News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending August 13, 2021

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending August 13, 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: EFF, La Quadrature du Net, SPARC.


Apple Embraces Backdoored Encryption to Report Child Abuse Images
Apple has abruptly and unexpectedly announced that it will add technology to its phones and cloud services that will detect, decrypt, and report known child sexual abuse material (CSAM) to law enforcement and notify parents if children's iMessage accounts send or receive sexually explicit material, Zack Whittaker reports at TechCrunch. The technology will roll out in the US first; Apple has not announced a timetable for international use. At EFF, India McKinney and Erica Portnoy outline the high price of these moves for user privacy. EFF is concerned about the lack of transparency and oversight, and also that the system, once built, will expand to suit the whims of authoritarian governments. At Lawfare, Nicholas Weaver defends the decision, calling it "privacy-preserving mass surveillance". At The Verge, Mitchell Clarke reports that WhatsApp will not adopt similar measures and calls Apple's announcement "very concerning". At Daring Fireball, John Gruber presents a detailed analysis of what Apple is - and is not - doing. In an open letter to Apple, organizations including the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the New York Public Library, and ThinkPrivacy call on Apple to halt the plan and commit to end-to-end encryption; within a day it had been signed by more than 4,000 individuals, including Edward Snowden and cryptographer Matthew Green.

Facebook Shuts Down Transparency Research
Facebook has shut down the tools and personal accounts belonging to the Ad Observatory, a research project at New York University that studies the site's ad targeting, Matthew Ingram reports at the Columbia Journalism Review. The company blamed the decision on the need to protect user privacy and rules enshrined in its 2019 $5 billion settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission. At Protocol, Issie Lapowsky points out that the data being shared with the NYU researchers pertained to advertisers, not individual users. In an episode of In Lieu of Fun, Kate Klonick and Stanford law professor Nate Persily discuss the case and mull how to enable legitimate research studying Facebook's advertising practices without compromising privacy. At the FTC, acting director Samuel Levine publishes an objecting letter to Facebook that concludes: "Had you honored your commitment to contact us in advance, we would have pointed out that the consent decree does not bar Facebook from creating exceptions for good-faith research in the public interest."

Luxembourg Data Protection Regulator Fines Amazon €746 Million Under GDPR
Amazon's latest quarterly report, released at the end of July, reveals that the Luxembourg National Commission for Data Protection fined the company a record €746 million ($887 million) under the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, Richard Lawler reports at The Verge. CNPD's decision is not publicly available. Amazon intends to appeal. At its website, La Quadrature du Net, which brought the action on behalf of 10,000 people, promises to keep fighting the domination of the big technology companies. At Wired, Matt Burgess discusses the many problems that have hampered the enforcement of GDPR; this case took three years to conclude.

AI Tools Fail in Controlling Pandemic
None of the hundreds of AI tools developed to help control the coronavirus pandemic were of any use and some were actively harmful, Will Douglas Heaven reports at MIT Technology Review. Key problems, found by studies from the Turing Institute, Nature, and the British Medical Journal, is the poor quality of the data used to build these algorithms and the unrealistic expectations that lead people to use the tools regardless. AI developers need to collaborate more with clinicians and share a few successful models rather than constantly building their own poorly tested versions.

Colombian Call Center Workers Push Back Against In-Home Surveillance
Call center workers who provide outsourced customer service in Colombia are being pressured to sign a contract allowing their employer, Teleperformance, to install AI-powered surveillance cameras in their homes, and are beginning to unionize as a result, Olivia Solon reports at NBC News. Teleperformance is one of the world's largest call center companies, employing 39,000 workers in Colombia and 380,000 worldwide; its clients include Apple, Amazon, and Uber. An earlier attempt in Albania was struck down by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner. The contract requires workers to agree to sharing images, video analysis or objects around their workspaces, biometric data, and data and images relating to their children under 18 if they are picked up by the video and audio monitoring tools. Workers may also be required to take polygraph tests. In the US, home care workers report that in the name of combating fraud electronic visit verification systems are subjecting both themselves and their clients to rigid controls that amount to house arrest.


Misinformation as a Service
In this article at the New York Times, Max Fisher explores the emerging misinformation industry, in which private companies sell services once largely confined to the world's intelligence agencies while offering clients deniability. The resulting campaigns attack covid vaccines, fake anti-government sentiment, spread polarizing conspiracies, and disrupt elections in every part of the world and are growing more sophisticated. They are also comparatively cheap and embraced by populist leaders. At the Guardian, Chris McGreal reports that the thinktank InfluenceMap finds that Facebook failed to enforce its own rules during the 2020 US presidential election and allowed fossil fuel companies to promote the claim that oil and gas can be part of climate change remediation.

