News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 10 November 2017

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 10 November 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.

For breaking news stories, visit:

China: Springer Nature bows to government censorship pressure
At the New York Times, Javier C. Hernández reports that Springer Nature, whose publications include Nature, International Politics, the Journal of Chinese Political Science, and Scientific American, has removed articles from its Chinese mainland site in response to government pressure. The articles touch on topics such as Tibet, Taiwan, human rights, and elite politics. The publishers says that the blocked material is only 1 percent of its content.

Russia: government backed investments in Twitter and Facebook
In syndication from the New York Times, CNBC reports that according to the Paradise Papers the hundreds of millions of dollars Russian billionaire Yuri Milner invested in Facebook and Twitter came from the state-controlled Russian bank VTB via a maze of offshore shell companies. Another investor involved in Milner's Facebook arrangement received financing from the government-controlled Gazprom Investholding. At their height these holdings, which Milner sold several years ago, amounted to more than 8% of Facebook and 5% of Twitter. VTB and Gazprom have said the investments were motivated by sound financial considerations, not politics. Since then, Milner has invested $7 billion in more than 30 companies, including Spotify, Airbnb, and Groupon; his current investments include a real estate venture founded and partly owned by US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.

Stephen Hawking's thesis crashes Cambridge University server
CNN, The Guardian, and the Washington Post report that the Cambridge University server melted down following the release of Stephen Hawking's 1966 doctoral thesis as part of this year's Open Access Week. Now, every Cambridge graduate student is required to submit both hard and digital copies of their thesis and encouraged to make the digital version publicly available. In a statement, Hawking said, "By making my PhD thesis Open Access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and to try and make sense of the cosmos."

Zimbabwe: American woman charged over tweet
At the Guardian, Jason Burke reports that Zimbabwean police have charged US citizen Martha O'Donovan with sending two tweets police said emanated from her "IT" address: first, insulting president Robert Mugabe, and second plotting to overthrow a constitutionally elected government. O'Donovan had been working with Magamba TV, a social media outlet popular among educated urban Zimbabwean youth. Reuters reports that O'Donovan will be held in a Harare jail until her next court hearing, on November 15. If found guilty, she could be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail.

US: Internet Association backs censorship bill
At EFF, Elliott Harmon reports that the Internet Association, a trade group whose membership spans the industry, including Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Coinbase, Netflix, and Uber, has endorsed a "compromise" version of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). SESTA would hold every individual or organisation liable for any third-party content they host, gutting the third-party provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (1996). The compromise, Harmon says, retains all the flaws of the original bill. In a second posting, Harmon argues that although the mainstream media are portraying the issue as a battle between Google and Congress, the real impact of this bill will be to reinforce the dominant position of today's large incumbent companies. The Freedom Network USA, the largest network of anti-trafficking organizations, says the bill will not solve sex trafficking because the victims will be the first to be silenced as companies over-filter to avoid liability.

Israel: Palestinian man questioned after Facebook mistranslation
At Gizmodo, Sidney Fussell reports that a mistake in Facebook's machine translation service has led to the arrest and questioning of a Palestinian man by Israeli police. The man, a construction worker on the West Bank, posted a picture of himself leaning against a bulldozer like those that have been used in hit-and-run terrorist attacks, with a caption that correctly translates to "good morning"; Facebook's AI translated it into "hurt them" in English or "attack them" in Hebrew.

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

Trump's 11 minutes of Twitter silence
In this audio clip from National Public Radio's "All Things Considered", Mary Louise Kelly and Laura Sydell discuss the security issues raised by the 11-minute disappearance of US President Donald Trump's Twitter account on November 2, which Twitter said was deactivated by a departing contract employee. Sydell's sources tell her that contract employees based in Asia and the Philippines have the ability to take down accounts that post offensive content. Of greater concern is the vulnerability of Twitter accounts; someone breaking into the president's account could start a war or move markets. Recode has a round-up of other Twitter users' reactions to Trump's absence.

The economics of fake news
In this article at Mic, an anonymous source explains in detail the tactics he uses to profit from spreading fake news. One Facebook story, which was taken down after being flagged by the third-party fact-checking site Snopes, netted the source $20,000 during the time it was up. It typically takes Facebook three days to remove a story, and most of the impressions happen on the first day. Boosting posts to reach a wider audience requires only $100 to $200. The New York Times asked nine experts, including Tim Wu, Alice Marwick, and Eli Pariser, to suggest ways to fix Facebook's news feed.

EU: The industry lobby battle against ePrivacy
In this blog posting. the Corporate Europe Observatory details the lobbying efforts aiming to influence the ePrivacy deliberations in the European Commission and the European Parliament. Every major IT, telecoms, media, and internet company is represented by at least one, sometimes more, of the lobbying organisations. Many have joined together to demand the law's repeal, saying that the General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force in March 2018, is sufficient. Despite these intensive activities, new privacy rules have made it through the LIBE committee to the European Parliament plenary to the trilogue stage.

