News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 22 December 2017

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 22 December 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: Citizen Lab.



For breaking news stories, visit:

US: FCC votes to repeal network neutrality


The Guardian reports that on December 15 the US Federal Communications Commission voted three to two along party lines to overturn the network neutrality rules that have prevented internet service providers from using discriminatory pricing and traffic management practices to control user access to sites and services. Opponents argue that network neutrality is essential to protect the openness and innovation that have characterized the internet to date. The New York Times notes that although many smaller technology companies such as Reddit, Etsy, and Kickstarter have opposed the FCC's decision, the largest ones - notably Facebook and Google, which lobbied intensively for network neutrality in 2006 - have remained silent. Separately, the New York Times uses examples from Europe - such as an offer from Telia to grant Swedish subscribers unlimited access on their mobile phones to Facebook, Spotify, Instagram, and other selected apps - to show what life without network neutrality may look like in the US. Swedish regulators are pursuing Telia through the courts.


New York Times (tech companies):

New York Times (Europe):

Ethiopia and the multibillion-dollar commercial spyware industry


In the fifth report of a series that began in 2013, Citizen Lab finds that the Ethiopian government is using commercial spyware to target civil society actors in Canada, the US, Europe, and elsewhere, in an example of the extent to which this software can enable extraterritorial surveillance. The list of software in use includes Hacking Team's RCS, Gamma Group's FinSpy, and Israel-based Cyberbit's PC Surveillance System. Among the targets is US-based Citizen Lab research fellow Bill Marczak. Citizen Lab argues that its findings show the need for clear legal pathways for the individuals targeted by foreign governments to seek redress.

Citizen Lab:

San Francisco cracks down on robot traffic


In the Guardian, Julia Carrie Wong reports that San Francisco has issued new rules capping the number of permits for delivery robots to three per company. Delivery robots will also be restricted to specific industrial neighourhoods, allowed only on sidewalks that are at least six feet wide, and required to be accompanied by a human chaperone at all times. In the last year, the rise in numbers of such robots deployed by "robots as a service" companies and others has provoked complaints from residents, who sent photographs showing increasing congestion. Also at the Guardian, Erin McCormick reports that a 400-pound security robot that patrolled the non-profit San Francisco SPCA animal shelter has been decommissioned after the city issued an order requiring it to stay off the sidewalks or face a penalty of up to $1,000 a day for operating in the public right of way without a permit.

Guardian (permits):

Guardian (security robot):

Governments file amicus briefs in Microsoft v. US Department of Justice


At The Register, Rebecca Hill reports that the US, UK, and Irish governments have submitted amicus briefs to the US Supreme Court in the case pitting Microsoft against the US Department of Justice (DoJ) regarding whether the company is required to turn over data stored on its Irish servers to US law enforcement. In July 2016, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in Microsoft's favor. The US government and the DoJ argue that storing data - in this case, emails - on a server in a foreign country does not exempt them from law enforcement requests; the UK similarly argues that the geographic storage location should not be the determining factor for deciding whether a nation may gain access and that the Second Circuit's decision disrupts international cooperation; and the Irish government argues that the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty provides the most appropriate procedures. In an earlier piece, Hill reports that the European Commission has also submitted an amicus brief to "make sure that EU data protection rules on international transfers are correctly understood and taken into account".

The Register (governments):

The Register (European Commission):

The UK's next census will be its last


Apolitical reports that the UK's next census, due in 2020, will be its last as the country will join the Scandinavian countries in shifting to harvesting the data traces people leave behind in everyday transactions with government. The benefits are expected to be lower costs, more frequently updated information, and the ability to cover a wider range of topics. The Office of National Statistics has been preparing since 2011; it expects to use data from multiple government departments as well as sources such as mobile phone location data. The ONS says it is interested in patterns, not people, and will use only anonymized data.


Airbnb's "university" teaches employees data skills


In this Wired article, Bonnie Christian discovers Airbnb's Data University, a company program to increase the number of employees who have data skills. The company says that since launching three-level course it sees greater usage of its data tools. Other companies have begun inquiring how to implement a similar plan.



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

South Africa: How a remote rural community built its own ISP


In this article at Quartz Africa, Bill Tucker explains how Mankosi, a remote rural community of about 6,000 people in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, joined with a research team at the University of the Western Cape to develop the "Zenzeleni" solar-powered wireless community network. Both electricity and telecommunications are expensive; a survey found that people spend up to 22% of their income on telecommunications. Any wifi-enabled device can access the network, which charges much less for voice calls and data than the mobile operators.


India: Should Aadhaar be mandatory?


In this article at the Deccan Herald, Centre for Internet and Society lawyer Amber Sinha discusses the significant privacy case in front of India's Supreme Court regarding the government's requirement that up to 140 services and benefits are only available to those who can present an Aadhaar identification number. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that no one should suffer because they do not have an Aadhaar number. Since the passage of the Aadhaar Act (2016), the number of government services for which Aadhaar is mandatory has been increasing steadily. Sinha believes that the text of the legislation and the Supreme Court's previous orders mean the requirement is void.

