Wendy M. Grossman: April 2021 Archives

News digest | Open Society Information Program | Week ending April 9, 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, EDRi, EFF, La Quadrature du Net, Open Rights Group, Privacy International, R3D.


Apple Rules Expose Extent of Google's Data Collection
New rules for Apple's app store requiring privacy labels identifying the categories of data apps collect have exposed the extent of Google's data collection via its Chrome web browser and standalone Search app, Thomas Claburn writes at The Register. At Forbes, Zak Doffman responds with a deeper analysis of Google's data collection and recommends that users should change away from Chrome. At Search Engine Land, George Nguyen finds that 65% of Google searches are zero-click - that is, end without a click to another web property - up from 50% in June 2019. The impact is uneven across industries, and businesses need to pay attention to the queries that affect them.

Russia Requires Pre-Installed Russian Software on All Smart Devices
A new law that came into effect on April 1 requires all Russian smartphones, computers, and other smart devices to come pre-installed with Russian apps such as search engines, maps, web browsers, and navigation software, Reuters reports. The intent is to strengthen internal control over the internet and reduce dependence on foreign sources.

Ethos Capital Seeks Controlling Stake in Domain System Operator Donuts
Ethos Capital, which was blocked from buying the non-profit that runs the .org generic top-level domain (gTLD) in 2019, is now buying a controlling stake in Donuts, the largest operator of new gTLDs including .charity, .community, .news, and .healthcare, Mitch Stoltz reports at EFF's blog. Donuts also runs the technical operations for .org, and EFF is asking the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which runs the domain name system, to demand changes to Donuts' registry contracts that will protect users' free speech rights. Kieren McCarthy reports at The Register that Nominet, the national registry for UK, is rejecting calls for serious change despite a membership vote that has cost it its CEO, chairman, and three board members. Nominet is under fire for ignoring its membership's desire that Nominet should remain a non-profit focused on its core registry and channel excess revenue into charitable ventures. The present board and senior management want to use the substantial revenues from .uk to enter commercial markets. At the Open Rights Group blog, executive director Jim Killock and Heather Burns report that ORG voted in favor of removing the CEO and others, and argue that Nominet should reform its structure to enhance transparency and accountability, and work on developing the UK internet by investing in human rights and open technologies.

Personal Data of 533 Million Facebook Users Posted Online for Free
The phone numbers and personal data of 533 million Facebook users from a 2019 breach have been made freely available on a "low-level hacking forum", opening the way for their use for impersonation and fraud, AJ Dellinger reports at Forbes. In a Twitter thread, CrackedLabs researcher Wolfie Christl examines the 1,573 apps and sites his account lists in "Off-Facebook Activity" and outlines the ways that Facebook continuously collects and analyzes our "value" to and behavioral data from the sites we visit. The biggest offenders in sending this type of data to Facebook are media sites; others include technology companies, recruitment sites, personal finance, food delivery, universities, government agencies, and even NGOs such as Amnesty International. In another Twitter thread, Ashkan Soltani notes that ACLU has just updated its privacy statement to admit that it shares constituent information with service providers - including Facebook.

Myanmar Shuts Down Wireless Broadband Access
On April 1 the Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications ordered internet service providers to suspend wireless broadband services, AccessNow reports. Because it's common in Asia for service providers to connect using wireless routers, the result is to disrupt all but the few broadband connections that use fiber optic and fixed cable. The move is the most recent in a series of escalations of censorship and surveillance since mid-February.

UK Plans Tests of Covid Passports
The UK is to conduct trials of covid passports using the football cup finals, the World Snooker Championship, a comedy club, and a cinema as venues, Michael Savage reports at the Guardian. At CNBC, Natasha Turak reported in January that Israel, which has been the fastest to vaccinate its entire population, will launch a "green booklet" covid vaccination certificate. In both cases, the certificate/passport will give qualified people exemptions from restrictions such as self-isolation. The UK version will also take into account negative tests and illness-derived immunity. In a blog posting, Privacy International explains the practical and logistical problems with such proposals. In a report, Big Brother Watch highlights the risks of covid passports, calling them "the end of liberty as we know it" in a blog posting. In an op-ed at the British Medical Journal, Stefan David Baral, Jean Olivier Twahirwa Rwema, and Nancy Phaswana-Mafuya warn that vaccine passports benefit the few at the expense of the many and argue that such policies need to be evaluated in the context of vaccine hoarding by richer countries. Also at the BMJ, Tasnime Osama and Mohammad S Razai say that we need more evidence about the long-term effectiveness of the different vaccines and warns of the potential for societal divide, exclusion, and coercive workplaces.


