News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending November 15, 2019

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending November 15, 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: Citizen Lab, EDRi, EFF, Open Rights Group.


Twitter Employees Charged with Spying for Saudi Arabia
The US Department of Justice has arrested and charged two Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia by accessing the company's information on dissidents who use the platform, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Bensinger report at the Washington Post. The case is significant both because Twitter is Saudi's de facto public space (according to Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle) and because court papers link at least one of the spies to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. At YCombinator's Hacker News, a Twitter employee who worked with one of the arrestees describes the tools they had available and efforts to fix them.

WhatsApp Sues NSO Group
Facebook's WhatsApp subsidiary has launched a lawsuit in a California court against the Israeli cyber-weapons company NSO Group claiming that the company's technology was used to attack more than 1,400 of its users, Stephanie Kurchgaessner, Nick Hopkins, and Oliver Holmes report at the Guardian. At least 100 of those users were democracy activists, journalists, and academics, whom the company warned privately when it discovered the attacks. At Reuters, Christopher Bing and Raphael Satter report that Citizen Lab, which worked with WhatsApp to identify the hacking targets, found that among them were high-profile government and military officials spread across at least 20 countries on five continents.

India Commissions Facial Recognition Database to Link to Aadhaar
The Indian National Crime Records Bureau has published a 172-page document requesting bids from companies to build what is likely to become one of the world's biggest facial recognition databases, Glyn Moody reports at Privacy News Online. The database would be a single, central resource accessible to police in the country's 29 states and seven union territories. At Reuters, Rina Chandran adds that Indian authorities say the country is severely under-policed, and needs facial recognition technology to compensate. At Comparitech, Paul Bischoff reports that its latest survey of the world's top 100 most-surveilled cities, based on the number of CCTV cameras per 1,000 residents, finds that eight of the top ten are Chinese; the others are London (placed sixth) and Atlanta (tenth). Also high-ranked are the Indian cities of Delhi and Chennai. Comparitech finds little correlation between the number of public CCTV cameras and crime or safety.

Data-Driven Policing Leads to Racial Profiling
Data-driven policing is leading to racial profiling, the European Network Against Racism finds in a new report. Authors Eric Kind and Patrick Williams find that new technologies such as mobile fingerprinting scanners, crime analytics, social media monitoring, and mobile phone extraction will disproportionately add to the over-policing of minority communities, even though law enforcement agencies present them as race-neutral, unbiased, and objective. The research was supported by the OSF Information Program and Open Justice Initiative,

Internet Archive Helps Expand Wikipedia's Sourcing
A new initiative by the Internet Archive is allowing Wikipedia to improve its reliability by providing a two-page preview of books cited as sources, Klint Finley reports at Wired. The Archive's Wayback Machine has scanned 3.8 million books, with more millions waiting, and is digitizing other analog media; also, its InternetArchiveBot tool scans Wikipedia for broken links and adds links to stored copies in the Wayback Machine. In a blog posting, Archive founder Brewster Kahle says books are critical to informing "a generation of digital learners". In a speech to the Indian Young National Academy of Science, longtime activist Carl Malamud outlines his efforts to grant Indian scientists the scientific literature access they need to conduct text and data mining, and calls the ongoing "colonization of knowledge" a "moral travesty". (PDF)

Abuse Drives Female Politicians to Resign
Women in early political careers make up a disproportionately large number of the 70-plus British MPs who are standing down in the December 12 general election, Frances Perraudin and Simon Murphy report at the Guardian. Many highlight the abuse, threats, and intimidation that have become part of their daily lives as politicians. At the Washington Post, Meagan Flynn reports that in her resignation speech Congresswoman Katie Hill cited the double standards and "misogynistic culture" that led her to resign after her estranged husband gave her nude images to conservative news sites without her consent.


EFF Urges Adoption of DNS-over-HTTPS
In this press release, EFF urges the US Congress to support implementing DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH), a protocol for encrypting domain name system (DNS) requests that Mozilla and Google are incorporating into web browsers, in order to embed encryption more deeply into the internet, thereby improving privacy and impeding governments' ability to track and censor people. At Ars Technica, Timothy B. Lee explains why ISPs are largely opposed: DoH will remove some of their control. An Open Rights Group report released in June welcomes encrypted DNS, but argues that turning it on should always be a user choice. In a net.wars posting, Wendy M. Grossman outlines the UK controversy over implementing DoH: ISPs are opposed to DoH because it will increase centralization and disable some of their security techniques, and others because it will break the workarounds used to block access to child abuse images.

