News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending December 14, 2019

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending December 14, 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 next issue of this digest will be published on the second Thursday of January 2020. 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: EDRi, EPIC, medConfidential, Open Rights Group, Privacy International.


China: Scientists Seek to Predict Facial Structure from DNA Samples
Chinese scientists, along with others elsewhere, are working on DNA phenotyping, a technique to derive a person's facial image from their DNA, Sui-Lee Wee and Paul Mozur report at the New York Times. Ethics experts fear the technology will be used to justify and intensify racial profiling and other types of discrimination against Uighurs, who are required to submit DNA samples as part of a mandatory health check program. The BBC reports that China also now requires facial scans as a condition of registering for mobile phone service so all internet users can be matched to their real-life identities. At the South China Morning Post, Sarah Dai discovers that in several residential neighborhoods the Chinese government is trialing a face-scanning system in public bins, to oversee a new garbage sorting program, and social housing, to block illegal subletting.

Gamer Social Media Offer Abusers Access to Young People
Games like Minecraft and Fortnite, along with the gamer social media platform Discord, provide pedophiles and abusers with an easy way to dupe young people into sharing sexually explicit photos and videos of themselves, Nellie Bowles and Michael H. Keller report at the New York Times. Some perpetrators groom thousands of victims, while the companies concerned have little incentive to tackle the issue. It's believed that the vast majority of cases are never reported.

UK: Election Sees Political Parties Exploit Data and Social Media
The Open Rights Group has sent the UK's Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat parties a letter threatening legal action if they do not cease processing the data pertaining to three individuals, Carole Cadwalladr reports at the Guardian. ORG claims that abuse of personal data is a systemic issue in British politics. In two articles at New Statesman, Chris Stokel-Walker analyzes the main UK parties' advertising media choices in the run-up to the December 12 general election: on YouTube the Conservatives seek mass coverage, while on Facebook Labour targets voters and engagement. At BuzzFeed News, Alberto Nardelli reports that for €300 NATO Stratcom bought 3,530 comments, 25,750 likes, 20,000 views, and 5,100 followers across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to test their ability to detect potentially malicious activity. The newly-released study finds that after four weeks, 80% of these purchased engagements were still online, and after three weeks 95% of a sampling of fake accounts reported to the companies remained active. In a series on digital campaigning, the Guardian examines the demographics the British parties are targeting and how voters follow the news on their smartphones.

Journal Publishers Rethink Consent in View of Surveillance
Journal publishers Wiley and Springer Nature will reevaluate papers they have published on ethnic minority groups in China after the Belgian engineering professor Yves Moreau raised concerns in a Nature article, Benedicte Page reports at The Bookseller. As DNA databases and surveillance continue to grow, publishers are putting in place stricter requirements for obtaining consent, to ensure that research papers do not put vulnerable populations at increased risk.

UK Health System Sells Patient Records to Pharmaceutical Companies
The UK Department of Health and Social Care's licensing arm, Clinical Practice Research Datalink, sold millions of NHS patient records to companies such as Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Eli Lilly, Toby Helm reports at the Guardian. The discovery follows the leak of UK-US trade negotiation documents indicating that the "free flow of data" is a top priority for the US. Campaigning organization medConfidential queries whether the transfers were consensual, safe, and transparent. Also at the Guardian, Amy Walker reports that a UK government contract gives Amazon free rein to use NHS health care information to enable Alexa to offer expert health advice to users on systems, causes, and definitions of conditions, and other content, which Amazon may freely share with third parties and use to develop new products and applications. Privacy International, which obtained the contract under an FOI request, finds a lack of transparency and warns that it allows Amazon to use NHS information for advertising and marketing.

New South Wales Police Obtain International Warrant for Simon Davies
Australian police have been unable to locate long-time high-profile privacy advocate Simon Davies since issuing, in September 2016, an international arrest warrant listing 18 child sexual and indecent assault offenses relating to four teenage boys between 1981 and 1987, the BBC reports. In a statement, Privacy International, which Davies co-founded and left in 2010, said that during his time at PI neither board nor staff had any knowledge of suspicions against him and the organization did not work with children.


