News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending March 12, 2021

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending March 12, 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: Access Now, EFF, Open Future, Privacy International.


India: New Rules Require Platforms to Trace "Unlawful Messages"
New rules for social media intermediaries make it mandatory for platforms to comply with government requests to trace the originator of "unlawful" messages, The Hindu reports. While the Electronics and IT minister calls the rules "soft-touch oversight", critics warn that the guidelines could undermine the principle of the open and accessible internet and violate the rights to privacy and free speech. In a follow-up, also at The Hindu, Raman Jit Singh Chima calls the rules a "dramatic dangerous move" toward increased censorship and argues that they are unlawful. At the Guardian, Naomi Klein finds that routine uses of well-known technology tools are helping the Indian government target and campaign against climate activists and farmers opposing new agricultural laws that open up land ownership to private investment.

UK's Immigration System Builds In Surveillance
The UK's vast immigration system costs more than £2 billion a year and incorporates advanced back-end and front-end surveillance tools while failing to provide basic and vital services, Privacy International writes in a new report detailing the system's inner workings. Among the companies profiting from this system are Accenture, Experian, Cellebrite, Palantir, and Teradata. At Medium, Dave Gershgorn finds that US Customs and Border Protection used facial recognition to scan more than 23 million people in 2020 - and caught no imposters.

US: Biden Appoints Tim Wu to National Economic Council
The Biden administration has appointed Columbia law professor Tim Wu to the National Economic Council as a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, Cecilia Kang reports at the New York Times. The appointment suggests that the White House intends to take a more confrontational approach to the technology industry than previous administrations, including working with Congress to strengthen antitrust laws. Politico reports that Biden is also expected to appoint Lina Khan, who advocates antitrust reform in order to curb Big Tech's power, to the Federal Trade Commission.

Google Plans Own Tools to Replace Third-Party Cookies
Google, which has already announced it will block third-party "tracking" cookies in its Chrome browser, says it will not participate in efforts to build a replacement, Gerritt De Vynck reports at the Washington Post. Instead, the company will develop its own tools that it says will preserve privacy while allowing advertisers to target groups known as "Federated Learning of Cohorts" (FLoC) selected by shared interests. At EFF, Bennett Cyphers calls third-party cookies "the web's biggest mistake", but argues that users and advocates must reject FloC, calling it a "misguided" attempt to reinvent behavioral tracking. At Medium, Will Oremus argues that the new system will in fact reinforce Google's dominance by placing the emphasis on first-party data, which Google collects via search, Android, Gmail, YouTube, and its many other services.

Indian Government Backs Right-Wing Koo Social Network
India's Koo, a hate-filled, right-wing, year-old Twitter clone, is being embraced by the country's government, Prana Dixit reports at BuzzFeed. Millions of people have joined the service since the commerce minister posted to his 10 million Twitter followers that he had opened an account; Twitter had refused to obey an order to block accounts critical of India's Hindu nationalist government. Koo has no moderation team, and relies on users to flag content they think is problematic.

Israel Launches Vaccine Passports
Israel launched a vaccine passport system on February 21 as the country ended a one-month lockdown, Cat Ferguson and Joshua Mitnick report at MIT Technology Review. The app version of the pass has serious privacy issues: it uses outdated encryption and reveals more information than necessary. The pass may be difficult to adapt for other countries such as the US, which has neither a universal identity record nor a cohesive system of medical records.


Open Future Launches to Promote a Shared Digital Europe
In this posting, the Open Future think tank for a shared digital Europe announces its launch. Open approaches flourish when many people collaborate to create a common resource (such as Wikipedia or OpenStreetMap) or where external incentives or requirements encourage it (such as Open Access, Open Educational Resources, and Public Domain heritage collections). In recent years, commercial platform logic has overwhelmed open ecosystems; Open Future argues Europe has a unique opportunity to restore part of the original promise of the internet. At Public Books, Lucy Bernholz and Toussaint Nothias ask if free assembly and association can survive the internet as our physical spaces become digitized.

Anti-Science, the Internet, and Medical Freedom
In this paper in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Texas vaccine scientist Peter J. Hotez traces the US's embrace of anti-science and "medical freedom" during the covid pandemic back to the early colonies. To save lives, Hotez argues that scientists must participate in a counter-offensive, but says broader innovative solutions are also needed, including a push to remove anti-science content on the internet.

European Commission's Data Governance Act Threatens Data Governance
In these comments for the European Parliament's upcoming debate, Access Now argues that the European Commission's proposal for a Data Governance Act is an "unjustified change" towards a data-driven economy and risks undermining the data governance model already enshrined in privacy and data protection laws. Access Now recommends that Article 5 should be changed to block the reuse of personal data or data from which personal data can be inferred.

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection
On this YouTube page are video clips from this year's Computer, Privacy, and Data Protection conference. Of particular interest are the panels on new police surveillance technologies, personal data protection in Africa, and user choice and freedom through interoperability. In a blog posting, Ian Brown, who led the latter panel, and Douwe Korff discuss the role interoperability can play in encouraging competition.

The Ethics of Using Satellite Data in Development
In this article at Devex, Malia Politzer argues that it's crucial that development and aid professionals consider the ethics of collecting and using satellite data for responding to natural disasters, controlling disease outbreaks, and planning and plotting sanitation facilities and refugee camps. Issues such as ownership, access, and what happens to the data when the project is finished are crucial. In Uganda, open-sourced mapping data was crucial to understanding all water sources used by households and identifying those that might become contaminated during floods.

Misinformation and the 2020 US Presidential Election
In this report, the Election Integrity Partnership, which includes the Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington's Center for an Informed Public (CIP), Graphika, and the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, finds that the fragmented US electoral system creates a critical gap that non-governmental entities can fill with both foreign and domestic mis- and disinformation. They urgently recommend collaboration across government, civil society, media, and social media platforms.


*** 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.

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 March 27, 2021 11:41 PM.

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