Active Russian Facebook Influence Operation Targets African Countries
In this posting, the Stanford Internet Observatory summarizes its new paper documenting the connections between Yevgeny Prigozhin, best known for running the Internet Research Agency troll farm, and an active Facebook influence operation targeting Libya, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madascar, Mozambique, and Sudan. The operation also leverages public WhatsApp and Telegram groups.

Twitter and Facebook Take Opposite Approaches to Political Advertising
In this Guardian article, Julia Carrie Wong discusses Twitter's decision to ban political advertising as the UK's politicians campaign for re-election and the US 2020 presidential race ramps up, raising the pressure on Facebook to do likewise. Separately, Wong reports Facebook's decision to exempt politicians from third-party fact-checking because it "believes in freedom of expression". In a video clip at CNBC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pushes Zuckerberg to explain his company's policies on disseminating false information. In a second clip at C-Span, Joyce Beatty (D-OH) probes Facebook's commitment to diversity. At the New Yorker, Sue Halpern discusses the difficulty of regulating narrowcast political ads and calls Mark Zuckerberg's free speech argument a deceptive use of the word "free". At the New York Times, Siva Vaidhyanathan argues we need legislation to force companies to cease using personal data for microtargeting. Based on his six months as head of global elections integrity for Facebook, Yaël Eisenstat argues in the New York Times that because Facebook's profits depend on amplifying lies and selling targeting tools, tinkering with advertising policies won't work. Finally, in an EDRi blog post summarizing UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye's sixth report on information and communication technology, Ella Jakubowska outlines his specific recommendations to help states and Internet companies comply with the fundamental principles of human rights when designing efforts to control online hate speech.

Browser Fingerprinting Trumps Privacy Choices
In this article at the Washington Post, Geoffrey A. Fowler explains browser fingerprinting, an increasingly-used form of online tracking that is difficult for internet users to avoid, even if they use a VPN or turn on private browsing mode. Sites even exploit the choice to turn on "Do Not Track" to uniquely identify visitors. Fowler identifies 183 popular sites that use fingerprinting, and asks 30 to explain why.

Child Abuse Victims Suffer as Their Images Continue to Circulate
In this article at the New York Times, Michael H. Keller and Gabriel J.X. Dance discuss the case of two sisters who are haunted by the photos and videos of their childhood abuse, which their father posted online ten years ago and which have been found in over 130 child sexual abuse investigations this year alone. Despite the decade-old existence of PhotoDNA, which fingerprints and identifies abuse images, the response from technology companies remains inconsistent, largely unilateral, reactive, and secretive.

The Loss of the "Good Internet"
In this article at The Week, Phillip Maciak laments the death of the "good internet", the 2000s era of blogs, new media, and message boards that gave a generation of good, thoughtful writers a chance to start their careers with fresh approaches. Maciak now begins his class on cultural criticism in the digital age with a week of obituaries for sites like Grantland, Gawker, The Awl, and Television without Pity. A Washington Post editorial notes that for the ninth year in a row Freedom House's annual report finds that internet freedom is decreasing worldwide as mass surveillance and government media manipulation continue to rise.


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

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.

March 5-6, 2020
Amsterdam, Netherlands
From automating simple tasks to predicting efficiencies, AI has much to offer business. Yet we have also been warned: AI will reinforce biases, hide important decisions, and deplete employment. Are we headed to a smarter workplace, or a dumber future? AI@Work will go beyond siloed debate: computer scientists, ethicists, academics, policy makers, and business leaders will come together to share ambitions, experiences, concerns, and visions.

TICTeC 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.

AI for Good
May 4-8, 2020
Geneva, Switzerland
The AI for Good Global Summit is the leading United Nations platform for global and inclusive dialogue on AI. The Summit is hosted each year in Geneva by the International Telecommunications Union in partnership with sibling UN agencies, the XPRIZE Foundation, and ACM.

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.

FTC PrivacyCon
July 21, 2020
Washington, DC
The US Federal Trade Commission's fifth annual PrivacyCon, which is free and open to the public, will focus in particular on the privacy of health data collected, stored, and transmitted by mobile apps.

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

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

Netroots Nation
August 13-15, 2020
Denver, Colorado, USA
For more than a decade, Netroots Nation, which began as a convention for the most active members of the DailyKos community, has hosted the largest annual conference for progressives and other organizers and advocacy groups, drawing thousands of attendees from around the country and beyond, to develop their work around topics such as sharing data, developing technology talent, and managing digital campaigns.

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 November 15, 2019 10:16 PM.

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