017

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News Digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 2 September 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, Privacy International, Pro Publica, Open Markets Initiative.

For breaking news stories, visit:

India: Supreme Court rules that privacy is a fundamental right
Privacy International reports that the Indian Supreme Court has ruled that privacy is a fundamental right "intrinsic to the right to life", overruling two previous decisions. The Times of India reports that, in response, the government has welcomed the unanimous decision but said it should be "subject to reasonable restrictions". In the Hindustan Times, Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Centre for Internet and Society, argues that Parliament needs to underpin the essential right to privacy with an omnibus privacy law that addresses the tension between privacy and other fundamental rights like the right to free speech and derivative rights like the right to information.
Times of India:
Hindustan Times:

Rwanda: Commercial drone services begin delivering blood
At Quartz Africa, Lily Kuo reports that the world's first commercial drone delivery service from the San Francisco-based robotics company Zipline has opened up in Rwanda to deliver blood products to hospitals, vastly reducing delivery times. The company is talking to other African and Latin American governments, including Tanzania, about launching similar services in their countries. The lack of Western-style regulations and legacy systems is enabling African countries like Rwanda, Cameroon, Malawi, South Africa, and Kenya to become testbeds for the use of drones in tourism, health services, ecommerce, and anti-poaching efforts.

Internet intermediaries purge hate speech
At the New York Times, John Herrman reports that internet companies are purging neo-Nazi and "hard-right" content in the wake of the Charlottesville, Virginia supremacist rally, at which a participant drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others. Facebook, Twitter, and Airbnb have deleted pages and accounts, Spotify has pulled "white supremacist music", and service providers - GoDaddy, Google, PayPal, and Cloudflare - have cut off leading neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer, which has moved to Tor Hidden Services. Herrman says these actions should remind us that, despite their democratic rhetoric, these companies' version of freedom is a "commercial simulation". On the banned hard-right communities' own social media, they portray themselves as victimized refugees from platform censorship. In a blog posting, Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, which protects websites from attacks, warns that no intermediary should have the power to arbitrarily remove a site from the internet. EFF concurs, and discusses example historical cases. Pro Publica explores the role of leading technology companies such as PayPal, Stripe, Taboola, and Newsmax in helping extremist sites monetize hate, even though most of those same companies have policies that bar doing business with hate groups. On WNYC radio, Data & Society's Alice Marwick discusses the methods hate groups use to recruit supporters. As a remedy, she suggests connecting with disaffected former members and engaging with the concerns of the angry, alienated young men these movements target. At the Guardian, Alex Hern discusses the problem for Tor Hidden Services, which can't turn off the technology that protects journalists and human rights activists in order to ban groups that are less acceptable. In partnership with Google News Lab, Pro Publica has begun indexing news of hate incidents.
NY Times:
Pro Publica (monetize):
Pro Publica (Hate News Index):

Open access nears 50% of new papers
Times Higher Education reports that nearly half of recent research papers, and at least 28% of scholarly literature overall, are open access, based on a research study for PeerJ Preprints. Researcher Heather Piwowar believes that the growth in open access publication may tip the scales toward subscription cancellations for some universities. Science reports that in Germany change is already on the table: 150 libraries, universities, and research institutes have joined together to try to force academic publishers to adopt a new business model. They propose to pay a lump sum to cover publication costs of all papers whose first authors are at a German institution in return for access to all the publishers' online content. Similar efforts in the Netherlands, Finland, Austria, and the UK have had partial success.

Data analysis exposes the hidden architecture of tax havens
At Quartz, Tim Fernholz reports on a paper published in Nature by a group of European computer scientists who have used a global dataset that tracks the relationships among more than 98 million companies to trace the flow of tax-free money through corporate chains. While the OECD claims that the only tax jurisdiction that does not abide by its rules is Trinidad and Tobago, this research has turned up many more, some expected, such as the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands, and some not, such as Taiwan. Five countries emerge as primary conduits for funds: the Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland, Singapore, and Ireland.

Google-funded think tank ousts Google critic
At the New York Times, Kenneth P. Vogel reports that the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank that has received more than $21 million in funding from Google, has terminated its relationship with the Open Markets project, which comprised about ten full-time employees and unpaid fellows. The trigger appears to have been an article published on the think tank's website by Open Markets leader Barry Lynn that praised the $2.7 billion fine the EU levied against Google in late June. Google denies exerting any pressure and the New American Foundation denies any link. However, Google funds myriad think tanks and advocacy groups (the list is published on its website), and critics express concern that the result is to limit criticism from the sector. Open Markets is now starting up as a stand-alone non-profit and has launched a website called Citizens Against Monopoly. At the Washington Post Zephyr Teachout argues that recent years have seen Google become "greedy" about owning the shape of public discourse and become America's biggest spender on corporate lobbying and a significant presence in the nation's schoolrooms. At Vox, Matthew Yglesias recounts the history of New America's ideological positioning and its relationship with Google and also notes the company's alignment with the Democratic Party. At The Register, Kieren McCarthy notes the reactions of technology policy activists and discusses Google's increasing influence on all aspects of policy making.
NY Times:
Citizens Against Monopoly:
Washington Post:

