News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 23 February 2018

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 9 February 2018


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: Bits of Freedom, EDRi, EFF.



For breaking news stories, visit:

Chinese police spot suspects with surveillance glasses


The BBC reports that police in China have begun using connected sunglasses equipped with facial recognition to scan crowds looking for suspected criminals. In a test at a busy train station in the city of Zhengzhou, police were able to identify and apprehend seven suspects accused of crimes ranging from hit-and-run to human trafficking and identify 26 people using fake IDs, according to the Communist Party's People's Daily Newspaper. The glasses allow police officers to take a photograph of a suspicious individual and compare it to pictures held in an internal database. If the system finds a match, it sends identifying details such as name and address to the officer. China is a world leader in facial recognition and frequently reminds its citizens that it will make escape impossible. The country is thought to have 170 million CCTV cameras already in place, with 400 million more due to be installed between 2018 and 2021. The Verge reports that in December 2017 the digital surveillance manufacturer IC Realtime launched a web and app platform named Ella that uses AI to analyse video feeds and make them instantly searchable, like a Google for CCTV.



India: Competition Commission fines Google


Reuters reports that on February 8, the Competition Commission of India fined Google Rs 136.86 crore ($21.17 million) for "search bias" and abuse of its dominant position; the amount represents nearly 5% of Google's average total revenue in India for the financial years 2013, 2014, and 2015. Google has 60 days to appeal. The case began in 2012, when cases were filed by the consumer organization Consumer Unity and Trust Society and Consim, a matrimonial website and Google AdWords customer.


Russia: Scientists arrested for mining cryptocurrencies at nuclear research facility


The BBC reports that Russian security officers have arrested several scientists for attempting to mine cryptocurrencies at the top-secret Federal Nuclear Centre in the restricted and tightly guarded area of Sarov. The scientists were caught when they attempted to connect the warhead facility's supercomputer to the internet. The supercomputer is intentionally kept offline to protect its security.


US: Federal court rules an embedded tweet a copyright infringement


The EFF reports that a New York federal court has ruled in the case Goldman v. Breitbart that embedding a tweet in a web page can be a copyright infringement. The ruling could apply to all inline linking, up-ending years of settled precedent that only the host, not the linker, is liable for infringement. The judge argued that the "server test" created by the Ninth Circuit's opinion in the 2006 case Perfect 10 v. Amazon and the Seventh Circuit's 2012 opinion in Flava Works v. Gunter did not apply because the defendants in Goldman "took active steps" that resulted in public display of the photos in question. At the Technology and Marketing Law Blog, Eric Goldman explains the ruling and its consequences in more detail. The web's best hope is an appeal.



Chinese regulator rebukes Ant Financial for automatic credit scoring enrollment


The Wall Street Journal reports that in January the Cyberspace Administration of China rebuked representatives of Alibaba subsidiary Ant Financial Services Group for automatically enrolling its 520 million users in its credit-scoring system, Sesame Credit. Regulators said Ant's Alipay service violated China's new national data protection standard by not properly notifying users that enrolling in the credit-scoring system would permit Ant to share their personal financial data with third parties, including information about their income, savings, and shopping habits. The regulator said the policy broke the pledge the company signed in 2017 to protect this type of information and ordered Ant to ensure it doesn't happen again. Sesame Credit is one of the new rating systems emerging in China, where the government intends to spread social scoring throughout society. The case is also an example of Chinese people's increasing concerns about data privacy, although they reserve their concern for companies rather than government.

Wall Street Journal:

Germany: Court rules Facebook's data practices illegal


The Guardian reports that in a suit brought by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV), a Berlin court has ruled that Facebook's privacy settings and personal data use contravene German consumer law. A week later, the company said it would radically overhaul its privacy settings, and that the work would also prepare it for the incoming General Data Protection Regulation. The Guardian also reports that in January Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that social networks should be regulated like cigarette companies. In November 2017, the multi-stakeholder UN IGF Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility (FGV) published a book analyzing the online platforms' responsibility to respect human rights and providing guidance for "responsible" terms of service.
Guardian (suit):
Guardian (Benioff):



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

Turkey: How a single line of computer code jailed thousands of innocent Turks


At CBC News, Nil Köksal explains how a single line of computer code landed thousands of innocent Turks in jail. The story began with the free Bylock messaging app, which was used between 2014 and 2016 and which the Turkish government associated with treason and followers of Fethullah Gülen, the man the Turkish government believe was behind the attempted 2016 coup. Digital forensics expert Tuncay Beşikçi finds that people who have never downloaded or used the app were arrested because a line of code in other apps opened a single-pixel window onto - which Beşikçi believes may have been an attempt at obfuscation. In the Guardian, Owen Bowcott explains the UK legal opinion arguing that the arrests were illegal.



Break up the big tech companies


In this article at Esquire, Scott Galloway, founder of several early internet firms and author of The Four, argues that it's time to break up Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, given their big profits and small paybacks in the form of taxes, their destruction of jobs, and their weaponization during the 2016 US presidential election. He complains that government is handing off responsibilities such as allocating tax money, managing defense, and protecting teenagers to these companies while markets fail. He cites Microsoft as the original model, but Microsoft's power was checked by regulators, a fate the Big Four have so far avoided. Amazon has 4% of US retail - but 34% of the worldwide cloud business; phones are "delivery vehicles for Facebook"; Google owns 92% of the internet search market; and Apple has "the profit margin of Ferrari with the production volume of Toyota". Galloway concludes, "A key part of a healthy economic cycle is pruning firms when they become invasive, cause premature death, and won't let other firms emerge." In a lengthy piece at Wired, Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein trace Facebook's slow acceptance of responsibility over the news that appears on its platform.