The Democratic Dilemma in Banning Terrorist Organizations
In this document, the UK's Independent Terrorism Reviewer, Jonathan Hall, publishes the text of his November 26 talk to the Israel Democracy Institute on the democratic dilemmas inherent in designating terrorist organizations, a legal power in operation in both the UK and Israel. The lack of any system for removing organizations from the terrorism list makes the decision to add them inevitably political. He believes the power should be retained, but that it may be too blunt to deal with evolving threats such as those posed by right-wing extremist groups. The new power to designate "no-go areas" has been picked up by Australia and Denmark, and is being considered in the Netherlands. At the Jerusalem Post, Yonah Jeremy Bob reports more of Hall's remarks and the ensuing discussion.

Opportunities for Education Lurk in EU Copyright Directive
In this blog posting at Communia, Teresa Nobre explains the mandatory exception for digital and cross-border education incorporated in Article 5 of the 2019 EU Copyright Directive and suggests how it should be implemented in transposing legislation. Countries have an opportunity to move beyond the law and improve existing exceptions.

Don't Be Evil
In this audio clip at Slate, Financial Times assistant editor Rana Foroohar is interviewed about Don't Be Evil, her new book about the big technology companies' betrayal of their founding principles. The book was sparked by discovering that just 10% of companies hold 80% of worldwide corporate wealth because of their data holdings. At the Guardian, John Naughton reviews Foroohar's book and surmises its lesson may be that Big Tech has already become "too big to fail".

Experts Disagree on DNS-over-HTTPS Implementation
In this video clip, computer scientist Paul Vixie discusses the history of the domain name system (DNS), which he helped implement, and the planned move to route DNS queries over the secure web protocol HTTPS (DoH), which Mozilla, Google, and Cloudflare are proposing to turn on by default. DoH gives users greater security against monitoring and interception, as EFF argues in a letter urging US lawmakers to support it, but, Vixie says, it poses genuine problems for those managing private networks.

South Africa: President Should Enact Copyright Reform
In this article at Business Day, Andrew Rens and Achal Prabhala argue that the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, should sign the long-awaited copyright reform bill without further delay. Until the law comes into force, visually impaired people are blocked from accessing information, musicians struggle to collect the royalties they are owed, media creators lack freedoms granted in other countries, and students struggle to afford textbooks. The country is also awaiting action on agreed changes to patent policy.

Reengineering Social Media for the Public Interest
In this article for the Columbia Journalism Review, Ethan Zuckerman imagines what the web would look like if it were designed to serve the public interest, drawing on the history of radio to suggest alternative models for social media network design. At Buzzfeed, Cameron Wilson profiles the difficulties facing the untrained volunteers who run neighborhood Facebook groups, which function as combined town square, Neighborhood Watch, and emergency information service. At EDRi, observer Homo Digitalis profiles a previously unknown Facebook content moderation center in Athens. At the New York Times, Annalee Newitz sets out in search of ways to back the public sphere at risk from today's social media and finds suggestions for new business models (science fiction writer John Scalzi), "slow media" (Safiya Noble), and algorithm-generated new rules (Janelle Shane's GPT-2). In a Reddit AMA, Jimmy Wales discusses how his new social network WT.Social, which will survive on at-will donations from its users, will handle the thorny questions that other social media have struggled with.


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

CPDP 2020
January 22-24, 2020
Brussels, Belgium
The 2020 edition of Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection continues the tradition of  offering the cutting edge in legal, regulatory, academic, and technological development in privacy and data protection. Within an atmosphere of independence and mutual respect, CPDP gathers academics, lawyers, practitioners, policy-makers, industry and civil society from all over the world in Brussels, offering them an arena to exchange ideas and discuss the latest emerging issues and trends.

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.

AI Summit 2020
March 16-17
Brussels, Belgium
Politico's AI Summit returns to Brussels to tackle key questions about the future of AI global regulation and the technology's implementation. The conference will consider whether and how AI development should be limited, different cultural interpretations of "trustworthy", and the challenges of implementing a cross-border and coordinated European approach to AI.

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.

Digitising Early Childhood
June 11-12, 2010
Milan, Italy
Contemporary children and their parents are inventing what it is to have a digital childhood, and in doing so are introducing families, schools and policy makers to new ways of thinking, doing and being. This conference discusses and expands research trajectories through these uncertainties and aims to build bridges across the different disciplines and strands of research in this area. It will forge a new way forward and consolidate the base of what we already know, revealing what we have yet to investigate and address, and what important insights are emerging that must be taken seriously.

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 December 13, 2019 9:55 PM.

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