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

US: Understanding civic mistrust
In this posting at Medium, Ethan Zuckerman summarizes and makes available for download an essay on civic mistrust that he wrote for the Knight Foundation's recent workshop on trust, media, and democracy in America. Zuckerman argues that mistrust is a broad civic problem affecting many institutions, but that new ways of participating are also forming. He suggests that the traditional right/left axis is being replaced with a newer structure of institutionalists and insurrectionists.

North Korea: Phones and censorship
In this article, The Economist surveys the use of smartphones in North Korea, where sanctioned mobile phones have spread widely since 2008, when the government invited the Egyptian company Orascom to join the state in building a 3G network. Enforced by the state's operating system Red Star and by signal jammers set up along the border with China, and users are restricted from making foreign phone calls; built-in Red Star functions take random screenshots of users' devices and search files for suspicious phrases and delete them. Red Star also allows authorities to trace forbidden content smuggled in from the South as it moves from device to device. Only a few are allowed internet access, and that is limited to 28 websites on the state-run intranet. Nonetheless, The Economist sees the country's growing networking as a small but hopeful sign of defiance.

Fixing misleading charts
In this Quartz article, Nikhail Sonnad provides a helpful warning about interpreting data and charts by deconstructing a chart created by a Reddit user that did the rounds after the total solar eclipse carved a path across the US on August 21. The chart appeared to show, using Google Trends, that searches for "solar eclipse" peaked shortly before a similar-sized peak in searches for "my eyes hurt". Yet the reality is that although searches for "solar eclipse" did peak around the time of the eclipse, searches for "my eyes hurt" remained relatively flat. Sonnad explains why: the chart used relative indexing that showed nothing about the number of searches.

Amazon and antitrust
In this posting at BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow discusses a lengthy Yale Law Journal article written by third year law student Lina Khan (who also works with the Open Markets Initiative at the mentioned in the story on Google and New America, above), who examines the last 50 years of American antitrust law using Amazon as a case study. Khan, whose article has sparked a heated debate among lawyers and economists, argues that the Chicago School's emphasis on profits and consumer prices is inadequate to assess the anti-competitiveness of today's market structure, in which networks, digital goods, data-oriented retail, and giant pools of investment funds combine to create giant players at the expense of workers, creators, and competition. Khan concludes by suggesting limiting platform dominance by restoring traditional antitrust and competition principles and applying common carrier obligations.
Yale Law Journal:

How Palantir pushed into policing
In this Wired article, Mark Harris investigates the data analysis company Palantir's push into policing. Via freedom of information requests, Harris finds many police forces have complained about escalating prices, hard-to-use software, and confidentiality violations. The retrieved documents offer an unprecedented view of the data the secretive company collects, the services it offers, and its pricing structure. The company, whose board is chaired by PayPal founder Peter Thiel, has extracted $50 million from the state of California alone since 2009. Harris warns that Palantir aims to penetrate police forces across the US and the rest of the world.

A roadmap for artificial intelligence policy
In this essay, University of Washington law professor and We Robot co-founder Ryan Calo proposes a roadmap for artificial intelligence policy. Noting that modern fears about AI are decades old, he goes on to consider the policy challenges posed by recent breakthroughs in areas such as justice and equity, the use of force, safety, privacy, and taxation and displacement of labor. That AI has captured the interest and imaginations of policy makers around the world this early in its life-cycle offers hope, Calo writes, that it can be channeled toward the public interest. At Co.Design, Caroline Singers writes an open letter to Elon Musk arguing that we should be worrying about neither killer robots nor the Singularity, but should instead focus on emerging issues such as machine learning bias, the effect on jobs of automation, designing for a wider audience than just Silicon Valley, and security flaws, particularly in self-driving cars.
SSRN (essay):

Ukraine: Fighting fake news
In this podcast from National Public Radio's Planet Money, reporter Gregory Warner investigates fake news in Ukraine, where Russian TV stations routinely spread hoaxes that deepen divisions. Volunteers began by fact-checking Russian news and making counter-programming, but over time censorship looks more attractive than continuing to pour resources into such never-ending efforts.


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

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 September 3, 2017 4:18 PM.

News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 11 August 2017 was the previous entry in this blog.

News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 15 September 2017 is the next entry in this blog.

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