News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending September 27, 2019

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending September 27, 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: Amnesty International, Bits of Freedom, Citizen Lab, EDRi, MIT Media Lab, Privacy International.


Fallout from Epstein scandal continues at MIT
In a contentious September 18 meeting led by president Rafael Reif, MIT faculty debated the institute's acceptance of funding from Jeffrey Epstein, Susan Svriuga reports at the Washington Post. Fifty female faculty members protested MIT's cultural habit of undervaluing women. Held over for later discussion is a proposal to establish a committee to protect academic integrity. On September 12, in a post at Medium MIT, scientist Selam Jie Gano responded to Epstein-related comments sent to a Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) mailing list by angrily calling for the removal of Free Software Foundation founder and MIT visiting professor Richard Stallman. Five days later, Richard Lawler reported at Engadget that Stallman had resigned from both MIT and the Free Software Foundation. At Wired, journalist Virginia Heffernan picks apart the "sausage-fest" intellectual pretensions of the members of Epstein-connected literary agent John Brockman's mostly-male Edge Network, which she joined in 2009 and left in 2016. On September 20, Lisa Song reported at ProPublica that the allegedly non-functional food computer produced by MIT Media Lab's Open Agriculture Initiative is also a polluter that has dumped dangerous levels of nitrogen into local waterways.

Digital lending brings debt and data exploitation to Kenya
The rising uptake of digital lending across Kenya is profiting from pushing tens of thousands of people into debt and leaving them open to data exploitation exploiting their data, Abdi Latif Dahir reports at Quartz. Google has begun blocking apps that promote short-term personal loans, which account for four of the ten most popular apps in Kenya. Part of the blame may lie with permissive regulations that exempt digital lenders from the restrictions that apply to banks.

Period-tracking apps send data to Facebook
In a new report, Privacy International finds that at least two popular period-tracking apps, Maya and MIA Fem, shared intimate details of their users' sexual health and activity with Facebook and other entities via the Facebook Software Development Kit, Marie C. Baca reports at the Washington Post. The apps began sharing data as soon as they were opened, before users could consent to the privacy policies. The New York Times reports that unsealed Massachusetts court filings show that Facebook has suspended 69,000 apps, many for not cooperating with Facebook's investigation into their behavior; 10,000 were suspended for improperly gathering users' personal information.

Use of AI tools for surveillance expand across the globe
According to a new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at least 75 countries are actively using AI tools such as facial recognition for surveillance, Matt O'Brien reports at AP News. Much of the technology is supplied around the world by Chinese technology companies, led by Huawei and Nikvision, followed by Japan's NEC, and US-based IBM, Palantir, and Cisco. Many of the projects cited in the report, written by Boise State University associate professor Steven Feldstein, are "smart city" systems.

Copyright law threatens freedom of public information
A preliminary ruling from the Court of Justice for the European Union has raised the possibility that public documents could be censored because of copyright law, Diego Naranja reports at EDRi. The case involved the publication of German military reports. The Court stated that copyright as claimed by the German government would only apply if the reports are an intellectual creation, and said it is up to Member States to decide case by case how to apply copyright exceptions and limitations while balancing fundamental EU rights such as freedom of information. Naranja fears that the decision may mean that national parliaments deciding how to implement the "upload filter" provision in the 2019 Copyright Directive may block documents of public relevance from public authorities in order to avoid similar judicial disputes. Also at EDRi, Bits of Freedom argues that the Dutch government should display greater ambition in transposing the Directive to protect the rights of internet users as much as possible.

NSO Group changes policy to respect human rights
Following reports from Citizen Lab that NSO Group's software had been used to target political activists in Mexico, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, the Israel-based company has announced it will abide by UN guidelines to prevent rights abuses, Steven Scheer reports for Reuters. Based on the company's history, Amnesty International is skeptical that the company's change of policy will make a difference.


