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

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 9 March 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: EDRi, EFF, SPARC Europe.



For breaking news stories, visit:

Belgian court orders Facebook to stop collecting user data


At the Guardian, Samuel Gibbs reports that two weeks after a German court ruled that Facebook's data use contravenes German consumer law a Belgian court has ordered Facebook to stop collecting data on internet users or face daily fines of €250,000 a day. The Belgian case began in 2015, when University of Leuven researchers found that Facebook's tracking of all visitors without explicit consent using cookies was a violation of EU law. The company says it will appeal and that the cookies and invisible pixels it uses to track online behavior across the web is standard industry practice.


Pakistan: Court rules mobile phone service suspension illegal


The Express Tribune reports that the Islamabad High Court has ruled that the government's suspension of mobile phone services on the grounds of national security is illegal under the Pakistan Telecommunications Act 1996. The ruling is in response to several petitions filed in March 201 that challenged frequent suspensions in the capital. Although sub-section (3) of Section 54 of the Telecom Act does grant the government power to suspend services, the power may only be exercised in extraordinary situations when the president has issued a Proclamation of Emergency.


EU threatens internet companies: censor content or face regulation


At the Guardian, Samuel Gibbs reports that the European Commission has issued non-binding recommendations giving Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter,  and other internet companies three months to show that they are ready to remove "terrorist content" within an hour of being notified of its presence on their sites or face regulation. For other types of undesirable content, the EC will assess their progress within six months. EDRi opposes the plan on the basis that it puts internet giants in charge of regulating free speech in Europe and argues that the "voluntary" approach avoids legislation that would be subject to democratic scrutiny and judicial challenge. EDRi also notes that all EU member states must agree for the recommendations to be adopted and that the Commission is collecting no data to show that content deletion actually helps fight serious crime and terrorism. At JustSecurity, Justin Hendrix believes that regulation is inevitable for these technology companies even though the US is still resisting it. Hendrix goes on to suggest that regulation could be useful in three areas: transparency regarding their operations to governments and researchers; accountability for their practices to citizens; and responsibility for addressing externalities.
EDRi (opposition):
EDRi (recommendations:

Pacific Rim partnership agreements continue to progress


At EFF, Jyoti Panday reports that trade representatives from 11 Pacific rim countries including Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Australia are due to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Twenty-two items, including most of the intellectual property chapter, have been suspended from the original draft, which Panday relates to the withdrawal of the US, which drove those provisions. However, the previous agreement's electronic commerce (or "digital trade") chapter remains, along with a number of flaws. CPTPP will set new rules for the free flow of electronic data, access to source code, dispute resolution, and domain name privacy. Another such agreement may soon follow: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) is under negotiation by 16 countries, including China and India. The group is struggling to find agreement on the free movement of professionals and intellectual property.


EU enables ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty


Intellectual Property Watch reports that the European Council of Ministers has adopted a decision that enables the EU to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, starting in the summer of 2018. The Treaty grants blind and visually impaired people access to published works. The treaty was negotiated and adopted at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2013 and went into effect in September 2016, but Europe has delayed adoption. In September 2017, the Council adopted implementing legislation to introduce into EU law. WIPO announced in late February that Russia has joined the Marrakesh Treaty.

IP Watch:

China: Censors block dissent as government removes presidential term limits


At the New York Times, Javier C. Hernández reports that since China's ruling Communist Party announced plans to remove term limits, allowing President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely, censors are scouring the internet to remove criticism and maintain an appearance of mass support. Among the censored material are phrases and words like "my emperor", "lifelong", and "shameless," as well as images of Winnie the Pooh, which Xi is sometimes said to resemble. For a short time, the English letter "N" was also censored, believed to be an attempt to block social scientists from using the mathematical term "N > 2" as an expression of dissent. 

NY Times:



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

Europe: Analyzing research-related open data policies


In this blog posting, SPARC Europe introduces its report analyzing open data policies across Europe. Among the report's findings: 11 of the 28 EU member states have national research data-related policies in place, as do two further non-EU members of the European Research Area, Norway and Switzerland. Most of the policies examined are owned by or heavily involve the national research funders. SPARC Europe hopes to include evidence of update and engagement, as well as codes of research ethics, as the report is refreshed over the next two years.

SPARC Europe:

Leaked secret documents from Russia's election trolls


In this article at The Daily Beast, Ben Collins, Gideon Resnick, and Spencer Ackerman examine a large cache of internal documents, the results of a catastrophic security breach at the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-backed troll farm that interfered with the 2016 US presidential election. Among the new information contained in the leaked material: the IRA's US efforts included Reddit and Tumblr; the imposter accounts targeted named American activists for specific causes such as Black Lives Matter; and the troll farm was connected to two more 2016 rallies, one of which turned violent. The documents provide insight into the IRA's tradecraft - both strengths and weaknesses.

