News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending July 26, 2019

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending July 26, 2019

The Information Program NEWS DIGEST, published on 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.

Current and former grantees featured in this issue: NOYB, Privacy International.


US: FTC approves $5 billion fine against Facebook
The US Federal Trade Commission has approved a fine of $5 billion against Facebook after an investigation sparked by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Cecilia Kang reports at the New York Times. The settlement, which has been criticized as not significant enough to the company, still must be approved by the Justice Department, which has rarely rejected an FTC settlement.

Indian digitization project plans to mine research papers
Long-time open information activist Carl Malamud is working with Indian researchers to build a store of text and images extracted from 73 million journal articles published between 1847 and the present that can be scanned and mined by computers for new insights, Priyanka Pulla reports at Nature. Malamud believes the database, to be held at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, is legal because no human will be allowed to read or search it, it is not connected to the internet, single articles can't be pulled out for perusal, and only non-commercial researchers may use it.

US: Palantir's software directly powers anti-immigrant raids
Palantir's data mining software has directly powered the accelerating number of workplace raids conducted by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the company's staff are closely involved in ICE's operations, George Joseph reports for WNYC. The company faces a backlash from activists and its own staff at the same time that it is reportedly considering going public in 2020. At Motherboard, Caroline Haskins gives highlights of Palantir's top-secret manual for its Gotham service, which it supplies to law enforcement to underpin massive databases known as "fusion centers". The manual shows both how the software works and how police are taught to use it.

Unauthorized use of image databases fuels adoption of facial recognition
Dozens of giant databases of facial images compiled by companies and researchers without oversight or their subjects' knowledge are being shared around the world to train facial recognition systems, Cade Metz reports at the New York Times. Images are scraped from social networks, photo sharing websites, and dating services, or sourced from government collections of driver's license and visa photos. The Brainwash database, compiled at Stanford University, includes 10,000 images from a local cafe; these were later used by Chinese academics associated with an AI company that provides surveillance technology to the Chinese government to monitor Uighurs. At the Washington Post, Drew Harwell learns from a cache of records that both the FBI and ICE are using facial recognition software to mine state driver's license photos without the knowledge or consent of either the public or lawmakers seeking matches for undocumented immigrants or crime suspects. At the Atlantic, Tiffany C. Li notes that these rapid, widespread deployments are legal, as they do not fall within our present conceptions of "privacy".

Pearson Education moves textbooks to "digital first"
Pearson Education is switching its business model to "digital first", Andrew Whalen reports at Newsweek. Beginning in the US and extending to other markets later, the company will cease updating print versions of its textbooks, which are typically updated every three years. Pearson claims the result will be to reduce prices for students while increasing its own revenues, but critics object that the move will shut down the market for renting second-hand textbooks and alienate the 92% of students who prefer print to ebooks.

Privacy concerns lead German state to ban Microsoft Office 365 in schools
The data protection commissioner in the German state of Hesse has ruled that it is illegal for schools to use Microsoft Office 365 because its standard configuration raises the possibility that US officials can access  students' and teachers' personal information under the US CLOUD Act (2018), Cathrin Schaer reports at ZDNet. Students are generally unable to give consent, explains Austrian digital rights lawyer and NOYB founder Max Schrems, who is bringing a case in the European Court of Justice to challenge the US-EU Privacy Shield agreement. The software also represents a legal risk to local German authorities.


The dubious new technology of emotional recognition
In this blog posting, ACLU's Jay Stanley analyzes a study of emotion recognition, as numerous new products claim to be able to determine emotions by analyzing facial expressions and other physiological signs. After reviewing more than 1,000 papers in the psychological literature, five scientists concluded that there is no scientific basis for the claim that an individual's emotional state can be inferred from their facial movements.

Chinese internet outstrips the US
In this summary, the South China Morning Post gives highlights of the annual China Internet report 2019. China far outstrips the US in internet users, mobile use, and, especially, mobile payments, and is leading in 5G. The report goes on to compare the arrays of technology companies, IPOs, and venture capital firms, and notes that globally startups are beginning to copy the most successful Chinese companies.

Options for data governance
In this blog posting, Privacy International Mozilla-Ford Fellow, Valentina Pavel explores four possible futures for data governance: property rights that create data markets; direct payments for data as labor; nationalized data funds; and clear user rights. A rights regime puts more responsibility on individuals to manage their data, but principles such as data minimization, purpose specification, and fairness can reduce the burden.

The truth of 2016 elections remains elusive
In this Guardian article, Carole Cadwalladr reviews Netflix's new documentary about the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal she was first to investigate, The Great Hack. While setting the film in its wider context of other recent books and articles on data and democracy, Cadwalladr asks when we will ever know the truth about the 2016 US presidential election and UK's EU referendum. The UK Press Gazette reports that Leave.EU funder Arron Banks has filed a libel suit against Cadwalladr for statements in recent speeches, and has issued a legal threat against Netflix for The Great Hack. In response, the Guardian publishes an open letter from press freedom campaigners and NGOs warning the UK government that the country's courts are being used to intimidate and silence journalists working in the public interest.

Populist leaders stress trade at the expense of automation
In this discussion of Carl Benedikt Frey's recent book, The Technology Trap, John Harris argues that we do not focus nearly enough on computing power as a cause of the widespread economic disruption and rise of populism surrounding us as transformation of production and consumption continues. Technology and automation are largely ignored by modern populist leaders, who focus instead on globalization and trade.