Deepfakes and the threat to democracy
In this interview and TED talk video clip, Boston University professor Danielle Citron discusses Deepfake videos and the threat they pose to the 2020 US presidential election. Writing with Robert Chesney, Citron has proposed legal changes to the role of intermediaries, as well as self-regulation and education. In an essay at the Guardian, William Davies argues that the source of our inability to agree on facts is not filter bubbles but the fact that direct access to data, and the loss of curation or framing makes it harder, not easier, to discern which points matter.

Sidewalk Labs Toronto plan threatens democratic governance
In this posting at Medium, Ellen P. Goodman summarizes the first expert review of the master innovation and development plan for a section of the Toronto waterfront published by Sidewalk Labs, a Google sibling, in June. The 15-member multidisciplinary Digital Advisory Strategy Advisory Panel to Waterfront Toronto's preliminary review finds that the plan is insufficiently explicit, fails to explain how it will meet the project's goals, lacks privacy protection and data governance, and gives Sidewalk too great a share of the intellectual property. Goodman notes that her forthcoming paper with Julia Powles shows how the consultation and development process leading to the published plan threatened democratic governance and illustrated the problems with tech-centered urbanism.

The toxic relationship between us and our smartphones
In this posting at Medium, Maria Farrell outlines the many ways in which our relationship with our phones and electronic devices is abusive. Today, we love but do not trust our phones. In the future changed financial and political ecosystem she imagines, we could do both.

China: Social credit targets businesses first
In this article at the New York Times, Alexandra Stevenson and Paul Mozur outline China's efforts to amass data about companies from public and private sources - government data, court decisions, environmental records, copyright violations, payroll data, political affiliations - and use it to grade businesses and their managers. Low-scoring companies can be banned from borrowing money, and their executives barred from traveling. Although social credit has yet to materialize for individuals on a mass scale, 33 million businesses have been given initial evaluations by the central economic planning agency, and the country hopes to make it a nationwide regulatory tool to keep the business world under party control.

Economics of Uber don't add up
In this latest in a series of 21 postings analyzing Uber at Naked Capitalism, transport expert Hubert Horan reviews Super Pumped!, Uber's history as told by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, who has broken many stories about the company. Isaac is readable and factually correct, Horan writes, but fundamentally misunderstands that Uber is not a successful company that was nearly undone by a reckless, boundary-pushing CEO but that of a subsidized, predatory company whose CEO's antics were board-approved and that will never recoup the $20 billion it has lost because it has no power to transform its industry in order to grow into profitability. At The New Republic, Maureen Tkacik studies a different case of managerial disaster: the 20-year-long profound change in managerial focus from safety and problem-solving to financialization that, helped by oblivious regulators and deadly software, led to the Boeing 737 MAX's two crashes earlier this year. The story shows how security and integrity of supply chains will be increasingly crucial in building - and, decades later, debugging - the hybrid cyber-physical systems of the future.

The privacy-invasive ecosystem of smart TV trackers
In this blog posting at Freedom to Tinker, a group of Princeton researchers outline their work to understand the tracking system of over-the-top streaming devices such as the Roku, Amazon Fire, and smart TVs. Although online's major trackers, Google and Facebook, are prominent, these channels are also home to lesser-known trackers such as and, and users have no effective countermeasures.


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.

TITCTeC 2020
March 24-25, 2020
Reykjavik, Iceland
mySociety created TICTeC to bridge the gap between civic tech and research - to bring two different communities together, to emphasize the importance of being able to demonstrate impact, and to share what those impacts are. Because Reykjavik's city Council has pioneered using digital tools to elicit feedback from citizens on council policies, expenditures, and projects, the 2020 conference will provide a special opportunity to learn from Iceland's extensive civic technology and civic engagement experience.

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.

Aspen Ideas Festival
June 27-July 3, 2020
Aspen  Colorado
Presented by the Aspen Institute in partnership with The Atlantic, the Aspen Ideas Festival is a public gathering place for leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to present and discuss the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our times. Anyone may purchase a pass to attend.

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 October 6, 2019 7:18 PM.

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