US, UK: Surveilling immigrants


In the Guardian, Atlanta-based Azadeh Shahshahani, a human rights attorney with Project South, discusses US government spying on immigrants, including naturalized US citizens. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security already track the internet activity of all visa applicants, visa holders, and legal permanent residents, including social media account information, aliases, and search results from both public search engines and commercial databases. Shahshahani believes these measures, which violate the First Amendment, are intended to fracture and control dissent and keep immigrants marginalized. For many, it is reminiscent of the repression they left their former countries to escape. At the Guardian, MEP Claude Moraes complains that the UK government's proposed data protection rules implementing the incoming General Data Protection Regulation will remove subject access rights relating to immigration procedures from all non-UK nationals, including EU citizens resident in the UK. In a blog posting, Liberty opposes the West Yorkshire Police's roll-out of a system under which they stop people in the street and use a portable scanner to run their fingerprints against both criminal and immigration databases.

Guardian (Shahshahani):
Guardian (Moraes):


Stop saying smart cities


In this article at The Atlantic, science fiction writer Bruce Sterling argues that cities need to be "rich, powerful, and culturally persuasive, with the means, motive, and opportunity to manage their own affairs" - but not necessarily smart. "Smartness," he says, "is just today's means to this well-established end." Sterling goes on to discuss surveillance, the influence of incoming Chinese technology such as AI facial recognition, and a future of "localized, haphazard mash-ups of digital tips, tricks, and hacks. Follow the money, he says, and this isn't about smart cities but about GAFAM (Google-Apple-Facebook-Amazon-Microsoft) disrupting the older technology companies that have been building cities' command and control systems until now.


The house that spied on me


In this article at Gizmodo, Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu discover that the only thing worse than getting a bad night's getting a report from the bed afterwards advising that you "missed your sleep goal". Still: the newly "smart" apartment had its conveniences: it gave Hill voice-activated lights, coffee maker, and music, the ability to convey a message to a toddler through a toy, a self-heating bed, and a robot vacuum cleaner. Meanwhile, Mattu built a Raspberry Pi router to monitor what data all these devices collected and where they wanted to send it. They found a steady stream of outward bound data even when the house was empty - and massive annoyances because of the friction involved in getting all the devices to work together and satisfying their demands. Free advice: when you install connected CCTV cameras inside your home, think before you walk around nude. Hill's conclusion: "Smart homes are dumb." Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury foresaw this in his short story "There Will Come Soft Rains", published in 1950.



Is your software racist?


At Politico, Raymond Biesinger considers how to solve the problem of bias in software, citing numerous examples from Google Translate and voice-based assistants to recidivism-predicting algorithms. Prospective solutions are less clear than the problem. As one option, New York is appointing a task force to review and test the city's algorithms. Other options include requiring algorithms and data to be open source, industry-wide standards or benchmarks that algorithms need to meet, and a new federal agency to oversee the development of AI.





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

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.



February 28, 2018

Washington, DC, USA

Organized by the Federal Trade Commission, the 2018 PrivacyCon will expand collaboration among leading privacy and security researchers, academics, industry representatives, consumer advocates, and the government. As part of this initiative, the FTC sought general research that explores the privacy and security implications of emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The 2018 event will focus on the economics of privacy including how to quantify the harms that result from companies' failure to secure consumer information, and how to balance the costs and benefits of privacy-protective technologies and practices.

Internet Freedom Festival


March 5-9, 2018

Valencia, Spain

The global unconference of the Internet freedom communities brings together those who defend digital rights around the world - journalists, activists, technologists, policy advocates, digital safety trainers, and designers - with the goals of creating an inclusive space, increasing diversity, and improving the services, strategies, and tools offered to the most vulnerable individuals on the frontlines.



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.

IFLA President's Meeting 2018


May 19, 2018

Barcelona, Spain

By bringing together the biggest brains trust in the library field and gathering the best ideas and experience from outside, this event offers a unique chance to hear how leading players are approaching the future, how libraries can break down barriers and form new partnerships, how they can build sustainable foundations for their work, and how they can use digital tools to achieve the goal of access to information for all.

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.

World Library and Information Congress


August 24-30, 2018

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The 84th edition of the World Library and Information Congress has the theme, "Transform Libraries, Transform Societies" with the additional tagline, "Reaching out to the hard to reach", which was chosen in recognition of the critical role played by libraries in the development of a nation, particularly in their ability to transform societies.

SciELO 20 Years Conference


September 26-28, 2018

São Paulo, Brazil

In 2018, the SciELO Program will celebrate 20 years of operation, in full alignment with the advances of open science. The conference will address and debate the main political, methodological, and technological issues and trends that define today's state of the art in scholarly communication. These issues will also be shaping the future of the universal openness of scholarly publishing and its relationship with today's Open Access journals, in particular those of the SciELO Network.

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 February 23, 2018 10:33 PM.

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