News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 27 April 2018

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 27 April 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: Privacy International, SPARC.

Digital Freedom Fund seeks program officer
The ideal candidate will have four to five years of professional experience in the non-profit sector, preferably in a grant-making capacity, and has a demonstrable commitment to human rights. Prior experience with digital rights is not required, but an interest in human rights in the digital sphere is of course important for the role.



For breaking news stories, visit:

Facebook moves 1.5 billion users outside the reach of EU data protection law


At the Guardian, Alex Hern reports that Facebook will shift legal responsibility for its 1.5 billion users outside the US, Canada, and the EU from its international headquarters in Ireland to its main offices in California, thereby removing them from the reach of the incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Those users will be covered by US law, although for tax purposes Facebook will continue to book their revenue through its Irish office. LinkedIn will follow suit on May 8. At CNN, Bruce Schneier discusses the likely impact of GDPR on the thousands of companies that are spying on us. At Medium, Privacy International argues that Facebook has avoided acknowledging the importance of data about individuals that is inferred, derived, or predicted from information automatically collected from others' postings. PI also details how social media profiling works and why it's both dangerous and illegal under GDPR. In an interview at New York Magazine, Richard Stallman argues that rather than controlling how companies and governments collect and use data we should stop them from doing it. At Medium, Linet Kwamboka discusses the impact of Facebook's data scandal in Africa, where only 17 countries have data protection laws; she especially looks at Kenyans' reduced Facebook usage.



Medium (PI):

NY Magazine:

Medium (Africa):

Google closes network bug that enabled bypass of state censorship


At The Verge, Russell Brandom reports that Google's App Engine is discontinuing a practice known as "domain-fronting", which enabled services such as Signal,, and Psiphon's virtual private networking to bypass state-level internet censorship. First noticed by developers on April 13, the change to Google's network architecture stops these services from using Google's network as a proxy to forward traffic to their own servers. Google says domain fronting was never an intended network feature. Along with other groups, Access Now is asking Google to reconsider.


Russia blocks millions of IP addresses to enforce Telegram ban


At the Guardian, Andrew Roth reports that Russia's internet watchdog, Roskomnadzor, is blocking an estimated 16 million IP addresses, including subnets used by Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, as part of efforts to enforce its ban on the Telegram messaging app. Telegram is used by more than 13 million people in Russia, including Kremlin officials. The ban is supported by a court decision and the FSB. Also at the Guardian, Roth and Saeed Kamali Dehghan report that Iran seems ready to follow suit, as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced he is leaving the service "to safeguard the national interest". An estimated 40 million Iranians, or about half the country's population, use Telegram for its broadcast functions as well as one-to-one messaging.

Guardian (Russia):

Guardian (Iran):

Sri Lanka: False rumors on social media spark violence


At the New York Times, Amanda Taub and Max Fisher report on riots and lynchings in Sri Lanka, where false rumors, which are spread primarily on Facebook, have led people to believe that the small town of Ampara is the epicenter of a Muslim plot to sterilize and destroy the country's Sinhalese majority. Taub and Fisher argue that in countries with weak or undeveloped institutions, posts that tap into anger and fear have greater impact because Facebook is seen as synonymous with the internet and other reputable information sources are scarce. Similar situations have arisen in rural Indonesia, India, and Mexico. At the Guardian, Michael McGowan reports that Ian MacKay, a high-ranking Australian official with the National Union of Workers, helped set up and run a fake Black Lives Matter Facebook page. MacKay has been suspended; the page, which had nearly 700,000 followers, was removed after CNN began investigating.

NY Times:


France develops homebrew encryption system


At TechDirt, Mike Masnick reports that France is testing a homegrown encrypted messaging system for its government officials while continuing to push for backdoors for other encrypted communications. Masick questions the logic of this decision, both for the inequitable "Let them eat insecure messages" attitude toward the general public and for the technical risks of using a system that has not been repeatedly tested by cryptanalysts.


Study finds Android apps track children


At Tom's Guide, Henry T. Casey reports that a new study by the Berkeley-based International Computer Science Institute finds that 57% of the 5,855 apps it studied appear to be in potential violation of the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The apps are all popular, free, and targeted at children. Many plug into Facebook's application programming interface (API). Others collect identifiers or personally identifiable information despite terms of service barring use for children's apps; 40% do not encrypt data for transmission. At Slate, Justin Peters asks why Google won't admit that YouTube is for children. Consumer protection advocates have complained to the Federal Trade Commission that the platform violates COPPA.

