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

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending March 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: Privacy International, Wikimedia.


Leaked Memos Show Why Google Escaped Antitrust Action in 2013
Confidential memos show that the US Federal Trade Commission's decision not to sue Google on antitrust grounds in January 2013 after a 19-month investigation was based on a misreading of the evidence and its economists' incorrect and contradictory assumptions about the future, Leah Nylen reports at Politico. The FTC missed its opportunity by assuming that desktop computers would continue to dominate search and Microsoft, Yahoo, and Mozilla would be competitive in mobile, and by underestimating the spread of data collection and targeted advertising. Google insists that the complete documents show that the FTC made the right decision. In a follow-up, Nylen finds that many of those involved in that probe are still active, though some have switched sides. At the New York Times, Matt Stoller and Pat Garofalo examine the antitrust bills pending in US states, most notably Arizona, that aim to end Apple's and Google's app store monopolies.

Wikimedia Will Launch Paid Enterprise API
Wikimedia Foundation will launch a paid enterprise API for high-volume commercial re-users of Wikipedia's content, Aditya Saroha reports at The Hindu. While Wikimedia will not offer exclusive contracts or content, and will not stop anyone from using existing free methods of access, the opt-in service is intended to eliminate duplicated effort. It also hopes that the resources commercial organizations currently spend internally to rebuild Wikimedia project data can be diverted to support the free knowledge ecosystem, lessening the dependence on donors.

Hackers Breach Live Feeds of More than 150,000 CCTV Cameras
A group of hackers claim to have breached a hoard of data collected by Verkada, a Silicon Valley startup, from live feeds of 150,000 surveillance cameras inside hospitals, police departments, prisons, schools, and companies including Tesla and Cloudflare, William Turton reports at Bloomberg. At ACLU, Jay Stanley says the hack offers four key lessons on surveillance: the dangers of connected cameras, vendors themselves can be snoopers, cameras may be inappropriately and unethically placed as in prisons and ICUs, and facial recognition may be installed without even the customer's knowledge.

Far-Right Extremists Embrace Open Source Software and Platforms
Far-right extremists are moving to open source software and decentralized communications platforms such as PeerTube and Twitter-like Pleroma, Mastodon, and Matrix in order to avoid censorship and law enforcement, Jason Wilson reports at the Guardian. After losing its hosting and app store presence, Gab rebuilt using Mastodon's software. Also at the Guardian, Peter Stone reports that the Southern Law Poverty Center and the Global Disinformation Index have found that in the year to March 2021 far-right extremists used social media, cryptocurrencies, tax-exempt status, and other tools to take in $1.5 million. At The Intercept, Micah Lee studies the 65GB of data, covering the period from August 2016 to February 19, that hackers copied from Gab and leaked to the Distributed Denial of Secrets collective.

Uganda: Unwanted Witness Wins Complaint Against SafeBoda App
A complaint filed by the Ugandan civil society organization Unwanted Witness about the data-sharing practices of the SafeBoda motorcycle riding app has led the country's data protection regulator to order the company to fundamentally reform its practices, Privacy International reports. The complaint was based on PI's 2020 investigation under the 2019 Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019, which found that SafeBoda was sharing users' personal data with third parties without their knowledge or consent.

Christie's Auctions Digital Artwork with Non-Fungible Token for $69.4 million
Christie's has auctioned a digital collage by Mike Winkelmann ("Beeple"), accompanied by a non-fungible token (NFT) to guarantee its authenticity, for $69.4 million, the AP reports at WRAL. NFTs record the detail of digital collectibles on a blockchain, and have recently boomed as an offshoot of the popularity of cryptocurrencies. At its blog, MalwareBytes Labs discusses the potential for NFT fraud and hijacking. Blocking these requires fixing three fundamental design flaws.


The Ethics of Analyzing Extremist Online Content
In this third and most recent blog posting in a series of four at VOX-Pol, Matti Pohjonen explores the techniques used to analyze extremist online content and outlines the criticisms raised about the validity and negative social costs of these methods. Pohjonen suggests that some mitigation for these problems may come from mixing methods and adopting more qualitative approaches. Vox-POL will host a discussion of these methods and their ethics on March 30 (see diary).

Facebook's Oversight Board Faces Conflicting Company Motives
In this Guardian article, constitutional law student Jeremy Lewin argues that Facebook's oversight board is a dangerous sham that insulates Facebook from criticism but can only show its independence by restoring content Facebook has deleted. Since dangerous and socially objectionable content drives engagement and therefore profits, Lewin concludes that the oversight board will inevitably cause Facebook's moderation policies to regress. At MIT Technology Review, Karen Hao profiles the work of Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, the Facebook director tasked with leading the Responsible AI team and examining the societal impact of the company's algorithms. Hao finds inherent conflict between Quiñonero's efforts to limit noxious material and CEO Mark Zuckerberg's desire to optimize growth. In a Twitter thread, Gordon Lichfield, one of Hao's editors, outlines Facebook's responding PR strategy. At BuzzFeed, Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman detail the playbook Facebook has created to help employees rebut claims that its services sow polarization and division. At the Guardian, John Naughton calls the technology industry's recent interest in ethics "a manipulative fraud", citing as his example Google's recent dismissal of Ethical AI team leaders Timnit Gebru, and Margaret Mitchell. "Current machine learning systems have ethical issues the way rats have fleas," he writes.