China Shapes Digital Infrastructure via Digital Silk Road
In this journal article at SSRN, Matthew S. Erie and Thomas Streinz analyze China's shaping of transnational data governance via the "Digital Silk Road", which supplies digital infrastructure to emerging markets. China's growing "Beijing Effect" influence over data governance beyond its borders is due to a combination of "push" and "pull" factors rather than digital authoritarianism. Legal frameworks are needed to steer digital transformation in beneficial directions, they conclude. At its blog, Citizen Lab has a video clip and transcript of the testimony of senior research associate Christopher Parsons to the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations regarding national security, governance, and trust with respect to Chinese companies and their technical products and services. Among Parson's recommendations are requirements that organizations providing critical infrastructure products include a "software bill of goods" that identifies technical dependencies, and that social media companies publish details of their content moderation practices and state-mandated surveillance and censorship that apply to their platforms. In a blog posting, R3D summarizes executive director Luis Fernando García's contribution to a recent seminar organized by UNESCO: instead of imposing censorship, governments should ensure that platforms' policies are consistent with human rights and adopt policies to break up the concentration of power.
(Spanish) https://r3d.mx/2021/03/17/regulacion-de-plataformas-digitales-debe-centrarse-en-politicas-consistentes-con-los-derechos-humanos/

European Commission Proposes Risk-Based Approach to AI Regulation
In this blog posting at EDRi, Access Now asks the European Commission to take a rights-based approach for its forthcoming regulation on AI. The risk-based approach outlined in the white paper, Access Now argues, is based on a misreading of GDPR, which is based on rights and making them operational. At Freedom to Tinker, Ed Felten introduces the AI Nation podcast series co-created by Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy and Philadelphia NPR station WHYY. The first episode outlines the current state of AI deployment; the second discusses automated vehicles and weapons. In a journal article, Marion Oswald outlines a three-pronged approach to ensuring trustworthy use of AI in UK policing. In a new report, the Alan Turing Institute maps the gender job gap in AI, finding gender disparities throughout education, careers, jobs, seniority, status, and skills. In a video clip at YouTube, the African American Policy Forum presents a discussion of the bias and diversity issues highlighted in the 2020 documentary Coded Bias, with Timnit Gebru, Joy Buolamwini, Cathy O'Neil, and Ruha Benjamin. Finally, at the Guardian, John Naughton cites them and many more in explaining why women are Silicon Valley's most insightful critics.

Combating Disinformation
In this report at the National Academy of Sciences, Nadia M. Brashier, ProfileGordon Pennycook, Adam J. Berinsky, and David G. Rand find that timing is crucial in making fact-checking effective and that placing the fact-check after social media headlines was the best of the options they tried. In a syllabus, the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) compiles essential readings and references in disinformation to counterbalance the dominant narrative that focuses on social media platforms and the 2016 election. The syllabus aims to incorporate the substantial pre-2016 literature on propaganda and persuasion, explore the role of legacy media, and highlight the role of intersectional power.

Technopolicing the EU Border
In this blog posting, La Quadrature du Net outlines the "technopolice" deployed at the borders of "fortress Europe", whose methods LQDN says are experimentally developed and tested under EU programs such as Horizon 2020 and then sold on to others. Among the projects LQDN highlights are the €8 million Roborder, a plan to use swarms of autonomous drones to patrol the border, and the "AI lie detctor" lborderCtrl, which claims to be capable of emotions analysis and has been tested in Greece, Hungary, and Latvia.

Democracy in a Digital Future
On this page the University of Iceland presents video clips of the two-day Democracy in a Digital Future conference, featuring talks from David Runciman, Shoshana Zuboff, and Mireille Hildebrandt, whose talk, "Is Democracy Computable?" warns that data-driven prediction risks freezing our future.

Palantir's Europe-wide Data Access
In this article at the Guardian, Daniel Howden, Apostolis Fotiadis, Ludek Stavinoha, and Ben Holst study Palantir's increasing access to sensitive health data across Europe on a wide scale. By offering free trials, the company has signed contracts with countries such as the UK and Greece without completing GDPR-mandated impact assessments. Privacy International told the Guardian that "improvement clauses" included in these contracts allow Palantir to use the collected data to improve its products; the company denies that it uses such data to train algorithms. Palantir's Foundry and Gotham products are also used by Europol, the Danish police and intelligence services, and the Netherlands' covid response.


*** 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.

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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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Wendy M. Grossman in April 2021.

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