News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending Sept. 24, 2021

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News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending Sept. 24, 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. This is the last edition of the digest, which ceases publication at the end of September 2021. Among Open Society Information Program grantees that publish newsletters covering a similar range of topics are: Access Now, EDRi, EFF, Mozilla Foundation, Privacy International.

Current and former grantees featured in this issue: Citizen Lab, Creative Commons, Mozilla Foundation.


Leaked Documents Show Facebook Knows Its Flaws and Doesn't Care
Internal documents show that Facebook ignores its own research showing that its platform's many flaws cause harm, Jeff Horwitz and other Wall Street Journal reporters find in an ongoing series of articles. In the five articles to date: 1) although Facebook claims its rules apply equally to all users, behind the scenes a long list of exempt celebrities and politicians are free to abuse the platform. 2) Facebook knows Instagram is toxic for many of the teenage girls who use it. 3) CEO Mark Zuckerberg resisted fixes  when staff reported that the 2018 changes to Facebook's algorithm, intended to encourage interaction between users, made the platform angrier. 4) The company ignored warnings about the platform's use by drug cartels and human traffickers in developing countries, as well as organ sales, pornography, and government repression. 5) Although Facebook as a company promotes covid vaccines, activists use Facebook's tools to spread conspiracy theories and doubt about both the vaccines and the pandemic itself. At Facebook's blog, Nick Clegg says the stories contain "deliberate mischaracterizations of what we are trying to do". In a Guardian comment, Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of Anti-Social Media, sees little hope of reform: "The problem with Facebook is Facebook." At Techonomy, David Kirkpatrick highlights that 90% of Facebook users are outside the US, but only 13% of its content moderation is focused there; the company's sole concerns are growing its user base and avoiding bad PR in the US. Facebook's ultimate problem, he argues, is Zuckerberg's total control. Finally, at the New York Times, Ryan Mac and Sheera Frankel write that Zuckerberg has greenlit plans for Project Amplify, which will use the site's newsfeed to promote positive stories about Facebook.

Australia Gives Police Power to Take Over and Modify Social Media Accounts
Australia's Federal Police force may take over the accounts of selected social media users and delete or modify content they've posted, Simon Sharwood reports at The Register. The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2021 is intended to help investigators act against users of encrypted services and creates three new types of warrants: account takeover, data disruption, and network activity. Law enforcement can compel sysadmins to help them via assistance orders. The AFP has said it will be "relentless in using the law and its powers to remove child sex abuse material and unlawful content from the dark web and other forums". At QRCodeExpress, John Montaglio reports that Australian police are also seeking access to the data collected via the QR codes used in compulsory contact tracing to solve unrelated crimes.

Google Provides User Data to Hong Kong Authorities
In 2020 Google provided some user data in response to three of 43 requests from the Hong Kong government despite having previously promised not to do so, Selina Cheng reports at the Hong Kong Free Press. Google said that two of the requests related to human trafficking and were accompanied by search warrants signed by a magistrate, and; the third was an emergency disclosure involving a threat to someone's life. None of Google's responses included users' content data. Google, along with other US technology companies, said soon after the June 2020 passage of the new Hong Kong security law that it would only respond to requests made through the US Department of Justice under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. The Washington Post reports that Google, along with Apple, has deleted an opposition voting app from its online store in response to pressure from Russian president Vladimir Putin's censorship office as the polls opened for the country's parliamentary elections.

Big Brands Advertise on Covid Misinformation Sites
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has discovered that dozens of big brands including Nike, Amazon, Ted Baker, and Asos, as well as an NHS service, are advertising on websites that spread covid misinformation and conspiracy theories, Rob Davies and Jasper Jackson report at the Observer. The ads are being placed through a complex network of technology companies, including Google, that match advertising space to data about individuals. Because of the opacity of the system, the organizations may be unaware of where their ads appear.

Brazilian Court Cancels Rules Barring Social Media from Removing Content
The Brazilian Senate and Supreme Court have struck down rules issued by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro that would have temporarily banned social media companies from removing many types of content, Jack Nicas reports at the New York Times. In an earlier story, Nicas explained that the law would only allow networks to remove nudity, drugs, violence, and incitement to crime, including copyright violation. Companies would have been required to get a court order to remove covid misinformation or Bolsonaro's own claim that the only way he'll lose the upcoming 2022 elections is if the vote is rigged.

