News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 15 September 2017

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 15 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: Engine Room, Privacy International.

For breaking news stories, visit:

Equifax breach exposes credit details of 143 million Americans
At Ars Technica, Dan Goodin calls the hack of the credit scoring company Equifax, which has exposed the names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and driver's license numbers of 143 million Americans, and an unknown number of Canadians and Britons. While other breaches have been larger, Equifax's exceptional position at the heart of financial services makes this arguably the most severe, placing more than half the US population at risk of identity fraud. Compounding the breach is the company's "amateurish" response: insiders sold tranches of shares days before the announcement, the website constructed to notify people is inadequately secured and looks like a phishing site, and, as Sorry Watch notes, the company's public announcement failed as an apology. Investigative security journalist Brian Krebs studies the site's problems in detail and surveys the history of credit bureaus and concludes that they are overdue for more regulatory oversight. Ars Technica's Goodin also traces the breach to an open bug in web applications for which a patch had been issued two months before the break-in.
Ars Technica (news):
Sorry Watch:
Krebs (breach):
Krebs (response):
Ars Technica (bug):

Alt-right aims to build its own internet
At Slate, April Glaser reports on the development of social media sites being built by white supremacists, Nazis, and the "alt-right" as these groups are purged from mainstream services. One such site,, started in August 2016 with four people, and now boasts 240,000 users and $1 million in crowdfunding, though Google has booted it from its app store. Gab and others now want to build their own internet; they have made some progress in building alternatives to crowdfunding, data, and payment sites, and even Wikipedia, which they hope will eventually become mainstream. In the 2016 documentary The Brainwashing of My Dad, filmmaker Jen Senko studied the successful history of the similar process with broadcast media. In a blog posting, Access Now argues that social media companies should build human rights into their policies, and makes recommendations for how to do so.
Access Now:

Amnesty International terminates the Panic Button app
In a pair of blog postings at the Engine Room, Tanya O'Carroll (Amnesty International), Danna Ingleton (Human Rights Defenders), and Jun Matsushita (iilab) announce they are withdrawing the Panic Button app, intended to provide human rights activists with a peer-to-peer emergency response network. They explain the reasons and outline the lessons they have learned. The project hasn't attracted substantial external funding; the problem of false alerts proved intractable; and the organizations have been unable to sustain the needed level of human resources. The code remains available on Github, and the organizations will integrate the methodology into Amnesty's future work.
Engine Room (app):
Engine Room (lessons):

China bans initial coin offerings and bitcoin exchanges
At Bloomberg, Tim Culpan reports that China has declared initial coin offerings (ICOs) illegal. More than $1.8 billion has been raised through 135 ICOs this year. Chinese regulators have generally refrained from interfering with the rise of bitcoin, and the country has become a global center for trading and mining digital currencies. Culpan estimates that the new generation of ICOs are worthless, and believes the Chinese government has made the right decision in the interests of stability. A week later, Bloomberg reported that China will ban trading of bitcoin and other virtual currencies on domestic exchanges, although over-the-counter transactions will be allowed to proceed.
Bloomberg (ICOs):
Bloomberg (exchanges):

EU: ECHR reverses decision on employer monitoring
Reuters reports that the European Court of Human Rights has overturned the prior judgment by a Romanian court in the case of Barbulescu v Romania, the case in which a man was fired for using private messaging on company computers. The case was widely seen as giving companies new scope for monitoring their employees. The ECHR judges found that Romanian courts failed to protect Bogdan Barbulescu's private correspondence because the employer had not given him prior notice that it was monitoring his communications. At Panopticon, Robin Hopkins analyzes the background of the case and the limitations of the new ruling, which sets new boundaries between monitoring and privacy rights.

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

Critiquing the scientifically and ethically flawed "gay AI" paper
In this posting at Scatterplot, Greggor Mattson dissects the scientific flaws in the widely headlined preprint Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper claiming that an AI classifier determined whether a human is gay or heterosexual from photographs better than human judges recruited through Mechanical Turk. Mattson places Yiulun Wang's and Michal Kosinski's paper, first covered by the Economist, in context with myriad other attempts to use physical indicators to determine sexual orientation and critiques its flawed methodology and stereotyping. "Machine learning is like money laundering for bias," Maciej Ceglowski told the SASE conference in June 2016. At Light Blue Touchpaper, Ross Anderson criticizes the ethical failings and privacy issues raised by scraping images from dating sites without the consent of either an ethics board or the individuals concerned. Outline reports that the backlash has led the journal to place the paper under ethical review.
Light Blue Touchpaper:

Ten invisible data manipulations
In this posting at Medium, Privacy International discusses ten ways our data is invisibly used to manipulate us via devices over which we have no control. These include financial technology, political profiling and connected cars and transport. Privacy International has also launched a campaign, in partnership with more than 30 national human rights organizations, to collect information about the secret intelligence agency data sharing practices of 40 governments.
Medium (manipulations):
Medium (campaign):

Who is Marcus Hutchins?
In this blog posting, investigative security journalist Brian Krebs digs into the background of Marcus Hutchins, the UK "Wannacry hero" who was arrested at Defcon in August. Krebs finds that Hutchins appears to indeed have a history of writing malware, although he has tried to move away from it since 2013.

IBM's Watson for Oncology "nowhere close" to revolution of cancer care
In this article at STAT, Casey Ross examines IBM's optimistic claims for its Watson supercomputer's "revolution in cancer care" and concludes it's nowhere close. Only a few dozen hospitals have adopted the system, he writes, and the foreign ones complain that its advice is biased towards American patients and methods of care. The computer's treatment choices are based on training by a couple of dozen overseeing doctors at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who struggle to keep it up to date. STAT finds that it creates no new knowledge and that IBM has not published scientific papers or submitted the system for critical review by outsiders or conducted clinical trials.

Julian Assange: The man without a country
In this lengthy and thorough New Yorker profile, Raffi Khatchadourian tells the story of years of interactions and interviews with Julian Assange between 2010 and early 2017 and examines his alleged ties with Russia, calling Assange's claim that there were no connections between his publications and Russia "untenable".
New Yorker:

Measuring human rights
In this blog posting from the Responsible Data Forum, Anne-Marie Brook, co-founder of the Human Rights Measurement Initiative, outlines HRMI's project to produce a comprehensive set of metrics on countries' human rights performance. The project is calling for nominations for countries to participate in the pilot.
Responsible Data Forum:


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

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.

After the Digital Tornado
November 17-18
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Twenty years since the policy-makers and academics began wrestling with the implications of the internet, fundamental questions remain unresolved, and even more serious new questions have emerged. Today, networks powered by algorithms are eating everything. At this major academic conference hosted by the Wharton School, an interdisciplinary group of leading scholars will consider the deep questions posed for business and society. Registration is free, but space is limited.

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.

We Robot 2018
April 12-14, 2018
Palo Alto, California, USA
This conference is the annual gathering of academics, policy makers, roboticists, economists, ethicists, entrepreneurs, and lawyers who care about robots and the future of robot law and policy. We Robot fosters conversations between the people designing, building, and deploying robots, and the people who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots operate.

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 16, 2017 5:28 PM.

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