News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 29 September 2017

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 29 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: EDRi, EFF, SumOfUs.

For breaking news stories, visit:

UK: Transport for London bars Uber
London Reconnections reports that Transport for London (TfL) has decided not to renew Uber's license to operate, saying the company is not "fit and proper". The company says it will appeal; over 825,000 customers have answered its call to sign a petition in support. TfL's announcement lists four areas in which it feels Uber has failed to take sufficient responsibility: reporting serious criminal offenses; obtaining medical certificates; Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks; and explaining the use of the company's regulator-blocking software Greyball. London Reconnections explains Uber's corporate structure and the reasons why in TfL Uber has met a genuinely powerful regulator that will not be easily pacified. SumOfUs argues that TfL should not restore Uber's license until and unless the company agrees to fair working terms, including granting drivers basic employment rights and safe working practices; it has delivered a petition with 106,000 signatures to London Assembly member Unmesh Desai.
London Reconnections:

Apple adds tracking prevention to Safari browser
The Guardian reports that the latest version of Apple's Safari browser implements "intelligent tracking prevention", which prevents some websites from tracking users around the net. The move has proved controversial, and six advertising consortia have written an open letter to Apple, published in AdWeek, saying the new rules will "hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the internet". Google is also developing a feature for its Chrome browser that will block "intrusive ads". EFF expresses the hope that Mozilla, Microsoft, and Google will follow the lead of Apple and minority browsers Brave and Opera.

Chile: Draft decree requires data retention
Human Rights Watch reports that the text of a draft decree signed by Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, which has been released by the rights group Derechos Digitales, would require telecommunications companies to retain data on the electronic and mobile communications of everyone in the country for at least two years. While the decree would require a court order to intercept communications, the same would not be true for accessing data already held. The draft also forbids companies from incorporating technology to hinder interception or recording, which if interpreted broadly could mean banning encryption. To come into force, the decree needs to be approved by the Comptroller Generalk's Office, which is reviewing the draft.
Human Rights Watch:

EU: Buried study shows unauthorized downloads have little effect on sales
EDRi reports that in response to a freedom of information request from Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda the European Commission has finally published a study on the impact of unauthorized downloads on the copyright industry that it commissioned in 2014. Awarded to the Dutch research and consultancy company Ecorys at a cost of €369,871, the study, now published at Netzpolitik, found that statistical analysis did not support the claim that downloading displaced sales with one exception: recent top movies. In that case, the researchers found that the legal consumption of top films decreased by four for every ten recent top films watched illegally. Music and books were unaffected; downloading games may even boost sales. The researchers suggest that downloading films and TV series decreases with lower prices. At TechDirt, Glyn Moody has more details and background.
Netzpolitik (PDF):

Spain: Government raids .cat registry owner Fundació PuntCAT
The New York Times reports that the Spanish authorities, in the news for raiding the offices of the Catalan regional government and detaining at least 14 people, simultaneously raided the offices of Fundació PuntCAT, which has overseen the .cat domain name registry since its creation in 2005. PuntCAT's head of IT, Pep Masoliver, was arrested and charged with sedition. Almost all of the 113,000 websites registered under .cat belong to the Catalan-speaking community, and the foundation monitors such sites to ensure that they use the Catalan language. Catalonia's regional government has long pushed for secession from Spain and intends to hold a referendum on secession on October 1, efforts the Madrid government claims violates the country's 1978 constitution. The foundation has written to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to say that the Spanish authorities have asked it to block all .cat domain names that may contain any information about the referendum, and posted it on Twitter. The Guardian has more detail on the broader situation. 
New York Times:

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

EFF's open letter to W3C
In this open letter, EFF's Cory Doctorow explains why EFF has resigned from W3C, the organization founded by Tim Berners-Lee that guides the development of the web. EFF's resignation is related to W3C's adoption of the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) standard, which enables companies like Netflix and others to deliver video protected via digital rights management (DRM) to web browsers. EFF had agreed to drop its opposition to EME provided that the W3C extend its existing intellectual property rights policies to ensure that companies could not use provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright to attack legitimate activities such as research and modifications that require the circumvention of DRM. Despite support by W3C members from many sectors, W3C's leaders rejected this compromise. At The Outline, Adrianne Jeffries discusses the controversy and the perception that the W3C, "vendor-neutral" since its founding in 1994, has become a captive of large corporate interests. 
The Outline:

Fixing Facebook
In this article at Wired, Antonio Garcia Martinez explains the inner workings of Facebook's advertising machine, which he helped create, and suggests how to fix them in the light of two recent stories: the sale of $100,000 in political ads to Russian operators before the 2016 election, and the ease with which bigoted users can be targeted via keywords. Garcia Martinez rapidly dismisses the second story because advertisers have largely abandoned keywords in favor of more personalized targeting. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's embrace of transparency, he writes, will require the company to solve the problem of how to display all the many variants of ads without disrupting advertisers' desire to have clean product pages. ProPublica has the detail of what is known about Facebook's transparency initiative.

African start-ups
In this article at Quartz Africa based on the recent Accelerating Africa 2,0 event, Yinka Adegoke argues that Africa's community of start-ups and venture capitalists should be focusing on innovation and problem-solving rather than chasing huge valuations. The latter approach may have worked in Silicon Valley, but will be damaging in an African context.

Disrupting Daesh on Twitter
In this blog posting at VOX-Pol, Maura Conway and Suraj Lakhani summarize findings in the project's August report, Disrupting Daesh: Measuring Takedown of Online Terrorist Material and Its Impacts. While Twitter was quickly suspending accounts linked to Islamic State (IS), the same was not true of accounts linked to other extremist groups. VOX-Pol estimates that 90% of accounts supportive of IS were taken down over the three months of their study. The researchers conclude by warning that IS activity is migrating to other platforms, particularly Telegram, where there may be less overall activity but participants may be more committed to their cause and therefore pose a greater security risk.

Information bottleneck and deep machine learning
In this article at Quanta Magazine, Natalie Wolchover explains a Berlin conference talk posted to YouTube by Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In the talk, Tishby proposed an answer to the question of how deep neural networks learn: an information bottleneck that rids the information passing through the network of noise and retains only the most relevant features. Tishby has identified two phases of this process: "fitting" and "compression". It's widely agreed that he may have solved the important problem of how neural networks generalize principles from the stream of specific examples they're fed; it's unlikely that this is how human brains do it.


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

Privacy + Security Forum
October 4-6, 2017
Washington, DC, USA
The conference breaks down the silos of security and privacy by bringing together leaders from both fields.

Freedom not Fear
October 6-9, 2017
Brussels, Belgium
Annual barcamp for European digital rights activists organized by Digitalcourage. Open to all. The barcamp highly depends on the participants and their contribution - those wanting to organise a workshop or a talk can create an account at the FnF wiki and enter their session.

Countering Violent Extremism Online and the Impact on Civil Liberties
October 23-04, 2017
Boston, MA, USA
The theme of this workshop is to explore the challenges and opportunities facing actors engaged in countering violent extremism online, and the impact on content regulation and civil liberties. This workshop is connected with a VOX-Pol study being conducted by Central European University's Center for Media, Data and Society.

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.

International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners 2018
October 22026, 2018
Brussels, Belgium
The 40th version of this event will be hosted by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Giovanni Buttarelli and the chair of the Commission for Personal Data Protection of the Republic of Bulgaria, Ventsislav Karadjov. The conference is expected to focus on the recently launched international debate on the ethical dimension of data protection in the digital era. Accompanying conference events will also take place in Bulgaria.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on October 1, 2017 8:11 PM.

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