Britain Adopts "Influence Government" Based on Sensitive Data
National and local governments in Britain are placing targeted ads based on sensitive personal data on search engines and social media in order to influence the population's behavior, Alex Hern reports at the Guardian. Researchers at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research have found examples ranging from schemes intended to divert young people away from becoming online fraudsters to fire safety tips explaining how to light candles. Many of the campaigns are outsourced to third-party marketing agencies.


Inside the Gates Foundation
In this article, The Economist studies the operations of the $50 billion Gates Foundation, which in 2019 paid out $4.1 billion in grants, 11 times the next-largest private American development foundation. The article goes on to consider the co-founders' contrasting strategies. Co-founder Bill Gates tends to prefer data-driven ways of doing good that are quantifiable because they use technological solutions, while co-founder Melinda French Gates argues that quantifiable methods cannot by themselves solve complex problems like poverty.

Lucrative Disinformation Campaigns Target Kenya
In this blog posting, the Mozilla Foundation introduces a new report that outlines malicious, coordinated, and inauthentic attacks on Twitter that are undermining Kenyan civil society. Among the report's findings: disinformation campaigns are lucrative for influencers; Twitter's trending algorithm amplifies the campaigns; and the campaigns are increasingly targeting individuals. After the report's release, Twitter responded by deleting over 100 accounts in violation of its policies who were operating in Kenya. At Wired, Noam Cohen profiles Ksenia Coffman, whose inclination to bold editing to remove misinformation, particularly about Nazi history, has led other editors to call her "unencyclopedic". At Slate, Stephen Harrison reviews Wikipedia's twenty-year history of combating misinformation.

Eight Recommendations for Open Research
In this article at Times Higher Education, Robert Darby argues that open research practices improve the quality and integrity of research, increase protection against fraud, and enhance public trust. He goes on to make eight recommendations for changing universities' culture, including reforming incentives, creating open research award competitions, and joining or establishing a national reproducibility network.

Theranos Trial Tests the Limits of Silicon Valley
In this podcast series, John Carreyrou examines the evidence presented at the in-progress trial against Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos. Carreyrou's original reporting for the Wall Street Journal exposed the fraud at the heart of the company, which claimed to be able to conduct myriad tests on tiny samples of blood collected from a finger prick. Carreyrou contends that the case is important in ensuring that future companies do not copy Theranos in applying the "fake it till you make it" ethos of Silicon Valley software developers to medical devices.

NSO Group Uses Zero-Click, Zero Day Vulnerability to Attack Apple Devices
In this video clip from Democracy Now, director Ron Deibert discusses Citizen Lab's latest discovery, a zero-click, zero-day vulnerability in the image rendering library used in Apple's iMessage that NSO Group has used to take over targets' iOS, WatchOS, and MacOS devices. In response, Apple issued a patch for all 1.65 billion-plus of its products. Citizen Lab believes the abuse, called FORCEDENTRY, has been active at least since February 2021. Deibert warns that what NSO Group is offering is "despotism as a service" that enables "transnational repression".

Privacy Law Reshapes the Web
In this article at the New York Times, Brian X. Chen outlines the privacy law-driven shift away from personal data-driven advertising that is reshaping the web. In response to moves by Apple, Google, and Facebook to limit their dependence on personal data, media publishers, app developers, and online retailers are considering how to revamp their business models. Many are turning to subscription fees and other charges, or raising prices.

Paywalling Scientific Research Holds Back Progress on Climate Change
In this article at The Scotsman, Catherine Stihler, CEO of Creative Commons, welcomes the approaching COP26 meeting, which will be held in Glasgow, and argues that locking scientific research behind paywalls is holding back progress on climate change. Open data and open science enabled developing COVID vaccines at speed, and can do the same for the climate crisis - if we let it. Creative Commons intends to launch new ventures to remove unnecessary barriers.


*** 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. ***


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.

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?

Privacy Symposium Africa
November 3-5, 2021
Online from Kampala, Uganda
Privacy Symposium Africa is a unique platform established to attract, present, and discuss original research results, policy, and technology developments related to personal data protection and privacy, aiming at promoting discussions, collaboration, and knowledge exchange on data protection and privacy.

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 October 9, 2021 3:48 PM.

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