2021 wrapped

It’s been a strange and difficult year. As it comes to a close, I wanted to share some 2021 highlights and thank everyone who has supported us.

1. We’re challenging the UK government’s use of “disappearing message” apps for official business.

Johnson Exploding Messages
Critical government business is being run on instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal. These apps include an auto-delete setting where messages disappear and become irretrievable.

The government has admitted they allow ministers and officials to set texts to delete. And once a text is gone – it’s gone. 

Crucial discussions at the heart of government, involving everyone up to Boris Johnson, are vanishing, for good. This avoids transparency and democratic accountability.

The Times revealed in December that the Downing Street Christmas party invitations were sent over WhatsApp – information that may need to be passed to the police for criminal investigations.

We partnered with The Citizens and launched a legal challenge to stop this. Last month we had confirmation that the courts will be hearing our case in March 2022 – so watch this space!

2. We paused the “NHS Data Grab”.

Sajid Javid
In May 2021 the government announced plans to seize all NHS GP patient data and pour it into one huge data lake – then make it available to private, for-profit companies. 

They also announced a ludicrous deadline for patients to opt-out – unless patients individually opted out by 1 Sept 2021 their data would be permanently transferred into the scheme.

We had serious concerns about this, particularly about the role of private companies in our GP data, the lack of protections for patient’s privacy and the ridiculous opt-out deadline. 

We teamed up with Just Treatment, the Doctors’ Association UK, the National Pensioners Convention, The Citizens, openDemocracy and David Davis MP and threatened legal action. 

By mid-July, we’d forced a huge climbdown. The plans were paused, the opt-out deadline scrapped and the government committed to taking “more time to speak with patients, doctors, health charities and others”.

We’ll need to keep an eye on whatever plans the government comes back with – but we successfully saw off the immediate threat.

3. No Palantir in our NHS.
No Palantir
Palantir is a US tech and security corporation with a terrible track record. Their chairman is a big supporter of Donald Trump. They help governments, intelligence agencies, and border forces around the world spy on innocent citizens and target minorities.

Palantir has had its eyes on our health data since at least 2019. Our work – supported by thousands of you – has been a thorn in Palantir’s side.

In April, our legal action alongside openDemocracy forced the government to consult the public before handing Palantir any long term role in the NHS. 

We then brought together over 50 organisations to launch the “No Palantir in the NHS” campaign.

In September Palantir were booted out of a government contract for social care data.

4. We supported Facebook moderators fighting for fair pay and safe workplaces.
“Facebook is one of the world’s richest companies yet Facebook asks us to risk our life, to come into work, and keep Facebook safe and profitable.” 

Paria, an outsourced Facebook content moderator working in Ireland
Foxglove has supported Facebook content moderators around the world in their fight for fair pay and safer working conditions. 

These workers have to watch hours of horrendous content – terrorism, child abuse, extreme racism – so that the rest of us don’t have to see it. 
This takes a terrible toll on their mental health, yet Facebook fails to provide them with proper support. Pay is low and Covid protections have been poor.

Foxglove helped set up a meeting between Facebook content moderators and Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, where moderators explained the ways Facebook needs to change things.

We’ve also provided support and solidarity to US-based content moderators who are farmed out to big outsourcing firms like Accenture. And we put a mobile ad billboard on the streets of Washington DC calling out the boss of Accenture for its unfair treatment of Facebook moderators.

5. We launched a legal challenge to a secret Department of Work and Pensions algorithm.
DWP secret algorithm
We supported the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People to launch a legal challenge to a highly secretive algorithm forcing disabled people into gruelling and invasive benefit fraud investigations.

Disabled people have described how they are living in “fear of the brown envelope” hitting their doormat, alerting them they’ve been pinpointed by the algorithm.  

Others just receive a phone call without explaining why they have been flagged. 

That kicks into action an automated system that forces targeted people to repeatedly explain why they need payments in an aggressive and humiliating process that can last up to a year.  

These investigations often result in people having their benefits cut off, taking away cash needed for essential needs like food, rent and energy. The government have failed to provide proper information about this algorithm to date. This case is ongoing and we will keep you updated as it progresses.

All of this work has only been possible thanks to our supporters. So a huge thank you for being part of it.

If you would like to help support our work in 2022, please consider supporting us financially. You can do so using the button below. Happy holidays!