News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending August 21, 2020

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending August 21, 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: Citizen Lab, Open Access Button, Privacy International.


Big Four Tech CEOs Testify in US Congress
On July 29, the US Congress Judiciary Committee heard testimony via video link from the CEOs of Amazon (Jeff Bezos), Apple (Tim Cook), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg), and Google (Sundar Pichai) as part of its antitrust investigation into online platforms, David McCabe and Cecilia Kang report at the New York Times. Democrats focused on potential antitrust violations and platform power; Republicans claimed the sites are censoring conservative voices. At Stratechery, Ben Thompson complains that the Democrats' questions assumed the monopoly power they should have been trying to prove, and suggests that the Republicans were hinting that laying off limiting conservatives' postings is the only way they'll get help in Washington. In an essay, Benedict Evans argues that instead of breaking up Big Tech it's necessary to look deep inside the companies to create rules and mechanisms to limit their market power; he cites examples from the EU and UK for how to do this.

US: Donald Trump Plans TikTok and WeChat Ban
At the end of July, US president Donald Trump said he was ready to order a US ban on the popular Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat unless an American company would buy them, Tom Warren reports at The Verge. A day later, The Verge reported that Microsoft was in talks to buy the company and would decide by September 15, and two weeks later the Guardian reported that Oracle is developing a rival deal. At the Guardian, James Ball, author of the new book The System, calls the proposed ban "generational vandalism", and worries that taking action against a company because of its nationality could be an existential threat to the Internet as we know it. At Lawfare, Citizen Lab founder Ronald Deibert and others discuss the ban in the context of the larger US-China relationship and technology competition. At Stratechery, Ben Thompson favors the ban, saying Americans should worry about Tiktok's algorithm and its potential to spread propaganda. At Axios, Sara Fischer reports that TikTok's new CEO plans to launch a transparency and accountability center in Los Angeles and release the code that drives its content moderation algorithms so experts can observe how its policies are enforced in real time.

Clearview AI Claims First Amendment Protection to Counter Lawsuits
The facial recognition start-up Clearview AI, which is fighting multiple lawsuits including one brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois, where state law forbids the corporate use of residents' faceprints without explicit consent, has hired lawyers known for representing hackers (Tor Ekeland) and defending free speech (Floyd Abrams), Kashmir Hill reports at the New York Times. The company has built a dataset of billions of images scraped from social media sites and sells access to law enforcement. Abrams calls privacy "an extremely important value" but argues that US free speech rights encompass a company's right to create and disseminate information.

Mozilla Restructures Its Workforce in Face of Financial Struggles
Mozilla will cut 250 jobs, about a quarter of its workforce, because the pandemic has significantly lowered its revenue, Jon Brodkin reports at Ars Technica. The vast majority of Mozilla's revenue comes from royalties payable by the search engines Firefox sets as default options - Google in most parts of the world, Yandex in Russia, and Baidu in China. Mozilla has so far struggled to follow through on its plan to develop commercial products and new ways of supporting itself. Shortly after the announcement, Katyanna Quach reports at The Register, Google and Mozilla signed a new three-year agreement estimated to be worth $400 to $450 million.

China Proposes "New IP" to Redesign the Internet
In this article at CNet, Stephen Shankland discusses China's unpopular New IP plan, which would shift control of the development and operation of the internet to the ITU and a top-down design, damaging freedom of expression, and privacy, the opposite of today's multi-stakeholder model. Proponents of New IP hope to cement its status at November's World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly.

UK Government Forced to Abandon Biased Algorithms
British immigrant rights advocates have forced the UK's Home Office to drop its StreamingTool algorithm, which assigned high, medium, or low risk scores to immigration applicants, on the basis that it is discriminatory, Todd Feathers reports at Vice. The algorithm's use of data from immigration raids and immigrants' nationality led it to disproportionately fast-track applicants from predominantly white countries while diverting others into a longer, more onerous review process. At the Guardian, Sally Weale and Heather Stewart report that, in a second such reversal, widespread protests forced the UK government to drop a "standardization model" algorithm that predicted university-qualifying A-level exam results after the exams themselves were canceled because of the pandemic. By iIncorporating students' locations and their each school's' historical results, led the algorithm to downgraded nearly 40% of students, generally those from state schools and poorer backgrounds, costing them their promised university places, and raised those from private schools and wealthy backgrounds.