Deccan Herald:

Data, money, and power: Can Google and Facebook be disrupted?


In this posting at Select All, Ethan Chiel discusses the possibility for disrupting Facebook and Google. University of Maryland law professor Frank Pasquale began critiquing the two companies ten years ago, but economists and antitrust experts expected them to be disrupted by newer, more nimble approaches like other giant technology companies before them. Chiel argues that the self-reinforcing accumulation of data, money, and power means that switching costs are too high for individuals and even countries to change platforms unless required to do so. Disrupting these companies, Chiel believes, is no longer possible.

Select All:

How email tracking took over the web


In this Wired article, Brian Merchant examines the practice of email tracking, which is far more widespread than most people realize. Over 40% of the world's daily 269 billion emails are tracked via tiny pixel images, hyperlinks, custom fonts, and specialized services. Especially on the rise is tracking of individuals by their friends and families using services like Streak. Anti-tracking services have sprung up to block the trackers, but ultimately government intervention may be necessary.

Philippines: When a government uses Facebook as a weapon


In this article at Bloomberg, Lauren Etter examines "patriotic trolling" in the Philippines, where the government is using Facebook in a campaign to destroy critic Maria Ressa, co-founder of the country's largest online news site, Rappler. President Rodrigo Duterte was introduced to social media in 2016, when Facebook trained election candidates to use social media and Rappler hosted a pre-election question-and-answer session for candidates. Since his election in May 2016, however, Duterte has taken advantage of the fact that 97% of Filipinos have Facebook accounts to use targeted harassment and viral propaganda to take down opponents, including a senator and human rights activist. Ressa became a target when she posted "Propaganda War: Weaponizing the Internet" to expose these practices. Facebook claims the country's residents need to learn digital skills, and continues to partner with the government on laying undersea cables and providing bandwidth.

Inside China's Vast New Experiment in Social Ranking


In this Wired article, Mara Hvistendahl recounts personal experiences with China's new Sesame (Zhima) Credit scoring system. She learns how to boost your score, how people select friends to enhance their scores, and the reasons why social scoring appeals to the Chinese. There is little oversight of the court executors who maintain the scoring system's blacklist, and those who are blacklisted enter into a rapid downward spiral as friends drop them and the algorithm continues to update to lower their score. These systems may spread: in 2012, Facebook patented a scoring system that could incorporate the credit scores of the people in an individual's network.





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



December 27-30, 2017

Leipzig, Germany

The Chaos Communication Congress is the Chaos Computer Club's (CCC) annual symposium and hacker party. During four days between Christmas and New Year's Eve, thousands of hackers, technology freaks, artists, and utopians get together in Leipzig to communicate, learn from each other, and party together. We focus on topics such as information technology, networks, digital security, making, and breaking. We engage in creative, skeptical discourse on the interaction between technology and society.



January 19-21, 2018

Washington, DC

ShmooCon is an annual east coast hacker convention offering three days of an interesting atmosphere for demonstrating technology exploitation, inventive software and hardware solutions, and open discussions of critical infosec issues. The first day is a single track of speed talks called One Track Mind. The next two days bring three tracks: Build It, Belay It, and Bring It On.

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.

Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency


February 23-24, 2018

New York, NY, USA

FAT* is an international and interdisciplinary peer-reviewed conference that seeks to publish and present work examining the fairness, accountability, and transparency of algorithmic systems. The FAT* conference solicits work from a wide variety of disciplines, including computer science, statistics, the humanities, and law. It intends to bring together the community that has grown through a number of workshops at other conferences.



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.


April 25, 2018

Winchester, UK

The fifth interdisciplinary Winchester conference on Trust, Risk, Information and the Law has as its overall theme "Public Law, Politics and the Constitution: A new battleground between the Law and Technology?"

Tomorrow's Transactions Forum


April 24-25, 2018

London, UK

The 21st edition of Tomorrow's Transactions will provide an opportunity to look back at the lessons that have been learned across the past decades and cast an eye toward the future to ask, where will technology and regulation, take our world of transactions? For 2018, topics will include AI, futures, open banking, and conversational and contextual commerce.

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.

Open Knowledge Summit 2018


May 3-6, 2018

Thessaloniki, Greece

For 2018, the Open Knowledge Foundation has replaced the OKFestival with a summit intended to gather the Open Knowledge network to collaboratively build the future of the Open Knowledge Network. The format and programming will be developed as a collaboration between Open Knowledge International, Open Knowledge Greece, and all other groups in the network.



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


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.

The Circle of HOPE


July 20-22, 2018

New York, NY, USA

Organized by 2600 Magazine, the 12th biennial Hackers on Planet Earth conference celebrates the hacker spirit. Talks typically feature new ways of examining and dissecting technology to reveal inconvenient truths.



August 9-12, 2018

Las Vegas, NV, USA

The heart of the DEF CON 26 theme is the concept of the counterfuture. The counterfuture is the open-source alternative to totalitarian dystopia; a world where we use tech and ingenuity for empowerment and connection rather than isolation and control.

International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners


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 December 10, 2017 7:17 PM.

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