News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending September 25, 2020

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending September 25, 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: EFF, Mozilla, Privacy International, Ranking Digital Rights.


Trump Administration Bans WeChat and TikTok
The Trump administration has issued new rules barring the Chinese-owned apps WeChat and TikTok from US app stores as of midnight on September 20, Ana Swanson, David McCabe, and Jack Nicas report at the New York Times. From September 20 for WeChat and November 12 for TikTok, American companies are also banned from processing transactions for WeChat or hosting its internet traffic. Lance Whitney reports at Forbes that the ban was postponed on September 19, when Oracle and Walmart promised to buy a 20% stake in TikTok owner ByteDance. At the EFF blog, Nathaniel Sobel outlines the friend-of-the-court brief EFF has filed to support a TikTok employee who argues that US president Donald Trump's executive order infringes the Fifth Amendment rights of TikTok's US-based employees; EFF is urging the court to consider the First Amendment rights of the app's millions of users when evaluating the claims. In a posting at LinkedIn, Mozilla Tech Policy Fellow Frederike Kaltheuner notes the irony of awarding TikTok to Oracle when Oracle, which has become a data broker, was the first company Facebook cut off in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as she found in a 2018 report for Privacy International.

Australian News Licensing Law Threatens Media Diversity
Media diversity, in particular digital-only youth and lifestyle publishers, is likely to be destroyed by Australia's attempt to force Google and Facebook to pay for news, Hal Crawford reports at Nieman Lab. Facebook plans to ban news on its feeds in Australia if the government passes legislation forcing it to negotiate licensing deals with news companies, and the threat leads many to expect that the company will define "news" as broadly as possible, for legal safety. The law's only likely beneficiaries are the largest traditional publishers, Nine and Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp.

Researchers Find ISIS Digital Backup
Moustafa Ayad, the deputy director of the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, has found a terabyte and a half of ISIS material, including training materials and strategies, which effectively is a digital backup capable of rebooting ISIS, Demos research director Carl Miller reports at Wired. Ayad has gone on to find similar caches for al Qaeda and al Shabaab.

CJEU Rules that Zero Tariffs Break Network Neutrality Rules
The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that its network neutrality rules are incompatible with allowing telcos to provide selected "zero tariff" services, Campbell Kwan reports at ZDNet. The case was referred to CJEU by Telenor after a Hungarian court issued two rulings compelling it to end its zero tariff practices.

EU: Entertainment Industry Campaigns for Upload Restrictions
The entertainment industry has begun a campaign to push the European Commission and member state governments into ignoring the user rights MEPs and civil society fought for in copyright reform, former MEP Julia Reda reports in a Twitter thread. Reda analyzes a letter rights holder organizations IFPI and ACT have sent to Commissioner Breton to find that they are pushing for the most restrictive possible interpretation of Article 17, the "upload filter". EDRi spells out its main demands as member states begin transposing the law. At EFF, Christoph Schmon summarizes the recommendations it has submitted for the guidance European Commission is developing.

New Hong Kong Law Threatens Academic Freedom
Hong Kong professors and students who continued to speak out after the Chinese Communist Party began attacking academic freedom following the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy protests are now being stifled under the city's new national security law, The Economist reports. The Hong Kong government is pushing for a more "patriotic" approach in school classrooms, and there are concerns that government pressure will change the way the councils that govern Hong Kong's universities make decisions about grants, promotions, and tenure.


African Internet Shutdowns Ineffective at Silencing Protests
In this article at Vice, Chris Baraniuk discusses a recent study from Ranking Digital Rights that finds that internet shutdowns in African countries have not proved effective at suppressing protests, instead sometimes leading to surges in clashes and increased violence. While shutdowns may heighten the overall sense of chaos and create fear and uncertainty, technological interventions aren't enough to silence activists.

Capitalism Begets Surveillance
In this ebook at Medium, Cory Doctorow dissents at length with Shoshanna Zuboff's proposed course of action in her 2019 book, Surveillance Capitalism, and suggests that instead the future requires creating profitable competitors to today's Big Tech. Surveillance doesn't make capitalism "rogue", he writes. Instead, capitalism, unchecked, begets surveillance.

Ex-Employee Memos Accuse Facebook of Profiting From Hate
In this article at Buzzfeed, Craig Silverman summarizes a 6,600 word memo by former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang, who worked on the Facebook Site Integrity fake engagement team and writes, "I have blood on my hands" while documenting numerous cases of state actor abuse, many blatant and on vast scales. Silverman calls the memo "a damning account of Facebook's failures." Zhang turned down a $64,000 severance package to avoid signing a non-disparagement agreement. At Ars Technica, Sam Machkovech notes that Zhang's memo did not include the compounding effect of Facebook's Free Basics and Discover services, whose users may have very limited access to news content outside Facebook. At Gizmodo, Whitney Kimball writes that Zhang's departure follows closely on that of software engineer Ashok Chandwaney, whose scathing letter, published in the Washington Post, called the company "an organization that is profiting off hate in the US and globally". At Vice, David Gilbert describes a politically motivated disinformation campaign orchestrated on Facebook against Ethiopian singer Hachalu Hundessa, an ethnic Oromo, who was assassinated on June 29 while driving through Addis Ababa. The killing set off a wave of violence in both the capital and Oromia that has resulted in hundreds of deaths. Facebook had been warned, but has no full-time employees in the country.

The Aesthetics and Political Economy of Video Culture
In the Institute of Network Cultures' latest Video Vortex Reader, Inside the YouTube Decade, editors Geert Lovink and Andreas Treske present a collection of essays on the aesthetics and political economy of  video culture, including topics such as algorithmic bias, the rise of deepfakes, image theory, and video as online activism. In the last decade, the smartphone has taken over visual culture, while image technology has become politicized.

Arizona Court Indicts Uber Safety Driver for Negligence
At Wired, Aarian Marshall reports that the Rafaela Vasquez, who was in position as the safety driver of a self-driving Uber car that killed a pedestrian in Arizona in 2018, has been indicted for criminal negligence. In an example of what Madeleine Claire Elish called "moral crumple zones" in a paper presented at We Robot in 2016, Uber has not been charged, even though the US National Transportation Safety Board's 2019 report on the crash attributed the blame to many people, including the Uber self-driving executives, who created an "inadequate safety culture".

Origin Story Finds Data Manipulation Roots in 1960s Company
In this review of Jill Lepore's latest book, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future, James Gleick traces the roots of the Cambridge Analytica scandal to Simulmatics, a company that secretly worked for John F. Kennedy's winning 1960 presidential campaign. Although it failed and went bankrupt in 1970, the story of Simulmatics' methods serves Lepore as an origin story for today's data hogs and political manipulation.


*** 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


TOCTec Seminars
mySociety is running a series of events between September and November on open data (September 22), digitising parliaments (October 20), and the climate crisis (November, day TBC).

October 19-25, 2020
The theme of this year's Open Access Week is "Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion". Building on our discussions in 2018 ("Designing Equitable Foundations for Open Knowledge") and 2019 ("Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge"), 2020 marks the third consecutive year the theme for International Open Access Week will focus on the urgent need for action on equity and inclusion, underscoring the urgency of continuing to center this work.


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 seminars on emerging legal issues at the intersection of digital media, freedom of speech, and law include AI, privacy law, technology law as a vehicle for anti-racism, and a look ahead to the next telecommunications act.

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
Singularity University's upcoming events include reimagining primary education and a series of executive programs aimed at various countries.


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 28, 2020 4:44 PM.

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