Designing AI for the Global South
In this chapter of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Ethics of AI, edited by Markus D. Dubber, Frank Pasquale, and Sunit Das, Chinmayi Arun considers the vulnerability of Global South populations to already-documented problems of bias, discrimination, oppression, exclusion and bad design of AI systems and argues that a human rights-centric, inclusive, empowering, context-driven approach is essential. We should be concerned, he writes, about the degree to which the AI industry is willing to experiment on human populations in the name of innovation.

Parenting for a Digital Future
In this video clip, Common Sense senior director of research Michael Robb interviews Sonia Livingston and Alicia Blum-Ross about their new book, Parenting for a Digital Future, which is based on years of extensive research with a diverse group of UK parents. With little precedent or support, today's parents struggle to find rules and values for their children's use of technologies that didn't exist when they were growing up.

Nicaragua: Natalia Norori Promotes Open Science and Data Sharing
In this article at Forbes, Andrew Wight profiles Natalia Norori, a young Nicaraguan activist whose Health Data Sharing Is Caring and Open Access Button projects are, respectively, raising awareness of the lack of representation of vulnerable populations in health care datasets and its impact on global health, and helping people freely access academic research behind paywalls. The present pandemic has pushed already-weakened Latin American health care systems to the verge of collapse, and the lack of data infrastructure, standardized frameworks, and transparency are preventing these countries from truly measuring the impact of disease outbreaks on the hardest-hit populations, who are often invisible in data sets. In an opinion piece at Insider Higher Ed, Janet Napolitano argues that university research should be free to all, citing as an example the widespread sharing that is enabling scientists around the world to respond to the coronavirus pandemic with unprecedented speed.

Managing Humanitarian Data
In this blog posting, the Centre for Humdata summarizes its guidance note on how and whether to design and conduct data impact assessments to support humanitarians in their data management activities, developed in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Privacy International, and UN Global Pulse. The note is the fifth in a series of eight guidance notes on data responsibility in humanitarian action.

Research Group Develops Methods for Identifying Misinformation Campaigns
In this article at UPI, Brooks Hayes outlines a new method, developed by a research team led by Princeton University, for identifying foreign misinformation campaigns in real time that the group hopes will help mitigate outside interference in the 2020 US presidential election. The team finds that such campaigns use two main methods: unusual content, which is relatively easy to find, and trolls masquerading as real users, whose patterns of subtle mistakes may give them away. The researchers' model uses machine learning to find these patterns, though they stress that as with any probabilistic model it would make mistakes at the level of specific accounts.

Gender Imbalance in Free Culture Movement Mirrors Computing Culture
In a paper at First Monday, Joseph Reagle finds that the free culture movement's gender balance is at least as skewed as that of the computing culture from which it sprang - even in communities such as Wikipedia and Ubuntu that recognize the need to be welcoming and supportive. After six years of study, he concludes that open communities are especially susceptible to difficult, potentially alienating, people and their values of openness and freedom are often used to justify problematic behavior.


*** 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


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.

MOVED ONLINE We Robot 2020
Date TBC
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.


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. The July 8 event considered the impact of rolling out a public health identity system.

Bace Security
Recent webinars sponsored by Bace Security include a "fireside" discussion of voting methods with Rebecca Mercuri, conducted the first security analysis of electronic voting in 2000, and security veteran Peter Neumann, and methods for privacy-protecting digital contact tracing with Arka Bala (ContextGrid) and serial entrepreneur and investor Aman Johan.

