News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending September 13, 2019

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending September 13, 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: Liberty, MIT Media Lab, Open Markets Institute,  Open Rights Group, SPARC.


Jeffrey Epstein scandal envelops MIT Media Lab
On September 7 Joichi Ito resigned as director of the MIT Media Lab after several weeks of escalating controversy over funding he accepted for the Media Lab ($525,000) and his investment fund ($1.2 million), report Kayla Epstein and Rebecca Tan at the Washington Post. The issue surfaced in August, when the suicide of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking of women and girls exposed Epstein's connections to prominent scientists, artists, politicians, and technologists including AI pioneer Marvin Minsky. In a September 6 New Yorker article, Ronan Farrow reports that after MIT disqualified Epstein as a donor, Ito deliberately concealed his continuing relationship with Epstein, who both donated his own funds and acted as an intermediary soliciting millions of dollars in funding from other wealthy donors, allegedly including Bill Gates. At the New York Times, Marc Tracy and Tiffany Hsu report that Gates denies any business partnership or personal relationship with Epstein, and that on September 7 Ito resigned from the boards of the MacArthur Foundation and affiliate Lever for Change, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the New York Times Company, as well as a visiting professorship at Harvard. Finally, at the Guardian Lois Beckett reports that MIT has ordered an independent investigation.

UK: Cardiff high court rules police use of automated facial recognition is legal
In a case brought by a former Liberal Democrat councilor and backed by Liberty, the UK high court in Cardiff has ruled that it is legal for the South Wales Police to use automatic facial recognition to find people in crowds, Owen Bowcott reports at the Guardian. The ruling coincided with revelations that facial recognition software had been deployed across the entire 67-acre redeveloped King's Cross area of London with the cooperation of the Metropolitan Police. Mark Blunden and Jonathan Prynn report at the Evening Standard that several other areas of London - the Barbican arts complex, Liberty department store, and Hay's Galleria mall near London Bridge - have been granted planning consent to install high-definition cameras with facial recognition capability.

India: TikTok fuels violence and social division
TikTok is fueling an epidemic of casteist speech promoting violence in societies and villages in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Nilesh Christopher reports at Wired. Between November 2018 and April 2019 the company removed 36,365 15-second videos that broke its rules on hate speech and religion, and 12,309 videos that included dangerous behavior and violence - 29 times the amount of pornographic content removed from the service, yet only a tenth of the number of videos that were reported to moderators. India's IT Ministry has threatened to ban TikTok.

Consumer advocates and student organizations oppose textbook publisher merger
Opposition from consumer advocacy groups and student government organizations to the merger between college textbook giants Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education is growing, Lindsay McKenzie reports at Inside Higher Ed. Opponents argue that the merger would create the world's second-largest education publisher, reduce competition, eliminate the used book market, and ultimately raise prices for students. The Open Markets Institute estimates the merged publisher would control at least 41% of the higher education textbook market, approximately equal to rival publisher Pearson. In a press release, SPARC announced it has submitted a filing calling on the US Department of Justice to block the merger, arguing that it will violate the Clayton Antitrust Act and exploit students' personal data.

Mozilla begins rolling out DNS-over-HTTPS as Firefox default
In late September Mozilla will begin rolling out support for the DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) protocol by default inside Firefox, Catalin Cimpanu reports at ZDNet. DoH sends domain name system requests, which today travel the internet unencrypted, over a secure, encrypted HTTPS channel. The change is controversial because it will hide DNS traffic from internet service providers, who often use it to spot malware and other attacks, and will also disrupt some anti-virus software and parental controls. In a blog posting, Mozilla explains options for countering these problems. In a June 2019 report, the Open Rights Group explained the good and bad sides of the move. In a net.wars posting, Wendy M. Grossman summarizes the controversy as discussed at the Internet Service Providers Association conference in May.

Microsoft deletes widely-used facial recognition training dataset
Following controversy about misuse of facial recognition software and the lack of consent of those whose images appear in the large public datasets, Microsoft has deleted its facial recognition database, MS Celeb, which was extensively used to train and test facial recognition systems, Nicole Lindsy reports for CPO Magazine. As the technology continues to expand in functionality and adoption, Microsoft is calling for it to be regulated.


Filmmaker Beeban Kidron seeks to ensure children's privacy
In this profile at the New York Times, Natasha Singer discusses the efforts of independent filmmaker and House of Lords member Beeban Kidron to force Silicon Valley companies to stop exploiting children's personal data in order to manipulate their behavior. Kidron's 2013 documentary InRealLife sensitively profiles teens' use of the internet; she is also founder of 5Rights to promote children's digital rights. In 2017, she pushed the Age Appropriate Design Code through the British Parliament.

