News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending February 26, 2021

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending February 26, 2021

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: AccessNow, HRDAG, Open Rights Group.


Facebook Blocks and Unblocks Australian News
After a week in which Facebook blocked all links to Australian news, the Australian government agreed to last-minute changes to the News Media Bargaining Code, which the lower house passed on February 16, Lisa Visentin reports at the Sydney Morning Herald. At The Verge, Casey Newton explains why Facebook chose to block, while Google instead entered into, a three-year deal to pay Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to link to its output. At the New York Times, Damien Cave finds that the block blanked state health departments, emergency services, the Bureau of Meteorology, non-profits, and political campaign messages while retaining pages dedicated to aliens, UFOs, anti-vaccination campaigns, and conspiracy theories. At TechDirt, Mike Masnick defends Facebook's refusal to pay the "link tax". At his blog, Benedict Evans deplores the arrival of paying to link and says that by hindering cross-site ad targeting the 2018 arrival of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has dented publishers' revenues. At Renew Economy, Ketan Joshi predicts that the Murdoch deal will make Google a major disseminator of climate change denial and bigotry, which are entrenched in News Corporation's Australian output. In a video clip, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd calls for an independent Royal Commission to investigate the Murdoch empire's monopoly power, which promotes climate change denial, conflates news and opinion, and strangles local news and public debate. At the Guardian, Jim Waterson reports that UK media regulator Ofcom has granted Murdoch permission to launch a Fox News-style UK channel in the spring of 2021. At his blog, Matt Stoller links Facebook's block to the discovery, via unsealed California court documents, that under the oversight of COO Sheryl Sandberg the company has been defrauding advertisers for years.

EU: ePrivacy Regulation Begins Trilogue Negotiations
After four years of unprecedented lobbying and internal disagreements, the Council of the European Union has agreed the text of the ePrivacy Regulation, opening the final stage of trilogue negotiations, Glyn Moody reports at Privacy News Online. Unlike GDPR, which covers personal data at rest, the ePrivacy Regulation will protect personal data in transit. At ZDNet UK, Daphne Leprince-Ringuet reports that the EU has issued draft documents that accept the UK's data protection laws as equivalent to GDPR; these now await approval from the European Data Protection Board and a committee of representatives of EU member states.

South Africa Declares Interception Act Unconstitutional
The South African Constitutional Court has declared unconstitutional the country's Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, aimed at preventing criminals from using mobile phones for illegal activities, on the basis that it does not incorporate adequate safeguards, BusinessDay reports.

UK Rules Uber Drivers Are Employees
The UK Supreme Court has upheld a 2016 lower court ruling that Uber drivers are employees entitled to rights such as paid holidays and minimum wage, Sarah Butler reports at the Guardian. The decision could fundamentally reshape the gig economy in the UK.

Censors Shut Down Clubhouse in China
The newly-popular audio-only, iOS-only social media app Clubhouse enabled rare unfettered debate for Mandarin speakers until Chinese censors abruptly blocked it on February 8, the Stanford Internet Observatory reports. The Observatory also raises concerns that Shanghai-based Agora, which supplies backend infrastructure to Clubhouse, could provide the Chinese government with access to users' raw audio. At Bloomberg, Jamie Tarabay and Kartikay Mehrotra report on a successful cybersecurity breach in which an unidentified user was able to stream Clubhouse audio feeds onto their own third-party website. At The Hill, Rebecca Klar discusses concerns that Clubhouse, as a new form of talk radio, may become a vector for misinformation and that the app's structure of ephemeral privately moderated chatrooms will make surveillance and archiving - and therefore investigations - difficult.

Changes to Kenyan Law Enable Government Access to Communications
A new law amending the Official Secrets Act grants the Kenyan government access to phone and computer data of any person, but leaves obtaining a court order optional, Bridget Andere reports at AccessNow. The National Assembly should now amend the Act to provide checks and balances and protect Kenyans' right to privacy, she concludes.


