News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 25 May 2018

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending 25 May 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: Benetech, EFF.

For breaking news stories, visit:

US Senate overrules Federal Communications Commission on network neutrality
At Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin reports that on May 9 the US Senate voted 52-47 to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's December 2017 repeal of network neutrality rules. The measure, a Congressional Review Act, undoes the FCC's vote; to come into force it must be approved by the House and signed by President Trump by June 11, when the FCC's repeal is due to take effect. At EFF, Ernesto Falcon explains the "discharge petition" process that will be needed to force a vote in the House, which is known to be reluctant to consider network neutrality.
Ars Technica:

Sweden cancels agreement with Elsevier over Open Access
Times Higher Education reports that the Bibsam Consortium, which represents 85 Swedish universities and research institutes, has announced it will not renew its agreement with Elsevier when it expires on June 30. The Swedish government has said that all publicly funded research should be made freely available by 2026; the consortium says that Elsevier has not met its open access-related requirements. In balking at journal publishers' requirements, Sweden joins Germany, which has a long-running dispute with Elsevier, and France, where The Scientist reports that in March research institutions canceled their agreement with Springer rather than pay the increased subscription rates the publisher wanted.

Brazil: São Paulo metro stations embed facial recognition
At CityLab, Ignacio Amigo reports that the Via Quattro, the concessionary operator São Paulo Metro's Yellow Line, has experimentally installed a set of interactive platform doors that display ads and information in three stations. The doors also incorporate sensors and facial recognition in order to monitor viewers' reactions. The line, which is the only privately-run section of São Paulo's transport system, carries approximately 305,000 passengers every weekday to the three stations. Although Marco. the Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, has a chapter covering the rights of app users, the Yellow Line monitoring is not covered. This may change soon, as a vote on the Personal Data Protection bill is pending in the lower house of the National Congress.

India: WhatsApp plays crucial role in Karnataka state elections
At the New York Times, Vindu Goel reports that WhatsApp played a crucial role in political campaigning in the lead-up to the May 12 elections in the Indian state of Karnataka. WhatsApp is often overlooked in the West, but in developing countries it is playing an increasingly central role in elections, both to distribute campaign messages and to sow misinformation, disruption, and sectarian tensions. Goel cites as contributing factors the loss of originating information when messages are forwarded, anonymity for users who identify themselves solely by a phone number, and the lack of transparency to outsiders because of the service's end-to-end encryption. Goel concludes that what, if any, effect WhatsApp had on Karnataka's final election results may never be clear.
New York Times:

US: Court bars President Donald Trump from blocking Twitter users
At Reuters, Brendan Pierson reports that US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in New York has ruled that President Donald F. Trump, who tweets as @RealDonaldTrump, cannot legally block Twitter users because doing so violates their free speech rights under the First Amendment. Buchwald did not order Trump to unblock the users he has already blocked, but said she assumed that either he or his co-defendant and social media director, Dan Scanvino, would do so given her decision. The case was brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and several Twitter users, who argued that by blocking users critical of him Trump was shutting them out of discussion in a public forum.

Benetech discontinues Martus human rights reporting software
At its blog, Benetech reports that it intends to cease development of its 15-year-old end-to-end encrypted Martus software for human rights data collection. While Benetech remains convinced that such a system is sorely needed by the human rights community, it believes that it is not practical to move forward with it given current technical requirements. Benetech stresses that it is not aware of existing vulnerabilities in the software and that the Martus backup server will continue to be available for use. The group is beginning to coordinate conversations to identify and address gaps and needs around human rights documentation.

Researchers devise inaudible commands that drive voice assistants
At the New York Times, Craig S. Smith reports that researchers can send secret audio instructions the human ear can't detect to the speech-driven devices Siri (Apple), Alexa (Amazon), and Assistant (Google). Researchers in both China and the US have shown they can secretly activate these systems on smartphones and smart speakers and, simply by playing music, make them dial phone numbers or open websites - and, potentially, unlock doors, wire money, or make purchases online. All three companies say they have security measures in place including voice recognition and device locking. However, many people leave their devices unlocked, and interference techniques are improving all the time. So far, none have been seen in the wild. At the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue blog, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood communications and operations manager Melissa Campbell advises parents not to buy Amazon's new Echo Dot Kids for both developmental and privacy reasons.
New York Times:

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

The first real look at Facebook's community standards enforcement
In this article at Gizmodo, Rhett Jones discusses Facebook's first bi-annual content moderation report, which shows that the company's moderation systems caught more objectionable content in the first quarter of 2018 than in the last quarter of 2017. However, because Facebook can't say how big the problem is, it's hard to determine whether the company's algorithmic systems are improving or whether the amount of objectionable content is increasing. Facebook estimates that fake accounts represent 3% to 4% of its estimated monthly active user base of 2.2 billion; in the first quarter of 2018 the company removed 583 million fake accounts. About 21 million pieces of content classed as nudity and sexual content were removed in each quarter; 38% of hate speech was removed before being reported by users. EFF's Jillian C. York praises the company's first steps toward transparency, but would like greater clarity about the reasons for content deletion, the mistakes moderators and automated systems make, and differentiation between the removal of fake accounts versus suspensions for other violations.