Internet shutdown paralyzes Kashmir while mesh networks protect Hong Kong protesters
In this article at the New York Times, Patrick Kingsley describes how businesses and individuals cope during internet shutdowns in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Cameroon, eastern Congo, and Kashmir, where the internet has been inaccessible for the last month. Among other troubles, dissidents struggle to learn when it's safe for them to venture out of hiding. Also at the New York Times, Vindu Goel, Karan Deep Singh, and Sameer Yasir describe in detail the situation in Kashmir shortly after the outage began: pharmacies cannot restock, and the region is paralyzed. At Quartz, Matthew De Silva reports that Hong Kong protesters are turning to Bluetooth-connected mesh networks to stay organized and safe, and to provide communications in case the Chinese government shuts down internet access.

Polish government seeks to cancel Copyright Directive upload filter
In this article at TechDirt, Glyn Moody discusses the Polish government's complaint to the Court of Justice of the European Union regarding the upload filter embedded in Article 17 of the 2019 copyright directive. The complaint will force the CJEU to consider whether upload filters are "proportional and necessary".

Librarians protest privacy-invasive learning tool changes
In this article at CNBC, Jennifer Elias finds that librarians are protesting changes to Microsoft-owned LinkedIn's learning tools. As part of rebranding as LinkedIn Learning, a new policy introduced without consultation requires library patrons to create LinkedIn accounts using their full names and email addresses, which librarians regard as a violation of patrons' privacy. When asked why it was necessary to create a profile to authenticate users, LinkedIn told librarians theirs wasn't a significant enough revenue stream to justify creating an alternative solution. In a blog posting, Samantha Lee, the Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair of the Connecticut Library Association, explains why LinkedIn's policy conflicts with the long-held principles librarians observe.

Epstein scandal provokes profound questions about technology research funding
In this article at New Republic, Evgeny Morozov highlights Jeffrey Epstein's relationship with literary agent John Brockman, whose Edge Foundation network promoted the Media Lab, TED, and Wired magazine, calling on fellow clients and networkers to join him in severing ties. In a blog posting on August 20, shortly after the news broke about Epstein's connection to the MIT Media Lab, Ethan Zuckerman explains his immediate decision to leave the lab. At Technology Review, Angela Chen and Karen Hao recount a tense Media Lab meeting intended to begin rebuilding trust that failed when founder Nicholas Negroponte defended the lab's fundraising practices. In an August 27 Guardian piece, researcher Kate Darling notes the deeper problems surrounding science funding, and at The Tech Kenyan student Arwa Mboya discusses Ito's abuse of power. In a Twitter thread, the Media Lab's sole Hispanic faculty member, Cesar A. Hidalgo, describes an environment that sidelined women and minorities. At Medium, One Laptop Per Child co-founder Mary Lou Jepsen discusses the history of the Media Lab's funding and how to change the general exclusion of women in science and technology. At the Guardian, Morozov argues that the scandal has exposed the techno-elites as "morally bankrupt opportunists".


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

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 "Healthy AI".

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.

Tech Giants, Monopoly Power, and Public Discourse
November 14-15, 2019
New York, NY, USA
At this symposium, convened by the Knight First Amendment Institute, leading legal scholars, economists, and technologists will examine the extent and nature of the technology giants' ability to structure, shape, and distort public discourse, and consider whether anti-monopoly tools might usefully be deployed to limit, expose, or counter this power. Speakers include Ellen P. Goodman, Lina Khan, Tim Wu, and Ethan Zuckerman.

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 dedicated 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.

Creative Commons Global Summit
May 14-16, 2020
Lisbon, Portugal
The 2019 CC Summit gathered nearly 400 Creative Commoners from across the globe to attend over 130 sessions and seven keynotes. The Summit, comprising discussion, debate, workshops and planning, talks, and community building, is for anyone who's interested in the global movement for the commons as an activist, advocate, artist, librarian, educator, lawyer, or technologist.

Privacy Law Scholars
June 4-5, 2020
Washington, DC, USA
Organized jointly by BCLT and the George Washington University Law School, the Privacy Law Scholars Conference (PLSC) assembles a wide array of privacy law scholars and practitioners from around the world to discuss current issues and foster greater connections between academia and practice. PLSC brings together privacy law scholars, privacy scholars from other disciplines (economics, philosophy, political science, computer science), and practitioners (industry, legal, advocacy, and government).

Festival of AI and Emerging Technology
June 8-10, 2020
London, UK
CogX draws together speakers from industry, government, and academia to create "a space to learn, discover, and connect with the people and technologies that are shaping the future of humanity".

June 9-12, 2020
San José, Costa Rica
Each year, RightsCon, organized by AccessNow, gathers over 1,000 expert speakers from around the world.

WEIS 2020
June, 2020 (TBD)
Brussels, Belgium
The annual Workshop on the Economics of Information Security crosses the disciplines of economics, behavioural science, and computer security.

August 6-9, 2020
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
DEF CON is one of the oldest and largest continuously running hacker conventions.

August 2020
Bangkok, Thailand
Wikimania 2020 will be the 16th Wikimania conference, an annual event for the international Wikimedia community.

86th World Library and Information Congress
August 15-21, 2020
Dublin, Ireland
WLIC is the annual conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on September 14, 2019 7:17 PM.

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