Tom's Guide:


Fingerprint scanning technology moves forward


At Undark, Rod McCullom reports that new techniques developed by researchers at the University of Surrey can analyze biochemical traces in the sweat in fingerprints to reveal whether the subject has taken drugs. The article goes on to discuss the privacy and ethical implications of turning fingerprints from biometric identifiers into revealing sources of forensic information. At its blog, the South Wales Police reports that an enhanced phone image of a hand enabled fingerprint experts to secure drugs convictions against 11 people.


South Wales Police:



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

Palantir knows everything about you


In this article at Bloomberg, Peter Waldman, Lizette Chapman, and Jordan Robertson examine the life, times, and inner workings of the secretive data-crunching company Palantir. Founded in 2004 by PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Palantir's intelligence platform was designed for the War on Terror and has been turned to surveilling ordinary Americans by government departments such as Health and Human Services (to detect Medicare fraud), the FBI (criminal investigations), and the Department of Homeland Security (screening travelers and immigrants). The article studies Palantir's platform in detail, considers why courts have not ruled on its legality, and finds that at twice the age at which most start-ups either go public or sell out, the company is courting corporate customers to build its revenues.


Battle over college course material shows technological change


In this feature at the Washington Post, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel discusses textbook pricing, the rise of open textbooks, and inclusive-access programs that deliver all course materials on the first day of class at a discounted rate. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) hopes for an open education marketplace with options that allow both reduced costs and expanded access. One benefit is enabling students to hold onto digital courseware for years rather than reselling their textbooks in order to afford those they need for the next semester. Concerns persist that publishers remain in control and can raise prices in this captive market.

Ridesharing versus public transit


In this article at American Prospect, Steven Hill considers Uber's and Lyft's contribution to social divisions in urban transportation systems. Ridership on many public transport systems is down, which researchers at the University of California Transportation Center link to the rise of ride-hailing services. In the US, where public transport is already weak, Hill argues that Uber is mounting a venture capital-subsidized predatory price war to drive off all competition. Meanwhile, car use, pollution, and congestion are all increasing. At the Washington Post, Faiz Siddiqui reports that the city's ride-hailing tax receipts show that ride-hailing has quadrupled since 2015 while taxi and Metro ridership has steadily fallen. Uber shares some data with transport regulators on vehicle travel time and demand, and is piloting sharing data on curb use, but does not disclose the number of rides or average fares.


Washington Post:

Blockchain might have a role to play in digital archiving


In this blog posting, the Open Data Institute (ODI) asks if blockchains - distributed ledger technologies - can help guarantee the integrity of digital archives. The ODI is partnering with the University of Surrey and the UK's National Archives on the ARCHANGEL research project to investigate how blockchains might be used to verify that historical documents have not been altered or adapted while stored in archives. This is a particular problem for documents that are too personally sensitive to release now but that will be of value to future historians. At Quartz, Bright Simons argues that for blockchains to be useful in Africa they must lose their Western cultural baggage and adapt to Africa's different understanding of trust, which may rely on the kinds of third parties blockchain's inventors wanted to eliminate.



India: The consequences of linking women's medical records to their Aadhaar


In this article at the Indian Express, Ramya Chandrasekhar opposes India's decision to link women's medical records to their Aadhaar numbers, which she argues is female-targeted surveillance that removes women's and girls' autonomy. The proposals date to 2016, when Women and Child Development minister Maneka Gandhi proposed that it should be made mandatory to disclose the sex of the fetus to pregnant women and for pregnancies to be tracked in order to deter the practice of female feticide. In February 2018, two doctors argued in an editorial that every abortion should be recorded against the women's Aadhaar along with records of the doctors who performed it.

Indian Express:

Single identifier could wreck the internet


In this article at New Scientist, Sally Adee and Carl Miller discuss a next-generation internet plan intended to solve cybersecurity problems including ransomware, denial-of-service attacks, and even trolling. The plan, a "handle system" based on one conceived by TCP/IP co-inventor Robert Kahn in the 1990s, is recognized by the UN as an international standard and is based on giving every piece of material on the internet a unique identifier. The downside is that the system could become an authoritarian internet power grab that could lead to real-time surveillance and tracking of every device and individual connected to the web. Western countries typically oppose the handle system on these grounds, but Russia, China, and some Arab states want to start rolling it out.

New Scientist:




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

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.

Amsterdam Privacy Conference


October 5-9, 2018

Amsterdam, Netherlands

APC 2018 brings together researchers, practitioners, policy makers and professionals in the field of privacy to share insights, exchange ideas and formulate, discuss and answer the challenging privacy questions that lie ahead of us. The goal of the conference is to bring together academics, policy makers, journalists, and practitioners to promote active discussion on timely topics, and foster debate on privacy issues between participants from various backgrounds and perspectives.

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 May 10, 2018 11:20 PM.

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