News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending May 15, 2020

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending May 15, 2020

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 Open Society Foundations.  Prepared by Wendy M. Grossman.

Current and former grantees featured in this issue: AOW, EDRi, ORG, SPARC.


Sidewalk Labs Withdraws from Toronto Development
Blaming pandemic-related economic conditions, Google sibling Sidewalk Labs has abandoned plans to redevelop a 12-acre section of Toronto's waterfront into a data-driven, sensor-laden futuristic city, Ian Austen and Daisuke Wakabayashi report at the New York Times. The partnership between Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto was announced in 2017, but has faced public pushback over privacy, data ownership, and the ceding of public space to algorithmic decision making. At a panel on smart city governance at Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection 2019, David Murakami Wood gave the local back story on the Sidewalk Labs' public consultations and the hubris of technology companies that think that two years' study is enough to solve the long-entrenched problems cities have.

ICANN Rejects .org Sale
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has rejected the Internet Society's proposal to sell PIR, the owner of the .org generic top-level domain, to the newly created private equity firm Ethos Capital, Timothy B. Lee reports at Ars Technica. Among its concerns, ICANN cited the $360 million in debt that PIR would have been required to take on, Ethos' lack of qualifications to run such a large gTLD, and the lack of transparency.

Cengage and McGraw-Hill End Merger Plans
The textbook publishers Cengage and McGraw-Hill have abandoned their merger plans, which had attracted pushback from students, consumer groups, libraries, universities, and bookstores, as well as lawmakers and antitrust authorities, SPARC reports. The companies say antitrust enforcers' requirements that they divest their overlapping businesses made the merger uneconomical.

US Patent Office Says AI System Cannot Be Patent Owner
Following a similar ruling from the UK Intellectual Property Office, the US Patent and Trademark Office has rejected two patents listing the Dabus AI system as the inventor, the BBC reports. The patent offices argue that innovations must be attributed to humans in order to avoid the complications that would arise from recognizing corporations as inventors. Following a surge in AI-driven filings at the European Patent Office, the World Intellectual Property Organization held a public consultation on this issue that closed in February.

US Supreme Court Upholds Right to Freely Share Official State Legal Code
The US Supreme Court has narrowly upheld the right to freely share the official legal code of the state of Georgia, Timothy B. Lee reports at Ars Technica. The state had sued the nonprofit, founded by longtime public information activist Carl Malamud, for publishing the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. The annotations are added by Lexis-Nexus, which charges hundreds of dollars for access to the code. Twenty-two other states have used similar arrangements for publishing their state laws; the new precedent will force them to rethink their policy.

UK May Shift Contact Tracing Plans After Human Rights Legal Opinion
The UK's National Health Service's digital arm, NHSx, which began trials of its contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight on May 7, is considering shifting to the decentralized platform being built by Apple and Google in collaboration, Alex Hern and Kate Proctor report at the Guardian. The centralized NHSx design, which holds and processes the data the app collects on a government server, has both technical and human rights issues. Also at the Guardian, Owen Bowcott summarizes the legal opinion drafted by AWO legal director Ravi Naik and others: the centralized design needs detailed justification to satisfy human rights and data protection laws. In testimony before Parliament's Human Rights Committee, Michael Veale (UCL, ORG advisory council member) and Orla Lynskey (LSE) discuss the technical and human rights implications of the centralized design versus the decentralized approach of Apple/Google and the DP-3T project, which is finding early adoption by several EU countries. At Computer Weekly, Alex Scroxton reports that in its assessment the Committee concludes that the app requires legislative oversight to gain public trust. AWO's work was funded by the Open Society Foundations.


Quarantine Enforcement Methods Were Tested on Refugees
In this article for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Crofton Black traces the history of the methods being used or proposed in many counties for enforcing quarantine, and finds they were tested on refugees; the European data protection supervisor shut down a social media monitoring project being run by the European Asylum Support Office that searched social media content from would-be migrants in an array of languages. Numerous companies and agencies, including Vodafone, the European Space Agency, the Dutch Statistics Office, Thales Alenia, and others, pitched to offer services for the border agency Frontex's project to build an "early warning system" for migration.

