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July 2022 Newsletter

OTF's July 2022 Newsletter

Contextualizing Internet Shutdowns

OTF ICFP Fellow Michael Collyer is developing a shutdown taxonomy and an open-source shutdown database to make it easier for future researchers to carry out analysis on internet shutdowns. Internet shutdowns have steadily become an increasingly popular form of digital repression, as governments continue their push for informational and social control. This research will help provide a more in-depth understanding of shutdowns and combined efforts across sectors. In additional to developing a taxonomy of internet shutdown types, Collyer will produce an interactive database focusing on identifying and contextualizing shutdown data and related information useful to analyze.

As part of his research, Collyer recently hosted a community workshop as part of the Internet Researchers' Conference (organized by the Center for Internet and Society), which greatly aided research into internet shutdowns throughout the pandemic and the nuances surrounding internet censorship during pandemic-related lockdowns. Collyer has also engaged with multiple international working groups on internet shutdowns.

Collyer's research is progressing steadily. The taxonomy, interactive database, and accompanying research paper is expected by the end of 2022.

An observatory for real-time monitoring and analysis of internet blackouts caused by censorship

IODA, the internet outage and detection analysis tool, is an operational prototype system that monitors the internet in near real-time to identify macroscopic internet outages. The tool allows users to further inspect disruptive events, providing tool developers with data to analyze network outages and improve their abilities to respond to such events.

Through OTF's Internet Freedom Fund, IODA aims to improve the capabilities of its network monitoring capabilities, and addresses the gaps, challenges, and priorities that have been identified through direct feedback from active users and through a multi-disciplinary community approach.

Recently, IODA engaged Mozilla for a comparative analysis between the two's respective datasets, offering better insight into network outages and an opportunity to incorporate Mozilla's telemetry data (i.e. remote collection and transmission of data from computers) into IODA's back-end, which will aid in its monitoring capabilities.

In addition to increasing its capabilities, IODA has also deployed Grafana, a multi-platform open-source analytics and visualization tool for researching current and historic data on internet outages. This new tool was implemented to better monitor internet outages in key hotspots. Concurrently, IODA has focused much of its recent internet outage monitoring on Ukraine and Venezuela, and continues to research outages in Russia at the national and local level. Detailed information on outages can be found through IODA's public dashboard.

OLIP: The Offline Internet Platform

The Offline Internet Platform (OLIP) is a content distribution platform suitable for low, censored, or scarce Internet connectivity areas. The platform is composed of two complementary layers: OLIP server, a free open-source software that allows anyone to turn a computer into a local content distribution platform, and the OLIP Marketplace, an online platform that enables users to publish, access, search, browse, and download multiple repositories of content.

OLIP acts as an "internet buffer" between connected- uncensored areas and unconnected-censored areas. Using the internet, anyone can download content from OLIP and install it on an OLIP server. Once installed, the content can be served through a local WiFi network to multiple users in areas where the Internet is heavily censored, or during periods of internet shutdowns. OLIP is especially suitable for the diffusion of "cold" content (i.e. encyclopedic knowledge, training tools, etc.).

In recent months, OLIP defined the service interface and started implementation in the system back-end, including finalizing the technical design and functional specification documents for the platform. OLIP is also testing the inclusion of the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), a protocol and peer-to-peer network for storing and sharing data-performance within its service to improve synchronization of the full offline platform.

While OLIP is still in its alpha stage, it is using OTF support for three main objectives:

(1) Opening the content marketplace to different organizations and allowing them to use OLIP to add their resources to the platform, which will make such content available in contexts where the internet is completely or partially censored.

(2) Create OLIP marketplace user documentation and developer documentation to ease adoption of the tool.

(3) Add a new transmission layer between OLIP server and OLIP marketplace to download digital resources that rely on IPFS.

Divvi Up - Recently on-boarded with OTF

Divvi Up is a privacy-respecting system for the collection of aggregate statistics such as application metrics. It takes a user-generated metric, from a mobile device, web browser, or other application, and divides the metric into two encrypted shares, which can be used to create a privacy-preserving aggregate statistic of users. Divvi Up was recently on-boarded as a new OTF project.

Divvi Up seeks to fundamentally improve how app owners collect and use individuals' data. It provides a way to understand metrics about a population of users without infringing upon the privacy of any individual user through the use of cryptography and multi-party computation.

In their first month, Divvi Up began the development of “Janus”, an experimental implementation of the Privacy Preserving Measurement (PPM) specification, which uses cryptographic algorithms and protocols to enable privacy-preserving properties. Concurrently, Divvi Up began work on an experimental client for end-user browsers.

Divvi Up is a project of ISRG, the nonprofit behind Let's Encrypt and Prossimo for Memory Safety.

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