Proposals for Intermediary Liability Reform
In this paper, law professors Danielle Citron and Mary Anne Franks advocate reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from intermediary liability. Citron and Franks argue that the idea of the internet as a "speech machine" is a myth; much of what takes place online is conduct, not speech. They propose modifications intended to foster free speech while curbing bad behavior, adding that reform, which must be carefully thought through, is long overdue. At NPR, Bob Allyn profiles "Christian libertarian" Rob Monster, whose company, Epik, enables right-wing sites like InfoWars, BitChute,,, and Parler. Monster believes their deplatforming is an abuse of power by the technology companies. In an academic paper studying the dataset of Parler postings that hackers archived during the January 6 invasion of the US Capitol, UCL researchers find large influxes of new users after endorsements by popular figures and in reaction to the 2020 US presidential election. In a Techdirt podcast, Mike Masnick and the Open Rights Group's Heather Burns explain why regulating the internet won't solve the problem of broken government.

The Birth of the Facebook Oversight Board
In this article for the New Yorker, law professor Kate Klonick chronicles the two-year path to the formation and earliest decisions of Facebook's official oversight board, watching as the company decides how much power it should have and solicits public nominations. At Politico, Cristiano Lima reports that the board's first significant decision, whether to make the suspension of Donald Trump's account permanent, received more than 9,000 public comments and is due in April.

Racism and Stereotyping Surface in Image-Generation Algorithms
In this article at MIT Technology Review, Karen Hao examines the implications of a case in which an image-generation algorithm autocompleted a cropped picture of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's head and neck to show her wearing a bikini. Both OpenAI's iGPT and Google's SimCLR use unsupervised machine learning; Hao finds both present issues of racism and stereotyping similar to those that plague text-generation algorithms. In an episode of the Common Law podcast, University of Virginia law professor Deborah Hellman discusses her theory on discrimination and the real effects algorithms have in expanding discrimination and injustice.

Vaccination Passports Proposed to Restore International Travel
In this article at Biometric Update, Chris Burt introduces the Good Health Pass initiative, a framework for interoperable vaccination passports proposed by a coalition including Airport Council International, Covid Credential Initiative, Linux Foundation Public Health, Mastercard, IBM, and many more. While the World Health Organization currently advises against such a system, expectations are that as vaccines continue to roll out such passes will be adopted to restore international travel and the global economy. The UK's Royal Society has issued a report listing 12 criteria that should be met before any such system is adopted. A report from the Ada Lovelace Institute highlights the risks of such an approach and lists seven steps to determine whether vaccination passports are justifiable. The UK government has issued a public consultation on digital identities, which includes vaccination status as an example of the kind of attribute that might be included.

Google Plans to Replace Third-Party Cookies
In this article at Wired, Matt Burgess outlines Google's Privacy Sandbox's plan to replace third-party cookies in its next big Chrome update and says it will up-end today's infrastructure of individualized tracking and profiling on the web. The plan is intended to reduce fraud, limit the need for CATPCHAs, and offer new ways to track advertising performance. Google's replacement, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) will use AI to place people in interest groups based on their browsing histories, similar to Netflix's recommendation algorithm. The UK's Information Commissioner's Office and Competition and Markets Authority are already investigating Privacy Sandbox, as ending third-party cookies could more deeply entrench Google and Facebook's dominance of adtech.

Victims Have Little Recourse  Against Large-Scale Online Smear Campaigns
In this article at the New York Times, Kashmir Hill tells the story of Guy Babcock, whose family were targeted with a smear campaign of startling proportions, mounted by a former employee his father had fired decades earlier who conducted similar actions against a large group of other targets. Situations where one angry person targets a large group of perceived enemies are not uncommon, yet technology companies still offer little help to stop them.


*** 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


TICTec 2021
March-May 2021
In lieu of its usual two-day annual conference, mySociety will instead host a series of short, energetic, and to-the-point online TICTeC "Show and Tell" presentations that will feature speakers from around the world talking about the impacts of digital tools intended to empower citizens.

