News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending December 11, 2020

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending December 11, 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: EDRi, Panoptykon Foundation.


EU Digital Services Act Will Overhaul Platform Content Management
The EU is preparing the Digital Services Act to overhaul how platforms such as Google and Facebook manage content, Silvia Amaro reports at CNBC. Competition chief Margrethe Vestager believes it's crucial that digital services be open about why and how the platforms control what we see. The new rules are predicted to require dramatic changes in Big Tech's business models and practices. The European Parliament has posted a briefing providing a pre-legislative synthesis of national, regional, and local positions on the prospective act.

Anti-Vaccination Misinformation Gains Traction in Unrelated Groups
Vaccine misinformation that was circulating via now-removed large and influential anti-vaccine Facebook pages continues to circulate in smaller, better-connected groups that have shifted focus, Brandy Zadrozny reports at NBC News. A pre-print paper by George Washington University physicist Neil Johnson finds that groups for pet lovers, parent school groups, and yoga fans are increasingly connecting with the anti-vaccination movement. The London-based Center for Countering Digital Hate estimates that the anti-vaccination movement has gained 8 million followers since 2019.

Google Fires Leading AI Ethicist Timni Gebru
After a dispute over a paper studying big AI language models like the one incorporated into Google's search engine, Google fired Timnit Gebru, the leader of Google's Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team, Kim Lyons reports at The Verge. Gebru, known for her work on algorithmic bias, has said she felt she was being censored by the company. Eight hundred Google workers and more than 1,000 academic, industry, and civil society members have signed a letter of protest to support Gebru. At MIT Technology Review, Karen Hao finds that an early draft of the paper favors mitigating four main risks of large models: carbon footprint, increasing homogeneity, diverting research away from understanding in favor of language manipulation, and the potential for deception. At CBS News, Irina Ivanova reports that the US National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint that Google surveilled, interrogated, and then illegally fired two employees it suspected of workplace organizing.

Kazakhstan Government Intercepts Secure Web Traffic
For the third time since 2015, in a "cybersecurity training exercise" the Kazakhstan government is forcing citizens in its capital, Nur-Sultan to install a root certificate on their devices as a condition for gaining access to foreign internet services, Catalin Cimpanu reports at ZDNet. The certificate, once installed, performs a man-in-the-middle attack that allows the government to intercept all secure web (HTTPS) traffic from users' devices.

Internet Society Funds Internet Engineering Task Force
The Internet Society (ISOC) has committed to supply the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) with an annual contribution of $41.4 million for the next six years, Kieren McCarthy reports at The Register. IETF will use the money for core operations and says the length of the commitment will permit it to engage in better financial planning. ISOC has also promised an additional $30 million over the same time period to match funds the IETF raises itself. The goal is to make IETF sustainable and self-sufficient at a time when the internet's basic protocols are beginning to modernize.

EU Campaign Seeks Ban on Biometric Mass Surveillance
Over 10,000 people have signed up to support EDRi's "Reclaim Your Face" campaign to demand a ban on biometric mass surveillance, Janosch Delcker reports at Politico. Part of the reason is that little if being heard about legal obligations to tThe campaign is supported by 12 EDRi member organizations, which are coordinating national campaigns in Italy, Serbia, Greece, Czechia, Netherlands, France, and Germany.


Facebook Oversight Board Begins Case Consideration
In this article at Vice, David Gilbert lists the first six cases, selected from 20,000 submissions, to be considered by Facebook's official independent Oversight Board. Five were submitted by users; several question Facebook's decisions under its hate speech policy. The only one referred to the board by Facebook relates to the risk of offline harm caused by misinformation about COVID-19. Critics such as the experts who created the unaffiliated Real Facebook Oversight Board, complain that the most pressing issues, such as Steve Bannon's call to behead FBI director Christopher Wray and public health expert Antony Fauci, are not being considered. At the Guardian, Rebecca Ratcliffe cites an Amnesty International report that accuses Facebook and YouTube of complicity in Vietnam's "industrial-scale" censorship and repression.

