News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending June 11, 2021

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending June 11, 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: Communia.


Facebook Ends Politicians' Exemption from Content Rules
In response to the Oversight Board's recommendations in early May, Facebook will extend its suspension of former US president Donald Trump's account for two years from January 7, 2021, the date it began, Julia Carrie Wong reports at the Guardian. At that time, Facebook will work with experts to assess the risk to public safety posed by reinstating the account and use a system of escalating suspension penalties for misbehavior. Facebook will also cease exempting politicians from its content rules, including the ban on hate speech. In a blog posting at Galaxy Brain, Charlie Warzel is dissatisfied with Facebook 's logic. At Vox, Emily Stewart reports shareholders have voted down proposals that would have limited CEO Mark Zuckerberg's control over the company. At Openly, Avi Asher-Schapiro and Maya Gebeily report that while LGBT+ conversion therapy is banned on Facebook and is blocked in English, practitioners promote these practices in Arabic without interference.

Study Finds Pervasive Flaws in AI Models in Medicine
A study of more than 400 machine learning models for use in medicine carried out by a research team at the University of Cambridge finds that all of them have methodological flaws, Casey Ross reports at Statnews. Many papers rely on limited or low-quality data, don't test whether they work across a variety of demographics, and fail to specify their statistical methods and approach to training. Many of the resulting algorithms appear accurate in studies but fail in clinical use. At The Verge, Andrew J. Hawkins finds that the autonomous vehicle industry is shrinking as would-be vendors continue to discover that autonomous vehicles will take longer to reach and cost much more than they hoped. Among many mergers, Lyft has sold its self-driving car division to a subsidiary of Toyota, its latest round of funding dropped Waymo's valuation by 85%, and there are very few robotaxi startups left.

Nigeria Suspends Access to "Unpatriotic" Twitter
Nigeria's information minister has indefinitely suspended access to Twitter within the country because of "persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria's corporate existence", Emmanuel Akinwotu reports at the Guardian. The move follows closely on Twitter's decision to remove a tweet posted by president Huhammadu Buhari that threatened pro-Biafra groups and suspend his account for 12 hours. Agence France-Presse reports at the Guardian that all TV and radio stations in Nigeria have been directed to suspend "patronage" of Twitter immediately, calling its use "unpatriotic".]

European Commission Pushes Big Tech to Cease Profiting from Disinformation
The European Commission has published non-binding guidelines that push big technology companies to commit to not making money from disinformation-linked advertising, Reuters reports at the Financial Post. The proposals update the existing code, which was introduced in 2018 and signed by Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Mozilla, and TikTok, along with other advertising and technology lobbying groups. Signatories are expected to develop details of how they will comply by the end of 2021 and implement them in 2022. At Politico, Laura Kayali reports that in France, where Google is being fined €220 million for abusing its dominant position in the online advertising market by self-preferencing, the company has agreed to stop using data from other sell-side platforms to optimize bids on its exchange that those other platforms can't replicate.

China Uses Uyghurs as Test Subjects for Emotion Recognition
A software engineer has told the BBC's Panorama news program that he has installed AI and facial recognition-based camera systems to test emotion detection on Uyghurs in police stations in Xinjiang province, Jane Wakefield reports at the BBC. Xinjiang's 12 million Uyghurs are already under comprehensive daily surveillance. The system outputs a pie chart scoring the subject's emotional state; the engineer calls it "pre-judgment without any credible evidence". The program,. "Are You Scared Yet, Human", which investigates the AI race between China and the US,  is available for viewing online until May 2022 for those inside the UK.

British Government Orders Seizure of GPs' Patient Data in England
The British government has ordered NHS Digital (formerly the Health and Social Care Information Centre) to begin taking comprehensive data from the patient records held by English GPs, Sarah Marsh reports at the Guardian. Doctors are concerned that the move will disrupt doctor-patient trust. The campaign organization medConfidential provides instructions on how to opt out, noting that the government has neither publicized the scheme nor published a data protection impact assessment. A similar attempted move in 2014 attracted so much outrage the project had to be postponed.