Fooling neural networks in the physical world
In this article, MIT's LabSix discusses its new approach to generating 3D "adversarial objects" that can reliably fool neural networks in the real world from any angle. In one example, altering just a few pixels ensures that a 3D-printed turtle is classified by Google's Inception V3 image classifier as a rifle at every viewpoint even though the unperturbed turtle reads to the classifier as "turtle". At the Guardian, Alex Hern explains how LabSix's technique works in more detail.

Cases against war criminals jeopardized by disappearing online evidence
In this article at The Intercept, Avi Asher-Schapiro discusses the problem of assembling evidence of war crimes in the face of deletions of photographs and video clips conducted by YouTube and Facebook as part of their stepped-up efforts to identify and remove violent content that may be extremist propaganda or disturbing to users. Human rights considerations are not among those implemented in the AI systems the companies use, even though the same companies originally encouraged campaigners to use their systems to document abuses and improve accountability. Asher-Schapiro goes on to discuss how social media evidence has been used and highlights efforts to standardize how it's collected and archived.

Facebook's newsfeed changes penalize independent news sites
In this Guardian article, Alex Hern discusses the impact of Facebook's experiment, which began on October 19, with removing professional media from the main news feed in six smaller, less-developed countries - Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia and Slovakia. Facebook often tests substantial changes on the user base in smaller countries that matter less to the company's revenues; in this case, the results have been unusually damaging. A broad selection of Slovakia's media saw a 60% overnight drop in engagement; the Guatemalan site Soy502 reported a 66% drop and saw the move as an existential threat for a site struggling to function in an unstable democracy. At Techcrunch, Anthony Ha reports on Facebook's October 24 presentation of its new guidelines to help publishers understand its strategy for combating fake news, which included a question-and-answer session led by City University of New York professor Jeff Jarvis.


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

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.

Parliament & Internet
November 21, 2017
London, UK
The Conference will cover a range of policy matters, including the reliance of critical national infrastructure from cyber threats, the connectivity challenges ahead (including fibre rollout and future 5G deployment), the proposed the Digital Charter, as well as Brexit and the current priorities from for the communications sector perspective.

Internet Governance Forum
December 18-21, 2017
Geneva, Switzerland
The IGF facilitates a common understanding as to how internet opportunities can be maximized and addresses arising risks and challenges. The forum gives developing countries an equal opportunity with wealthier nations to engage in the debate on internet governance and facilitates their participation. Ultimately, the involvement of all stakeholders, from both developed and developing countries, is necessary for the future development of the internet. The IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group decided to retain the title "Shape your digital future!" for the 2017 meeting.

Privacy Camp
January 23, 2018
Brussels, Belgium
Privacy Camp brings together civil society, policy-makers and academia to discuss existing and looming problems for human rights in the digital environment. In the face of a "shrinking civic space" for collective action, the event aims to provide a platform for actors from across these domains to discuss and develop shared principles to address key challenges for digital rights and freedoms of individuals. The theme for 2018 is "speech, settings and [in]security by design".

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection
January 24-26, 2018
Brussels, Belgium
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.

March 10-15, 2018
San Juan, Puerto Rico
ICANN's Community Forum for 2018 will be focused on outreach, capacity building, and showcasing ICANN's work to a broader global audience.

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.

Internet Freedom Forum
April 24-26, 2018
Abuja, Nigeria
The sixth edition of the Internet Freedom Forum will present a unique platform for discussions and engagement around current trends and emerging issues affecting internet freedom in Africa. Participants at IFF include civil society organizations, policy actors/makers, legal/policy experts, academics, advocates, tech enthusiasts, industry representatives and active citizens among others.

OKFestival 2018
May 3-6, 2018
Thessaloniki, Greece
The Open Knowledge Festival (OKFestival) is the biggest gathering of the open knowledge community and will bring together over 1,000 people from around the world to share their skills and experiences; encouraging them to work together to build the very tools and partnerships that will further the power of openness as a positive force for change.

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.

Workshop on Technology and Consumer Protection
May 24, 2018
San Francisco, CA, USA
ConPro #18 will explore computer science topics with an impact on consumers. This workshop has a strong security and privacy emphasis, with an overall focus on ways in which computer science can prevent, detect, or address the potential for technology to deceive or unfairly harm consumers. Participants will consist heavily of academic and industry researchers but are also expected to include researchers from the Federal Trade Commission - the U.S. government's primary consumer protection body - and other government agencies with a consumer protection mission.

Privacy Law Scholars
May 30-31
Washington, DC, USA
PLSC is a paper workshop with the goal of improving and providing support for in-progress scholarship. To achieve this, PLSC assembles a wide array of privacy law scholars and practitioners from around the world to discuss the papers. Scholars from many disciplines (psychology/economics, sociology, philosophy, political science, computer science, and even math) also participate.

LIBER Annual Conference 2018
July 4-6, 2018
Lille, France
The 47th annual conference of the Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER) will include plenary sessions with top international speakers, presentations on current research, posters, and an exhibition of products and services for the library sector, as well as a comprehensive social programme.

International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners 2018
October 22-26, 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 November 22, 2017 2:19 PM.

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