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April 2017 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In April, 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 addressing internet censorship and surveillance threats in closed societies around the world that curtail the free flow of information. This month, OTF received a penultimate 68 concept notes for the May 1 round. Between concept notes and fellowship applications, OTF has received over 300 requests for support in the 2017 calendar year. Also of note, Congress passed the FY17 Appropriations Bill, including the internet freedom funds from which OTF’s programmatic funding derives. OTF detailed these developments in a blog post which you can read here.

Notable accomplishments

  • The OONI censorship detection mobile app, ooniprobe, released version 1.1.4 just ahead of Iran’s national elections. Raw data gathered from OONI Iran probes can be viewed here. During the month of April, ooniprobe was run 57,471 times from 1,535 different vantage points across 158 countries around the world. The updated app included integration of OONI’s HTTP Header Field Manipulation, support for Right-To-Left languages and translations for four additional languages (Arabic, Persian, Russian, and Greek). The app is now available in nine languages and is also on the F-Droid open source app distribution platform. Download ooniprobe for Android devices on Google Play or for iOS from the App Store.

  • Several new projects are now under contract with OTF, including NetBlocks (a platform for real-time monitoring of network controls), Mesh networking in Colombia (a Rapid Response project working with local civil society to create a mesh network allowing for secure digital practices in the field), Freedom from government intimidation in Belarus (increasing digital security capacity among at-risk Belarusian human rights defenders), the NoScript cross-browser project (expanding NoScript availability beyond Firefox to multiple web clients), and GlobaLeaks (improving usability of the secure submission platform).

  • ICFP fellow Grace Mutung’u continued her research into information controls in Kenya, sharing her work with relevant Kenyan civil society organizations and conducting further outreach connecting her work to broader discussions on internet shutdowns throughout Africa. To that end, Grace authored an article on the trend of internet shutdowns in Africa for Global Voices. Read “Fighting Fire With Fire: African Regional Body Proposes High Costs for Internet Shutdowns” here.

  • As part of his research into information controls in Ecuador, ICFP fellow Daniel Riofrio is collecting data on website accessibility and speed inside the country. Ecuadorian digital rights group Usurious Digitales is now using the data set on internet speed test measurements on their website to provide insight into how various ISPs perform in Ecuador.

  • The first alpha version of the new Serval Chat app, allowing for communication between mobile phones in the event of a network shutdown, was released for community testing.

  • The Tor Project released version 6.5.2 of the Tor Browser, including updates to Firefox, NoScript, HTTPS-Everywhere, and a fix to a glitch affecting Twitter use in Tor. Download the latest version of Tor here: https://www.torproject.org/download/download-easy.html

  • The Sub Saharan-Africa Cyber Regionalism and Elections project continued their work examining patterns of censorship in African countries hosting elections in 2017, including by deploying an OONI probe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (raw data here), soliciting feedback at the African Internet Freedom Forum, and prepping for Lesotho’s June 3rd elections.

  • The Rights Action Lab led digital security trainings around Lhakar Tech Week with multiple Tibetan civil society organizations in Dharamsala.

  • The F-Droid open source app distribution platform released version 0.103, which includes a complete user experience overhaul emphasizing a simple, friendly, and modern look and feel while also incorporating built-in censorship circumvention. F-Droid also released the first alpha of the new F-Droid Repomaker, a simple web tool for making and managing collections of apps and media, and delivering them to users via F-Droid repositories. You can try out the alpha demo here: http://repomaker.grobox.de/

  • The Localization Lab hosted their third annual Localization Summit and Sprint. The Summit focused on improving the localization experience by analyzing the project’s workflow, community development, outreach, and communications processes, while the Sprint utilized a “speed dating” style demo to encourage collaboration between the diverse group of translators and project owners in attendance. Persian, Hindi, Chinese, Russian, French, and Azeri translators participated alongside projects like GlobaLeaks, M-Lab, Chrome App, Peerio, Pootle, Psiphon, Tails, Tor Project, Umbrella App, LEAP, OpenKeychain, Qubes, and ooniprobe. Read a summary of the events here.

  • The Red Team Lab has recently wrapped-up 5 code audits for various privacy and circumvention software projects. They include Iranian media aggregator tool Toosheh, crowdsourcing data mapping tool Ushahidi, decentralized encrypted messaging tool Briar, Iran-focused ‘panic button’ app Tornaj, and email tool EasyCrypt. All the projects are currently patching their software after which the reports will be made public.

    Select news collected by OTF from the month of April 2017 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund
    Turkey Has Blocked Wikipedia and Is Censoring Twitter | Motherboard
    Russia tries to emulate Beijing’s model of information control | Committee to Protect Journalists
    Outspoken Maldives Blogger Who Challenged Radical Islamists Is Killed | New York Times
    Thai gov’t bans ‘any online communication’ with three Royal Family critics | Khao Sod English
    What happens when you try to send politically sensitive messages on WeChat | Quartz
    As Protests Escalate, Web TV and News Sites Are Censored in Venezuela | Global Voices Advocacy
    Vladimir Putin Defends China’s Internet Censorship | Newsweek
    Activists Need to Watch Out for Fake Encryption Keys | Motherboard
    The New York Times vs. the ‘Great Firewall’ of China | New York Times

Projects Mentioned