Open Data Day
March 6, 2021
Local events worldwide
Organized by the Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Data Day is an annual celebration of open data. Groups from around the world create local events on the day where they will use open data in their communities. It is an opportunity to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption of open data policies in government, business and civil society.

MozFest 2021
From March 8, 2021
Online from Amsterdam, The Netherlands
MozFest is a unique hybrid: part art, tech and society convening, and part maker festival. It is the premier gathering for activists in diverse global movements fighting for a more humane digital world.

European Association for Biometrics
March 9, 15, and 30, 2021
Online from Bussum, The Netherlands
In a series of events on the theme of "demographic biometric fairness", the European Association for Biometrics will feature presentations on current research by experts from academic, industry, and governmental organisations and will facilitate interactions and discussions with the audience in order to create awareness, a common ground, and next steps.

The Good Web Festival
March 19, 2021
Online from London, UK
Britain's Demos think tank and security agency GCHQ co-host a collaborative one-day workshop on the future of the internet featuring leading thinkers from government, tech, and the public with the goal of securing a digital democratic future against its opponents.

LibrePlanet 2021
March 20-21, 2021
Online from Boston, Massachusetts, USA
The 13th edition of the Free Software Foundation's annual conference, "Empowering Users", is a multi-day event that attracts a broad audience including software developers, law and policy experts, activists, students, and computer users to learn skills, celebrate free software accomplishments, and face upcoming challenges to software freedom. The conference features programming for all ages and all levels of experience. Keynote speakers include Julia Reda and other community leaders.

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

TILTing Perspectives
May 19-21, 2021
Online from 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
Online from 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.

June 7-11, 2021
AccessNow's tenth RightsCon will bring together business leaders, policy makers, general counsels, technologists, advocates, academics, government representatives, and journalists from around the world to tackle the most pressing issues at the intersection of human rights and technology.

CPDP LatAm 2021
July 2021
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. The conference will especially focus on data protection at a time of social emergency - COVID-19, 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.

SOUPS 2021
August 8-10, 2021
Vancouver, BC, Canada
The 17th Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security will bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers and practitioners in human-computer interaction, security, and privacy. It will be colocated with USENIX 2021.

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 change-makers 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).

Modern Law Review: Are We Owned?
October 8, 2021
Stirling, Scotland, UK
The Modern Law Review will present a one-day conference, "Are We Owned? A Multidisciplinary and Comparative Conversation on Intellectual Property in the Algorithmic Society". The conference will discuss the future of autonomy as the terms of service that apply to phones and computers become embedded in "smart" physical objects throughout our environment and within our bodies.

October 8-9, 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.


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. Late-2020 events included discussions of regulating for algorithm accountability and "almost-future" AI.

Bace Cybersecurity Institute
Recent webinars sponsored by Bace Security include a "fireside" discussion with prominent women in security, security problems in online voting, methods for privacy-protecting digital contact tracing, advanced botnet researcher, and using marketing techniques to improve cybersecurity communication.

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.

The Communication and Media Institute (CAMRI) at London's University of Westminster hosts a series of online events presenting the work of sociologists, historians, economists, and activists studying online developments around the world. Spring 2021 offerings include a reassessment of the 2010 Arab Spring and studies of internal communication connections within the Global South, the changing role of public service media, decolonizing the curriculum, and using Facebook to reduce polarization.

Data & Society
Data & Society has moved its weekly Databites and Network Power Hours programs into online interactive formats. Its first event for 2021 examines digital technology and democratic theory.

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.

Geneva Internet Platform
The Geneva Internet Platform (GIP), a Swiss initiative run by DiploFoundation is organizing monthly briefings on internet governance, providing updates and news and projections of how they will influence future developments.

In Lieu of Fun
Kate Klonick, an assistant professor at St John's University School of Law who specializes in online speech and governance, and Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and co-founder and chief editor of Lawfare, hold a nightly discussion of current affairs, law, politics, and digital media with invited guests. Daily at 5pm Eastern Time.

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.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on February 26, 2021 1:17 PM.

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