Eli Pariser Seeks to Reconnect Filter Bubbles
In this interview for The Markup's newsletter, editor Julia Angwin invites Eli Pariser to revisit his ten-year-old "filter bubble". At his latest venture, New_Public, Pariser is trying to build digital spaces that weave social fabric rather than tear it apart. Based on his work, The Markup has developed a tool that shows the difference between Republicans' and Democrats' feeds on Facebook.

PublicSpaces Plans to Reclaim the Internet
On this page are video clips of the just-concluded PublicSpaces Internet conference, organized by the Waag Society, PublicSpaces, and Pakhuis de Zwijger. PublicSpaces is a coalition of more than 25 public organizations in media, heritage, education, health care, and festivals aiming to reclaim the internet as a force for the common good. Of particular interest are Friday's "Meet in the Middle", in which Ethan Zuckerman and Melanie Rieback explore positive disrupters, and "Mapping the ecosystem". On its blog, Waag outlines "Public Stack", a research project to build an alternative, trusted internet solely out of technologies that support public values. At Medium, Rachel Coldicutt writes about reclaiming polarizing technologies to create "dense, warm" ecosystems. Engineers may think decentralizing the web can be achieved with technology, but instead, she writes, it's people who will make it happen: "be radically sociable, delinquent, and make a scene".

Technology Infrastructure Enables Crime to Scale
In this video clip of his March 2021 Dertouzos Distinguished Lecture at MIT and accompanying blog summary, security engineer Ross Anderson analyzes platforms and services from the point of view of security economics and shows that malware-as-a-service crime networks scale as easily as YouTube and Instagram. Computer scientists, he argues, have insights to offer the economists and lawyers who typically staff regulatory agencies and become policy makers.

Clearview AI in Depth
In this article at the New York Times, Kashmir Hill summarizes five revelations from her simultaneously-published year-long study of Clearview AI: the far-right provocateur Charles Johnson was an early contributor; the company's customer list has risen to 3,100 and the company is valued at nearly $109 million; investigators and border officials say it has revolutionized the investigation of child abuse; and the company has hired First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams to help defend it against privacy-related legal action. The full-length article explores the legal, technical, and social context in which Clearview is operating, including the 11 lawsuits filed against it in Illinois under the state's 2008 Biometric Information Privacy Act.


*** 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.

March 30, 2021
Online from UK
In "Terrorism Informatics", VOX-Pol presents a panel on how researchers can ethically use and analyze extremist content.

Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue
April 6, 2021
Online from Washington, DC
TACD will present a discussion on "Consumers, competition law, and platform power in the digital economy" featuring Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) and French Renew Europe MEP Stéphanie Yon-Courtin. The discussion will cover issues such as the scope of alignment between the EU and the US on competition policy and tackling the market power of the big technology companies. The role of regulation in creating conditions for effective competition is at the heart of discussions both in the EU and the US.

Bringing Dark Patterns to Light
April 29, 2021
Online from Washington, DC, USA
"Bringing Dark Patterns to Light: An FTC Workshop" will explore the ways in which user interfaces can have the effect, intentionally or unintentionally, of obscuring, subverting, or impairing consumer autonomy, decision-making, or choice. The workshop will bring together researchers, legal experts, consumer advocates, and industry professionals to examine what dark patterns are and how they might affect consumers and the marketplace. Some of the topics the workshop will examine include:

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.

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

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.

September 6-10, 2021
Online from Geneva, Switzerland
The Geneva Workshop on Innovations in Scholarly Communication will focus on     scholarly publishing, digital research data, reproducibility and research integrity, diversity, inclusivity and collaboration, and the future of open science.

ALPSP Annual Conference
September 15-17, 2021
Online from UK
The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers' annual conference provides a friendly forum to share information, learn about new initiatives and engage in open discussion on the challenges and opportunities facing the scholarly publishing community. The main themes for 2021 are "Discoverability and Accessibility" and "The Great Reset: Scenario planning for life after COVID".

Open Education Global
September 27-October 1, 2021
Each day of the 2021 2021 conference program will have webinars comprised of five presentations and interactive asynchronous activities focused on that day's action area. Sessions may be in any of the six official languages of the United Nations - Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, or Spanish.

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.

The Research Group on Data, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Law & Society is presenting a series of discussions on topics such as robotics (Frank Pasquale, April 1), rights, technology, and society (Anne-Sophie Hulin, May 19), and justifiability and contestability of algorithmic decision systems (Daniel Le Métayer, June 1).

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 11:43 PM.

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