Poking the intellectual property bear
In this Wired article, Lawrence Lessig opposes the Classics Act, which would create a new digital performance right for musical recordings made before 1972. This new right, Lessig argues, is effectively a term extension, as the new right in these recordings would be protected until 2067, 144 years after some of them were created. Archives streaming early recordings that are currently in the public domain would now have to clear permission. The bill has passed the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate; 40 professors of intellectual property have signed a letter asking Congress to reject the act. In a follow-up at Medium, Lessig addresses some of the most common attacks on him and his arguments.

The Selfish Ledger
In this video clip obtained by The Verge, Google conducts a thought experiment to imagine a future in which collections of information known as "ledgers", like "selfish genes", use individuals to meet their own goals. In this imaginary future, through total data collection Google guides the behavior of individuals toward set goals and entire populations to solve global problems. The company explained that the clip is intentionally disturbing to provoke internal discussion but is not related to any current or future products. Creating a spectrum of "deservingness", Eubanks finds, often means prioritizing cost-effectiveness over need, and these systems are based on data drawn only from those who use the public programs, adding further discriminatory effects.

Algorithms won't make poverty go away
In this feature at the Guardian, Virginia Eubanks, author of Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, travels the US investigating the use of AI-driven decision systems for allocating scarce resources to poor people. Automated eligibility systems remove discretion from caseworkers and replace welfare offices with forms and privatized call centers; the result is that often the people who need the services are barred from using them. In a video clip at Data & Society, Safiya Umoja Noble, the author of Algorithms of Oppression, discusses the social problem of data discrimination and the biased search algorithms that discriminate against women of color.
Data & Society:

The problem with Chinese GPS
In this posting at Now I Know, Dan Lewis discusses discrepancies in Chinese digital maps such as those available at Google due to technical differences between the World Geodetic System 1984, the basis for most of the world's mapping and guidance systems, and China's own GCJ-02 cartography system. China, Lewis writes, regards map data as a matter of national security, applies an obfuscation algorithm, and requires map-makers to obtain a cartography license. Translation tools exist, but they're hard to find, not that reliable, and against Chinese law.
Now I Know:

The untold story of Japan's secret spy agency
In this article at The Intercept, Ryan Gallegher explores the past and present inner workings of Japan's equivalent of the US National Security Agency, C1. The article is based on a joint investigation by The Intercept and Japanese broadcaster NHK, beginning with the first internal document from Japan's surveillance agency that has ever been disclosed, which formed part of the cache of documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Work at C1's base at Tachiarai, about 700 miles southwest of Tokyo seems to focus on monitoring the activities of foreign countries by intercepting communications and data passing among the 200-plus satellites visible from there. Helping C1 is the specialist technical Ministry of Defense-connected J6 unit, which among other things analyzes malware and develops anti-hacking countermeasures.


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

Foundation for Information Policy Research 20th anniversary
May 29, 2018
Cambridge, UK
For its 20th anniversary, the UK's Foundation for Information Policy Research, founded to campaign against 1990s proposals for surveillance laws, will host a debate in Cambridge featuring representatives of NGOs and GCHQ, academia and DeepMind, the press and the Cabinet Office. Should governments be able to break the encryption on our phones? Are we entitled to any privacy for our health and social care records? And what can be done about fake news? If the Internet's going to be censored, who do we trust to do it?

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.

22nd International Conference on Electronic Publishing
June 22-24, 2018
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The theme of ELPUB 2018 is Connecting the Knowledge Commons: From Projects to Sustainable Infrastructure. The question of sustainability in the open access movement has been widely debated, yet satisfactory answers have yet to be generated. In the past, ELPUB has featured research results in various aspects of digital publishing, involving a diverse international community of librarians, developers, publishers, entrepreneurs, administrators and researchers across the disciplines in the sciences and the humanities. It is unique as a platform for both researchers, professionals and the broader community. The conference contains a multi-track presentation of refereed papers as well as invited keynotes, special sessions, demonstrations, and poster presentations.

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.

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection 2019
January 30 - February 1, 2019
Brussels, Belgium
The 12th international CPDP conference is accepting submissions for panel and session proposals until June 21, 2018.

We Robot 2019
April 11-13, 2019
Miami, Florida, US
We Robot is an interdisciplinary conference on the legal and policy questions relating to robots. The increasing sophistication of robots and their widespread deployment everywhere - from the home, to hospitals, to public spaces, and even to the battlefield - disrupts existing legal regimes and requires new thinking on policy issues. The conference 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 will operate.

re:publica 2019
May 6-8, 2019
Berlin, Germany
The re:publica in Berlin is Europe's biggest conference on topics concerning digitization and society while also being one of the world's most exceptional festivals on digital culture. Since its beginnings in 2007 with 700 bloggers in attendance, it has grown into an international society conference. In 2017 it had 9,000 national and international participants from all areas of society.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on June 19, 2018 11:37 AM.

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