Benchmark Initiative
The Benchmark Initiative is running regular events on topics such as the safe use of location data in human migration; data, power, and the pandemic; and managing social distancing in public spaces. All events are posted on Vimeo soon after they conclude (

Civic Hall
New York's Civic Hall has moved a number of events online. Recent events include a session 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 has moved its weekly Databites and Network Power Hours programs into online interactive formats for the rest of 2020.
Network Power Hours:

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.

Future in Review
Future in Review is running a series of online "FiReSide" events. Recent topics include China and the future technology struggle.

Legal Frontiers in Digital Media 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 frequent online presentations and discussions of digital privacy, democracy, and data exploitation. Recent topics have included the launch of ORG's data and democracy report, a proposed law to ensure that contact tracing apps are surrounded with privacy-protecting safeguards, and the effect of the pandemic on democratic institutions.

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
Singularity University has an ongoing series of events. July will see four discussions on the topic of the future of food, agriculture, food supply chains, and nutrition. Past topics have included the future of work and AI.

Transnational Institute
TNI's series of weekly COVID Capitalism webinars covers various aspects of transforming democracy, politics, and the economy for a fairer post-COVID world. June events include COVID-19 and incarceration (June 3); big tech, data, and human rights, a joint event with the Just Net Coalition (June 10); borders and migration (June 17); and the broken trade system (June 24).


CANCELED 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.

Big Tech and Antitrust Conference
October 3, 2020
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Yale Law School's Information Society Project and Thurman Arnold Project co-host a half-day conference to explore the role of antitrust and competition law in shaping the future of the digital economy. The conference will discuss the kinds of harms antitrust law needs to address in the digital age; the relationship between antitrust law and broader concerns such as privacy, innovation, and inequality; and policy recommendations, including changes in the interpretation of antitrust laws and doctrines, enforcement practices, and the institutional organization of agencies. We encourage submissions from all disciplines that contribute to related legal, economic, regulatory, or policy discussions.

CANCELED 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.

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.

Freedom not Fear
November 6-9, 2020
Brussels, Belgium
Freedom not Fear is supported by a broad alliance including political parties, professional associations, trade unions, and freedom activists and hopes to join forces with NGOs from all over the world in order to build a strong alliance to oppose the threat increasing surveillance poses to freedom of speech in a digitized world and privacy in the knowledge society.

POSTPONED International Open Data Conference
New date TBC
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.

December 2-4, 2020
Lisbon, Portugal
At a time of great uncertainty for many industries and indeed, the world itself, 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?

December 14-15, 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.

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection
January 27-29, 2021
Brussels, Belgium
As a world-leading multidisciplinary conference CPDP offers the cutting edge in legal, regulatory, academic and technological development in privacy and data protection. Within an atmosphere of independence and mutual respect, CPDP 2021, "Enforcing Rights in a Changing World", will gather academics, lawyers, practitioners, policy-makers, industry, and civil society from all over the world to offer an arena to exchange ideas and discuss the latest emerging issues and trends.

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.

May 14-15, 2021
Chicago, Illinois, 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.

TILTing Perspectives
May 19-21, 2021
Tilburg, the Netherlands
TILTing perspectives 2021 brings together, for the seventh time, researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and civil society at the intersection of law and regulation, technology, and society to share insights, exchange ideas, and formulate, discuss, and suggest answers to contemporary challenges related to technological innovation.

Privacy Law Scholars 2021
June 3-4, 2021 TBC
Washington, DC, USA
Privacy Law Scholars is a paper workshop intended to improve the quality of legal scholarship in the area of privacy. Participants submit works-in-progress for workshop discussions led by commenters on the papers.

Digitising Early Childhood
June 2021
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.

CPDP LatAm 2021
Postponed from 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.

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.

Singularity University Global Summit 2021
August 23-25, 2021
Los Angeles, California, USA
Global Summit 2021
Singularity University's premier annual gathering brings together 2,000 changemakers for talks on AI, augmented/virtual reality, blockchain, the future of work, impact, investing, robotics and more.

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 September 11, 2020 1:15 PM.

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