Scholarly Publishers Collaborate to Maximize Peer Review Efficiency
In this announcement at the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), Claire Redhead reports that the scholarly publishers PLoS, eLife, FAIRsharing, PREreview, PeerJ, Hindawi, Royal Society, Outbreak Science, and F1000 Research are working together to create initiatives and standards to maximize the efficiency of peer review for COVID-19-related research. Alongside calls for suitably expert volunteer reviewers and assistance in identifying important and crucial COVID-19 preprints, OASPA continues to call for openness by default for preprints, research, underlying data, models, code, and materials in order to maximize preproducibility and credibility.

Facebook Names First Oversight Board Members
In this article for Just Security, UN Special Rapporteur Dave Kaye discusses the potential impact of Facebook's Oversight Board, the first of whose members have been announced. While the listed individuals are undoubtedly experts on social media and human rights and Facebook has committed to the project with a trust of $130 million in funding and a global consultation, Kaye argues that improving Facebook's self-governance is only one small part of answering the problems of online speech and censorship. Also at Just Security, Chinmayi Arun suggests that the board is a promising experiment, but is concerned that the company has already set the rules the board will implement without consultation or democratic legitimacy, and is leaving out several aspects of international human rights norms, which are already well developed.

Seeing Through Technology Hype
In this video clip, London Futurists founder David Wood, former operating system architect at Psion and Symbian, moderates a discussion on how to see through technology hype, with Gemma Milne, author of the new book Smoke and Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It, Turing Institute Fellow Jack Stilgoe, and Jenny Kleeman, author of the forthcoming book Sex Robots and Vegan Meat.

EU's Data Protection Regulators Lack Necessary Technical Expertise
In a new report, Brave's Insight team finds that data protection regulators throughout Europe have not been given the tools they need to enforce GDPR. Brave, which makes a privacy-protecting web browser, has collected data showing how few expert technical investigators are working to find GDPR infringements, and that regulators are hesitant to punish major technology firms because they can't afford the legal costs of defending their decisions. As a result, GDPR is at risk of failing.

Document Pool Tracks COVID-19 and Digital Rights
On this page EDRi is building a document pool on COVID-19 and digital rights. The collection so far includes EDRi member organisations' analysis of, responses to, and recommendations for protecting digital rights in the face of the pandemic and EDRi's own analysis of tracing apps, along with links to mapping exercises in specific domains such as freedom of expression and privacy, official EU documents, and other useful resources.


*** In light of the coronavirus outbreak, please follow your organization's travel guidelines, and check links to events listed below regularly for participation restrictions and updates as to whether events will go ahead.***

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


Privacy Law Scholars
June 4-5, 2020
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).

Virtual CogX
June 8-10, 2020
London, UK
Festival of AI and Emerging Technology (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".

August 7-9, 2020
DEFCON is one of the oldest and largest continuously running hacker conventions.


Ada Lovelace Institute
London's Ada Lovelace Institute, founded in 2019 to ensure the ethical use of AI, is running a series of events on the issues surrounding the use of technologies in response to the pandemic.

Civic Hall
New York's Civic Hall has moved a number of events online. Coming up toward the end of May are events on designing stories to expose racial inequities and an interactive discussion of the new book by Sasha Costanza-Chock, Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need.

Data & Society
Data & Society is converting all its weekly Wednesday and Databites programs into online interactive formats. Subscribe to its events newsletter for details.

EFF and its local counterparts in the Electronic Frontier Alliance are running numerous events on subjects such as technology education, open source, voting security, and content moderation.

Legal Frontiers in Digital Media 2020
May-June 2020,
The Berkeley Center for Law and Technology's online alternative to its annual conference on emerging legal issues at the intersection of digital media, freedom of speech, and law includes live seminars (recorded and available for later playback) on content moderation and the coronavirus (April 15); a series on Chinese law, trade, and intellectual property (beginning April 22 and extending through May); and the right to repair (August 28).