The Pandemic Legacy of Pervasive QR Codes
In this article at the New York Times, Erin Woo discusses the rise of QR codes in restaurants and retailers and the enhanced tracking they bring. QR codes are being widely adopted to minimize contact during transactions as part of covid security. Because of the opportunities for upselling and data analysis, businesses will be reluctant to give them up even after the pandemic ends.

Vaccination Passports Pose Ethical and Infrastructure Issues
In this video clip, Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, hosts a discussions of vaccination passports, which are being widely proposed for international travel and less widely for domestic purposes. Linnet Taylor discusses the impact on already-disenfranchised communities, Seda F. Gurses and Michael Veale highlight the problem of increased dependence on computational infrastructures owned and operated by just a handful of private companies, and Effy Vayena looks at the ethical limits to public health interventions.

Pandemic Provides Lessons for Open Science
In this episode of the Impacts of COVID-19 podcast, Jean Claude Burgelman, professor of open science policy at the Free University of Brussels, interviews SPARC executive director Heather Joseph about the role open science has played in countering the pandemic. Openness has worked, but better physical and human infrastructure are needed, as are better tools for dealing with sudden floods of preprints and ways to speed up peer review.

Privacy Standards Create Tensions Within W3C
In this article at Protocol, Issie Lapowsky describes the strains within the W3C, which has become a battleground between the engineers who build web browsers and representatives of adtech companies who use the language of "the open web" and "user choice" but underneath fear for their survival. The dispute risks recapitulating the story of Do Not Track, which died when the working group assigned to develop it as a standard failed to reach a consensus on how it should work. This round began when Google proposed to reengineer Chrome to block third-party cookies and web tracking and develop Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) as a new standard.

The Promise and Threat of Open Source Intelligence
In this article, The Economist suggests that "open source intelligence" (OSINT) - satellite images, for example - coupled with modern collaborative tools such as Slack are enabling everyone from hobbyists to experts to expose misdeeds in an unprecedented way. OSINT, the article argues, is strengthening civil society and law enforcement alike, and making markets more efficient, although it also poses a threat to individual privacy.


*** 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


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).

We Robot
September 23-25, 2021
We Robot's tenth annual conference will bring together the people designing, building, and deploying robots and the people who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots will operate.

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".

We Robot 2021
September 23-25, 2021
Miami, Florida, USA
We Robot is the leading North American conference on robotics law and policy.  It is designed to foster conversation between the people designing, building, and deploying robots and the people who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots will operate. Papers and presentations are often interdisciplinary collaborations relating to how citizens and officials are or will be using robots, AI, and related technologies, and the implications of those technologies for policy and law.

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.

Web Summit
November 1-4, 2021
Lisbon, Portugal
At a time of great uncertainty for many industries, Web Summit will gather  founders and CEOs of technology companies, fast-growing startups, policymakers, and heads of state to ask a simple question: Where to next?

Tech for Democracy
November 9, 2021
Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danish Government will host an international conference, Tech for Democracy, to bring states, tech sector representatives, media, academia, and civil society around the same table to focus on concrete ways to make technology support - and not undermine - democracy and civil society.

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.

Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection
January 26-28, 2022
Brussels, Belgium
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 gathers academics, lawyers, practitioners, policy-makers, industry and civil society from all over the world in Brussels, offering them an arena to exchange ideas and discuss the latest emerging issues and trends. This unique multidisciplinary formula has served to make CPDP one of the leading data protection and privacy conferences in Europe and around the world. The theme of the 2022 conference is "data protection and privacy in transitional times".

Mozilla Festival
March, 2022
MozFest is a unique hybrid: part art, tech and society convening, part maker festival, and the premiere gathering for activists in diverse global movements fighting for a more humane digital world.

LIBER 2022
July 5-8 2022
Odense, Denmark
LIBER's annual conference brings library directors and their staff together for three days of networking and collaboration. Delegates mainly come from Europe but people from around the world are welcome, and we regularly welcome guests from countries including Australia, Canada and the United States. The goal of the conference is to identify the most pressing needs for research libraries, and to share information and ideas for addressing those needs.


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.

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.

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 August 21, 2021 11:10 PM.

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