Regulation and new rules risk fracturing YouTube
In this article at Medium's new digital video culture publication, FFWD, which he founded, Chris Stokel-Walker explains the impact of YouTube's new terms of service, which came into effect on July 22. Stokel-Walker believes that the fracturing of the platform that will result from diverging national regulations will eventually result in adopting a "lowest common denominator" regime. Also at FFWD, Amelia Tait explores how now-grown former child "reality TV" stars are finding their voices on YouTube, where they have a chance to reclaim their public image on their own terms. The same option may not be as available to today's crop of social media child stars, who have been groomed and presented by their parents, to whom the laws protecting child stars on film and TV sets do not apply.


If you would like your event listed in this mail, email

August 8-11, 2018
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
DEF CON is one of the oldest continuously running hacker conventions, and also one of the largest. The DEF CON 27 theme, in a way, responds to '1983' with new questions. What does it look like when we make the better choice? What kind of world do we hack together in the sunniest timeline? How does our real best-case scenario compare to the future we've been dreaming of for generations?

SOUPS 2019
August 11-13, 2019
Santa Clara, California, USA
The 2019 Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) will bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers and practitioners in human computer interaction, security, and privacy. The program will feature technical papers on aspects of privacy and security such as innovative functionality and design, field studies, usability evaluations of privacy features, and longitudinal studies.

August 14-18, 2019
Stockholm, Sweden
Wikimania 2019 will be the 15th Wikimania conference, an annual event for the international Wikimedia community.

85th World Library and Information Congress
August 24-30, 2019
Athens, Greece
The theme of IFLA's 2019 conference, "Libraries: dialogue for change", invites the library and information science international community to discuss, re-examine, re-think and re-interpret the role of libraries as promoters of change. In an era of rapid changes in the socio-economic-technological sphere, libraries ought to define their role as information providers, promoters of reading, settlers for the community they serve, key players in innovation, and leading actors for changes in society. A constant, open dialectic relationship between libraries and society will lead to well-informed citizens facilitating progress and development, implementing the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development and leading to prosperity in all fields of the democratic society.

September 5-7, 2019
Copenhagen, Denmark
Techfestival was created to find human answers to technological progress. In its third year, the festival will work across ten tracks to examine the ways technology shapes our societies, from building cities to exercising modern democracy.

October 21-27, 2019
London, UK
MozFest 2019 is the tenth anniversary gathering of educators, activists, technologists, researchers, artists, and young people dedicated to creating a better, healthier internet. This year's theme is "More responsible artificial intelligence".

Biometrics Congress
October 28-30, 2019
London, UK
The Biometrics Institute Congress provides an independent platform where the international biometrics community can gather to conduct off-the-record discussion among the institute's multi-stakeholder community. In 2018, representatives from over 30 nations attended. This year's theme is making the world a safer place through the responsible and ethical use of biometrics in an era where laws and regulations are often unable to stay abreast of technology change and the business models based on it.

Web Summit
November 4-7. 2019
Lisbon, Portugal
The Web Summit gathers the founders and CEOs of technology companies, fast-growing startups, policymakers, and heads of state to ask a simple question: where to next? In 2018, speakers included Margrethe Vestager, Tim Berners-Lee, and Microsoft CEO Brad Smith.

18th Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society
November 11, 2019
London, UK
The goal of this workshop, held in conjunction with the ACM CCS conference, is to discuss and find solutions to the privacy problems that result from the transformation of society brought by the Information Revolution. One of the major implications of this technological shift has been a massive increase in the collection, sharing, and analysis of personal data. The workshop will include academia, government, and industry, as well as communities such as law and business, who will present novel research on all theoretical and practical aspects of electronic privacy, as well as experimental studies of fielded systems.

IGF Global
November 25-29, 2019
Berlin, Germany
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was set up in 2006 as an open discussion platform of the United Nations for key legal, political, social and technical issues relating to the internet. IGF's multi-stakeholder model aims to ensure that all relevant societal groups are equally involved in preparations and implementation: governments, civil society, business, academia, international organizations, and the technical community. This is particularly of note in terms of representatives from developing and newly industrializing countries, which otherwise tend to be under-represented.

Munin Conference on Scholarly Publishing
November 27-29, 2019
Tromsø, Norway
The Munin Conference is an annual conference on scholarly publishing and communication, primarily revolving around open access, open data and open science.

CPDP 2020
January 22-24, 2020
Brussels, Belgium
The 2020 edition of Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection has issued a call for panels in all areas related to technological privacy and data protection.

FAT* 2020
January 27-30, 2020
Barcelona, Spain
ACM FAT* is an annual conference dedicating to bringing together a diverse community to investigate and tackle issues in this emerging area. Topics of interest include the theory and practice of fair machine learning, measurement and auditing of deployed systems, users' experience of algorithms, and the ethical, moral, social, and policy implications of big data and ubiquitous intelligent systems.

Meeting of the Minds Annual Summit
February 19-21, 2020
Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Attending the Meeting of the Minds Annual Summit is an opportunity for anyone seeking cross-disciplinary strategies and partnerships that deliver scalable, transferable, and equitable solutions to urban neighborhoods.

We Robot 2020
April 2-4, 2020
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
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 those who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots will operate.

Global Privacy Summit
April 7-8, 2020
Washington, DC, USA
Global Privacy Summit will gather more than 3,600 professionals from around the world for an outstanding program with a truly global focus.

re:publica 2020
May 6-8, 2020
Berlin, Germany
re:publica is Europe's largest internet and digital society conference. More than 19 500 participants from 80 countries came together to discuss current issues of digital society at the three-day festival. Participants represent a cross-section of (digital) society, which include professionals from economics, politics, business, hacker culture, NGOs, media, and marketing, as well as bloggers, activists, artists, and social media experts.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on June 29, 2019 4:08 PM.

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