London Futurists
The London Futurists group, led by former Psion and Symbian architect David Wood, is presenting near-weekly speaker-led events focusing on potential radical transformations of humanity and society. Upcoming topics include genetic engineering (May 16). Event recordings are made available soon after meetings conclude.

Open Data Institute
The ODI's Friday lunchtime talks have moved online. These one-hour talks cover topics such as data ethics, social equity, and trust.

Open Rights Group
The Open Rights Group and its local offshoots are running online presentations and discussions of digital privacy, democracy, and data exploitation. Recent topics have included a proposed law to ensure that contact tracing apps are surrounded with privacy-protecting safeguards, the effect of the pandemic on democratic institutions, and the NHS deal with Palantir.

Public Knowledge
Public Knowledge is running public web events on subjects such as algorithmic amplification of hate speech, the survival of local journalism, and how to protect privacy during a pandemic.

London's Royal United Services Institute is running frequent online events considering topics relating to international politics, terrorism, financial crime, policing, and warfare, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes it will bring.

Singularity University
May, 2020
next:Work is a four-week series of digital events on the changing jobs, careers, and workforce of the future.


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

POSTPONED TO JUNE 2021 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.

POSTPONED TO December 14-15, 2020 WEIS
June 15-16, 2020
Brussels, Belgium
The annual workshop on the economics of information security is a cross-disciplinary event to develop more effective approaches to information security.

June 23-25, 2020
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The first Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection Latin America will be held in conjunction with the first Latin American Privacy Law Scholars conference and MyData's first Latin American meeting. The theme will be "Data Protection in Latin America: Democracy, Innovation, and Regulation". The organizers hope it will be a unique opportunity to bring together varied and complementary perspectives on data protection and its impact on democracy, innovation, and regulation in Latin America.

CANCELED 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.

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.

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. They've drawn 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.

CANCELED 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).

was May 4-8, 2020; rescheduled to September 21-25, 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.

May 8-9, 2020
Chicago, IL, USA
The 11th Chicago-based Thotcon hacking conference is a non-commercial event intended to combine a top-quality information security conference with a casual and social experience.

EIFL General Assembly
September 24-26, 2020
Vilnius, Lithuania
The GA is EIFL's major annual knowledge-sharing and networking event for library professionals in developing and transition economy countries.

Future in Review
October 6-9, 2020
La Jolla, CA, USA
Future in Review 2019 is a global conference on the intersection of technology and the economy, offering new partnerships, projects, and plans, and the opportunity to analyze and create the future of technology, economics, pure science, the environment, genomics, education, and more.

International Open Data Conference
November 18-20, 2020
Nairobi, Kenya
The sixth edition of IODC will be hosted by the government of Kenya with support from the OD4D Network, IDRC, and the World Bank. The conference program will be co-created with the community via an open call for proposals to ensure a diverse agenda of interactive sessions, workshops, and ancillary events. A special focus will be placed on building bridges with the broader data community, exploring how to bring the power of the newest technologies to some of the world's oldest problems, and creating new models for collaboration in order to drive social and economic value from open data in Africa and around the world.

POSTPONED We Robot 2020
Will update June 1, 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.

Privacy Law Forum
October 9, 2020
Palo Alto, CA
The program will be very similar to the one originally planned, covering all the hot issues in privacy and cybersecurity law. Registration remains open.

MozFest 2021
March 2021
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
MozFest programs and events are co-created by a group of dynamic, vibrant and varied community collaborators, all working towards one goal: the opportunity for everyone to live a healthy online life.

Wikimania 2021
Bangkok, Thailand
Wikimania 2020, now Wikimania 2021, will be the 16th Wikimania conference, an annual event for the international Wikimedia community.

August 5-8, 2021
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Def Con is one of the oldest and best-attended hacker conferences. Each year it attracts thousands of professional and amateur security researchers.

World Library and Information Congress 2021
August 2021
Rotterdam, Netherlands
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 May 31, 2020 9:40 PM.

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