Daily Beast:

US: Supreme Court hears arguments in US v. Microsoft


In this article at the Washington Post, Ellen Nakashima summarizes the questions and arguments made in the February 27 US Supreme Court hearing in US v. Microsoft. At issue in the case, which dates to 2013, is whether US law enforcement should be able to access data stored abroad via a simple warrant under the Stored Communications Act (1986). Microsoft contends that a US warrant is not applicable to data stored outside the US - in this case, emails stored on its Irish servers - and law enforcement should pursue a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) request. The US government argues that because the emails would be turned over at Microsoft's Redmond, Washington headquarters there is no international transfer. EFF and the ACLU have signed onto a joint amicus brief with a number of other organizations in support of Microsoft. At Lawfare, Nora Ellingsen explains the legal points at issue in the case.

Washington Post:



US: Proposed act would block pornography at consumers' expense


In this blog posting at EFF, Gennie Gebhart explains the Human Trafficking Protection Act, under consideration in 15 US states. In 2017, EFF opposed versions of the bill in over a dozen states, and it failed in all of them. The model legislation would require device manufacturers to install "obscenity filters" on all internet-connected devices, removable only if the owner pays a $20 fee per device. EFF argues that such a requirement contravenes the First Amendment and allows government intrusion into citizens' private lives.


Do neural nets dream of electric sheep?


In this AI Weirdness blog posting, Janelle Shane tweaks images to investigate the effect on neural networks and finds their interpretations are entertainingly off-base. Microsoft's Azure computer vision API saw sheep where none existed, tagged goats as birds when they were positioned in a tree, and identified orange-painted sheep in a field as flowers. These algorithms, she concludes, rely on probability and luck.

AI Weirdness:

The economics of YouTube stars


In this Bloomberg article, Chris Stoke-Walker studies the economics of YouTube success and concludes that 96.5% of all YouTubers won't make enough money from advertising to move above the US poverty line. The top 3% of most-viewed channels could bring in about $16,800 a year while attracting 1.4 million views per month. The top 1%, who got 2.2 million to 42.1 million views per month in 2016, make extra money through sponsorships and other deals. A third of British children aged six to 17 told pollsters in 2017 that they wanted to grow up to be full-time YouTubers. However, the odds of breaking through are significantly less than they are in Hollywood, and the imbalance in YouTube revenues is getting worse.





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



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.

World Social Forum on Science and Democracy


March 13-17, 2018

Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

The World Forum on Science and Democracy (WFSD) is an initiative launched in 2007 to promote political dialogue between scientific institutions and social actors on Science and Society issues at a global level. The forum is intended to to help scientific and social actors to dialogue about shared interests, issues and concerns.

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.

Personal Democracy Forum Central-Eastern Europe


April 26-17

Gdansk, Poland

The sixth edition of the Personal Democracy Forum Central-Eastern Europe will include two days of keynote speeches, practical workshops, networking sessions, and many satellite events. Personal Democracy Forum CEE is a platform for exchanging ideas and experience for those working for civic participation and transparency in public life with the help of new technologies in Central and Eastern Europe. Launched in Poland in 2013, it is a regional branch of New York City PDF organized by Civic Hall (earlier Personal Democracy Media) since 2004.

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.

Internet Shutdowns in Africa Workshop


June 7-8, 2018

Johannesburg, South Africa

Internet shutdowns in Africa doubled between 2015 and 2016, affecting citizens in 11 countries on the continent. While the number declined slightly in 2017, governments that resorted to disrupting the internet did so more frequently and for longer periods. The justifications are diverse, from anti-government protests to Cameroon, to exam cheating in Ethiopia, concerns about election-related violence in Uganda, and quelling social unrest in Zimbabwe. This two-day conference is aimed at sparking in-depth and productive conversations about this issue. It is organized by the ERC-funded ConflictNet programme at the University of Oxford's Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, the CSLS, the Bonavero Institute for Human Rights, and the Department of Journalism, Film and Television at the University of Johannesburg's School of Communication.

Personal Democracy Forum


June 7-8, 2018

New York, NY, USA

Since 2004, Personal Democracy Forum ("PDF") has been the go-to place to tap into a community that believes in the power of technology to change politics and governance for the better.  This year's PDF, the 15th, will focus on meaningful collaboration, action, and participatory learning. Our number one goal is to plug attendees into the process of change-making. This year's theme, How We Make Good, will focus on how we turn our commitments - to democracy and ensuring that tech works for the public good - into concrete action.

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.

VOX-Pol Third Biennial Conference


August 20-21, 2018

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The VOX-Pol Network of Excellence (NoE) is a European Union Framework Programme 7 (FP7)-funded academic research network focused on researching the prevalence, contours, functions, and impacts of Violent Online Political Extremism and responses to it.c

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 March 9, 2018 4:53 PM.

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