News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending August 27, 2021

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending August 27, 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, Citizen Lab, EFF, Fundación Karisma, Privacy International, R3D, and Ranking Digital Rights.


China Passes Personal Information Protection Law
China has passed the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), one of the world's strictest data protection laws, due to take effect on November 1, Josh Horwitz reports at Reuters. The law arrives following a series of government-backed complaints about technology companies' treatment of user privacy.

Facebook Publishes "Widely Viewed Content Report"
Facebook has published the first quarterly "Widely Viewed Content Report, Will Oremus reports at the Washington Post. Oremus notes that while independent studies have typically found the top performers are primarily right-wing and conservative political personalities, Facebook's report finds that the recent most-viewed links include a Wisconsin company for Green Bay Packers fans and the online storefront of CBD seller Pure Hemp. A Facebook employee describes the report as an effort to counter the independent research, whose work Facebook has recently blocked. At his blog, Ethan Zuckerman distinguishes between reach (which Facebook's report covers) and engagement (which it doesn't) and finds that the report fails to share enough data to draw any meaningful conclusions, calling it "transparency theater". Zuckerman believes researchers need to stop waiting for the platforms to supply data and develop ways to generate their own. At the New York Times, Davey Alba and Ryan Mac reveal the contents of a report Facebook prepared for the first three months of 2021 but never published because executives thought it would make the company look bad. At Bloomberg, David McLaughlin reports that the US Federal Trade Commission has refiled its antitrust case asking the federal court to unwind Facebook's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.

Biometric Databases Place Afghans at Risk in New Regime
Afghans are scrambling to delete their digital histories, fearing that those histories and the country's biometric databases and digital IDs can be used to track and target them, Rina Chandran reports at Reuters. The Human Rights First group warns that the Taliban likely now has access to these databases. At its blog, Privacy International describes the data-intensive systems that have been built over the last 20 years by both Afghan and foreign actors, and highlights the risks as they fall into the hands of new entities. These include the national ID system, biometric voter registrations, the biometric counter-terrorism database, the security and intelligence infrastructure, and, less formally, social media photos and other data.

Investigation Finds Flaws in Shotspotter's AI-Backed Evidentiary Software
A review of thousands of internal documents, emails, presentations, and contracts, along with interviews of public defenders, has exposed serious flaws in using gunshot detection company ShotSpotter's technology for evidentiary support, Garance Burke, Martha Mendoza, Juliet Linderman, and Michael Tarm report at APNews. They profile a recently-dismissed case against an Illinois resident, who was arrested for murder and held for a year on the basis of a silent security video coupled with the sound of gunshots collected by ShotSpotter's pervasive network of microphones. ShotSpotter's proprietary algorithms are its primary selling point, but the investigators found that employees can and do change the source, location, and number of shots.

US Senators Object to TikTok Biometrics Collection
US senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) have sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shoul Zi Chew expressing alarm over changes to the app's privacy policy that allow the company to "automatically collect biometric data, including certain physical and behavioral characteristics from video content posted by its users," Carly Page reports at TechCrunch. Earlier in 2021, TikTok paid $92 million to settle a class action lawsuit over collecting users' biometric data and sharing it with third parties.

California Court Rules Gig Worker Exemption Unconstitutional
California's Alameda County Superior Court has ruled that the state's 2020 ballot measure (California Proposition 22) exempting ride-share and food delivery drivers from state labor law and classified them as independent contractors is unconstitutional, Kanishka Singh reports at Reuters. The Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Coalition, which represents Uber, Lyft, and Door Dash, among many others, says it will appeal.


Distributed Denial of Secrets Publishes Something to Offend Everyone
In this article at New Republic, Jacob Silverman profiles Distributed Denial of Secrets, a Wikileaks-like transparency collective of unusual collaborative discipline, technical sophistication, and array of sources. DDoSecrets has published a 32TB archive of posts and videos from the January 6 Capitol insurrection as a shareable archive used in Congressional hearings, as well as maps of the Myanmar junta's business dealings, the Russian government's plans in Ukraine, and even internal messages from Wikileaks.

Researchers Deemed Apple-style Backdoored Encryption "Too Dangerous"
In this article at the Washington Post, Princeton researchers Jonathan Mayer and Anunay Kulshreshta reveal that two years ago they built a system like the new one Apple has announced for scanning end-to-end encrypted systems for child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Their peer-reviewed paper concluded that the technology is dangerous because it is easily repurposed for surveillance and censorship, and false positives can be gamed to implicate innocent users. They had planned to discuss potential paths for mitigating the dangers at a conference this month, but were preempted by Apple's announcement, which they find puzzling in its lack of response to questions about potential misuse. At its blog, Joe Mullin reports that EFF has joined a coalition of more than 90 organizations, which include R3D, Ranking Digital Rights, Privacy International, Fundación Karisma, and Access Now, in sending a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook urging him to halt the plan. At Citizen Lab, Jeffrey Knockel and Lotus Ruan study the censorship Apple applies to custom product engravings across six regions and finds the company does not fully understand what it censors.

The New Field of Machine Unlearning
In this article at Wired, Tom Simonite profiles research into machine unlearning - that is, methods for removing all traces of a person or data point from a machine learning system without affecting its performance. The goal is not only to preserve privacy and comply with data protection legislation but also to be able to modify these systems without having to rebuild them from scratch, as now.

Moral Outrage as Social Media Amplifier
In this episode of In Lieu of Fun, Kate Klonick and Ben Wittes host Yale researcher Molly Crockett, who discusses her lab's latest study of moral outrage and its role as an amplifier on social media. Crockett, who studies the psychology of online interaction and how people and algorithms interact to police others' postings, has built a tool to measure the scale of shaming via social networks. At ZDNet, Wendy M. Grossman reviews Charles Arthur's new book, Social Warming, which compares the increasingly high external costs of abuse on social media to climate change. "No one intended this to happen," he writes. Crockett's work is among the research he discusses. At the Guardian, John Naughton reviews the new book An Ugly Truth by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, which studies Facebook's internal debates in the face of the last four years of public complaints about the company's content moderation. The book exposes the frustration of many Facebook employees with the company's relentless drive for profits and CEO Mark Zuckerberg's total control.

IMF Proposes Analyzing Web Records for Credit Scoring
In this blog posting at the International Monetary Fund, Arnoud Boot, Peter Hoffmann, Luc Laeven, and Lev Ratnovski argue that AI and machine learning analysis of alternative sources of information, such as individuals' computer hardware, browser type, and web search and purchase histories, could replace traditional "hard information" used in credit scoring. The authors believe that the switch could not only enable financial inclusion for informal workers, rural residents, and unbanked people but improve upon traditional methods.

Governments and Social Media Fail at Online Participatory Democracy
In this podcast episode, Red Pages hosts Justin and Gord welcome Civic Hall founder Micah Sifry to discuss the state of online tools for participatory democracy, the gamification of politics and the strengths and weaknesses of democratic platforms. Governments, he argues, see online delivery as a luxury, not a necessity. Despite some successful experiments in mass engagement around the world, long-term sustainability is difficult because it requires commitment. Many tools are also not designed to scale, leading many to defect back to the easier option of representative democracy. None of the big social media platforms have seen building tools to support online democracy efforts as an opportunity.


*** 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


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".

Enigma 2022
February 1-3, 2022
Santa Clara, CA, USA
Enigma centers on a single track of engaging talks covering a wide range of topics in security and privacy. Our goal is to clearly explain emerging threats and defenses in the growing intersection of society and technology, and to foster an intelligent and informed conversation within the community and the world.

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.

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 August 27, 2021 8:06 PM.

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