The Decline of Interoperability
In this article at the Guardian, Alex Hern notes the divergence of standards between systems and devices, citing as his prime example Apple's ecosystem, which increasingly fences out others, overturning years of progress towards interoperability. In a blog posting from October 2020, Ian Brown and Douwe Korff discuss how to use interoperability as a tool for competition regulation. , which has been proposed as a requirement in the EU Digital Markets Act. In a March 2021 update, they note that the requirement has been killed and seek to understand why and to whose benefit.

AI Offers Potential for Automating Disinformation at Scale
In this report from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Ben Buchanan, Andrew Lohn, Micah Musser, and Katerina Sedova study the GPT-3 AI system's potential for generating disinformation at scale by testing it on six common disinformation tasks. The report concludes that although GPT-3 will not replace all humans in disinformation operations, it will enable them to create moderate to high-quality messages at an unprecedented scale.

EU Publishes Implementation Guidance for the "Upload Filter"
In this blog posting, the Communia Association discusses the EU's implementation guidance for Article 17 of the Copyright in the Single Market Directive (the "upload filter"), which has been published on the last day before the implementation deadline. The final version includes some requirements for safeguards, but does not include a promised commitment to protect users' fundamental rights; some provisions even offer opportunities for abuse by rights holders. Communia awaits a decision from the Court of the European Union on whether Article 17 is compatible with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The Industrialization of Ransomware
In this article at the Guardian, John Naughton warns that the attack on the US Colonial Pipeline is a sign of cybercrime's industrialization of ransomware. Modern cybercrime operations have tech support, customer ratings, management panels, and negotiation scripts.

Github Refuses Code Access to Death Row Inmate
Github is refusing to share software code that Texas Death Row inmate Joseph Colone believes could expose flaws in key evidence in his case, which depends on DNA analysis  that used a probabilistic genotyping program, Whitney Kimball reports at Gizmodo. The Texas court granted an out-of-state subpoena to obtain the code, but courts in California, where Github is based, refuse to enforce it. Github claims that the 1986 Stored Communications Act prohibits platforms from turning over customer content.

The Extractive Reality of AI
In this interview at the Guardian, Microsoft and University of Southern California researcher Kate Crawford outlines her new book, Atlas of AI, which rejects the typically abstract view of AI and grounds it as a technology of extraction, from the planetary and human consequences of  mining rare earth minerals to turning human subjects into data subjects. At MIT Technology Review, Karen Hao reviews the book and interviews Crawford about its genesis.


*** 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


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 14-16, 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.

Policy & AI
November 9-10, 2021
Palo Alto, California, USA
With artificial intelligence rapidly transforming every aspect of our world, calls for regulation, governance, and oversight are on the rise. HAI's 2021 fall conference will consider four radical proposals for policies that respond to the challenges and opportunities of an AI-powered future. Can basic income address the future of automated work? Should a public agency certify algorithms? How would we regulate AI-based decisions on platforms? Should there be ownership rights in data that fuel algorithms?  Each substantive session will feature the short presentation of one radical proposal with discussion by a panel of experts from multiple disciplines and backgrounds.

Internet Governance Forum
December 6-10, 2021
Katowice, Poland
The Internet Governance Forum is an international meeting, held at the initiative of the United Nations, that enables a global discussion on the development of the Internet. It is a place for exchanging thoughts and experiences in the field of Internet governance.


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.

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
The Carnegie Council runs frequent events on topics such as illiberal threats to democracy, the societal limits of AI ethics, AI and ethics in Africa, and inclusion. The Council posts audio and a transcript after each event.

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.

Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence at Stanford
HAI's series of events covers AI-related topics such as upcoming regulation, issues with algorithms, health, and AI and society.

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 June 4, 2021 11:31 PM.

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