January 2017 Monthly Report

In January, the Open Technology Fund continued to both receive a large number of support requests and support a diverse portfolio of internet freedom projects and fellows. This month, several OTF projects released several new tools or updates for users, including a mobile censorship detection app, a secure messaging app, and an updated secure email platform, while also supporting two Rapid Response projects aimed at five countries in Africa.

Notable accomplishments

  • OTF’s Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP), which has produced extraordinarily impactful outputs over its first three rounds, is now accepting applications through its open call system for its next class of fellows. Applications will be accepted through March 19, 2017. Focusing on repressive internet censorship and surveillance, OTF welcomes applicants from a broad range of specializations and approaches. You can learn more about the application process and how to apply here.

  • Censorship detection research platform OONI released a new mobile app, ooniprobe, that allows anyone to detect internet censorship and surveillance on their network. This is particularly useful for journalists, activists, and others undertaking sensitive work in hostile regions because the app also analyzes the type of censorship at play in order to then advise the user on an appropriate circumvention method to evade the blockage. Ooniprobe is available for download for both Android and iOS devices.

  • The Journalists in Distress (JID) project completed work on their analysis of digital security practices employed by the JID network, a group of free expression organizations that operate emergency response programs to assist at-risk journalists and human rights defenders globally. The study found that journalists in distress tend not to adequately prioritize digital security, despite the risks involved for such groups. Read more about the study findings here.

  • OTF supported two Rapid Response projects focusing on internet censorship and circumvention in Africa: one on censorship detection research in The Gambia, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the other on raising awareness of censorship circumvention technologies among at-risk communities in Sudan, South Sudan, and the DRC. You can read about findings from The Gambia on the OONI blog here. The work, carried out by former ICFP fellow Arthur Gwagwa, will be summarized in its totality in a forthcoming blog post.

  • Chatsecure released version 4.0 of its secure messaging app, which features the mobile-friendly OMEMO Encryption protocol, an XMPP adaptation of the Open Whisper Systems-developed Signal Protocol. The release also features hundreds of other usability and privacy improvements. Learn more about this significant update on the ChatSecure blog here. ChatSecure is available for download on the iTunes app store.

  • FreeWeChat, which tracks censorship on the Chinese social media platform WeChat in real time by reposting deleted posts, was cited in a Reuters report on a recent high-profile censorship event in China in which scores of posts were deleted.

  • In response to Egyptian authorities blocking its messaging app Signal, Open Whisper Systems integrated expanded domain fronting capabilities into the app, allowing Signal users in Egypt and also the UAE to circumvent the ban and continue using Signal. Read more about this update on the OWS blog.


  • The Tor Project, under new contract with OTF, released Tor Browser version 6.5. In January Tor also released Tor Browser 7.0a1, the first (alpha) version of Tor to include the Snowflake pluggable transport, developed by ICFP fellow Serene Han.

  • The Tibet Action Institute is now under contract with OTF and has begun work on their project, “Collaborative responses to targeted attacks against the Tibetan community,” focusing on bolstering the digital security of three Tibetan civil society organizations and increasing their capacity to deter and handle urgent digital threats quickly and effectively.

  • K-9 Mail announced the release of K-9 Mail version 5.200, a major release that featured several notable privacy, security, and usability features, including support for PGP/MIME, user notification improvements, and translations into Farsi, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Serbian, and several other languages. You can read more about the update in this K-9 blog post. Download K-9 on the Google Play store here or from the F-Droid store here.

  • As of February 2017, the Internet Freedom Festival had to close down registration early due to popular demand. With 1,400+ registrations from 112 countries, we have reached capacity. This year’s event features 220+ sessions and workshops on the final schedule. Joining the human rights defenders, journalists, and other NGOs, the festival has attracted big technology companies as well. Facebook’s UX team is attending in the hopes of doing research to make their platform safer; the entire team of Google Ideas, now known as Jigsaw, will be attending; and Twitter will have various representatives present. Also, over 60 funders, many new to the Internet Freedom community, have registered to attend.

    Select news collected by OTF from the month of January 2017 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund
    How Cameroon pressured mobile operators to shut down the internet and stifle dissent | Quartz
    Mexico’s misinformation wars: How organized troll networks attack and harass journalists and activists in Mexico | Amnesty International
    Clearing Out the App Stores: Government Censorship Made Easier | New York Times
    Kenyans Fear a Possible Internet Shutdown During 2017 Presidential Election | Global Voices
    Russia Requires Apple and Google to Remove LinkedIn From Local App Stores | New York Times
    More African governments blocked the internet to silence dissent in 2016 | Quartz
    Apple Removes New York Times Apps From Its Store in China | New York Times
    Censorship reveals direct, likely illegal link between ISPs and Turkey’s government | Daily Dot