Exploring the Internet's White Supremacist Ecosystem
In this audio clip at NPR, Sam Sanders interviews Talia Lavin about her year undercover infiltrating extremist online communities, which led to her new book, Culture Warlords. Adopting personas such as a white Midwestern American female in search of a husband and a West Virginia man with a pickup truck, Lavin finds that anti-Semitism is an essential part of white supremacy and that the biggest promulgators of online hate are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Telegram. At ZDNet, Wendy M. Grossman reviews the book. At The Conversation, Julia Posetti, Jackie Harrison, and Silvio Waisbord say their survey of 1,210 international media workers finds that online attacks on female journalists are increasingly spilling over into offline violence, leading women to withdraw from frontline reporting and public engagement. The newly-released New Zealand Commission report on the Christchurch shootings finds the attacker was a "lone wolf " who "spent much time" accessing extreme right-wing content online, which "may have contributed to his actions".

How to Reform Adtech
In this report, "To Track or Not To Track? Towards Privacy-Friendly and Sustainable Online Advertising", the Panoptykon Foundation shows that it's possible to reform the adtech industry without bankrupting online publishers. To make that happen, however, European policy makers must enforce GDPR and create incentives for adopting alternatives through new regulations.

Tyler Cowen Interviews Wikipedian-in-Chief Jimmy Wales
In this episode of the Conversations with Tyler podcast, Tyler Cowen interviews Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on the subject of content moderation, the threat posed by Trump's demands that Congress repeal Section 230, which protects Wikipedia from intermediary liability, and Wikipedia's unique position in the internet landscape. The Hindustan Times reports that the Indian government has asked Wikipedia to remove a map that shows the region Aksai Chin as part of China.

Nature Journals Adopt Controversial Open Access Fee Structure
In this article at Forbes, Madhukar Pai argues that Nature's newly-announced open access fees for its journals conflict with its recent "diversity commitment" pledging faster movement toward equity for under-represented groups. The 20-plus scientists he interviews find the fees "extraordinarily high" and exclusionary; publisher representative James Butcher called their concerns "valid" but defended the fees on the basis of the publisher's cost overheads. Pai concludes by pushing universities to de-emphasize prestige journals.

Signal Spreads End-to-End Encryption
In this Wired article, Andy Greenburg explains the wide adoption of Signal, the encryption protocol used by the eponymous messaging app as well as Facebook's WhatsApp and, now, Android messaging. Popularly, the answer is Signal's reputation as a well-designed open source protocol; technically, experts like its implementation of the privacy protecting technique "perfect forward secrecy".

Investigation Finds Rape Videos Infest Pornhub
At the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof reports the results of his lengthy investigation of  the world's tenth-most-visited website, Pornhub, which sells itself as "the cheery, winking face of naughty" and finds dozens of user-posted rape videos available for viewing or download, either way resulting in revenues for Pornhub's owner, Mindgeek. Kristof struggles for solutions, but suggests allowing only verified users to post videos, banning downloads, and increasing moderation. At industry news site Xbiz, Gustavo Turner calls Kristof's article "emotional pornography" and disputes his approach. AP News reports that in response to Kristof's article Mastercard and Visa are investigating of their business relationship with the site, and Pornhub has hired a law firm to conduct an independent content review, will ban downloads, and announce criteria for verifying users.


*** 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


Workshop on the Economics of Information Security
December 14-15, 2020
Online from 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
Online from 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.


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 October 29 event considers what forms of mandatory reporting can help achieve public sector accountability.

Bace Cybersecurity Institute
Recent webinars sponsored by Bace Security include a "fireside" discussion of with prominent women in security, a discussion of the security problems in online voting, and methods for privacy-protecting digital contact tracing.

Benchmark Initiative
The Benchmark Initiative is running regular events on topics such as the use of location data to end the global sanitation crisis, 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 political influence, 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 Chinese-US relations after the presidential election, 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 anticipating future pandemics and a discussion of Michael Baxter's new book, Living in the Age of the Jerk. Event recordings are made available soon after meetings conclude.

Open Data Institute
The ODI's Friday lunchtime (London time) talks have moved online. These one-hour talks cover topics such as data ethics, social equity, trust, and converting weather into music.

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.


MOVED ONLINE 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).


Hear more from the Information Program!
If you have been forwarded this email by a friend and wish to subscribe to this fortnightly digest, please visit: You can also read more about our work on the Open Society Foundations website:

Hear less from the Information Program!
Our mailing address is:
Open Society Foundations, 4th Floor Herbal House, 8 Back Hill, London EC1R 5EN, United Kingdom

© 2020 Open Society Foundations. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Your privacy is important to us. View our Privacy Policy:

0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending December 11, 2020.

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on December 18, 2020 11:41 AM.

News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending November 27, 2020 was the previous entry in this blog.

News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending January 15, 2021 is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.