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January 2018 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In January, the Open Technology Fund continued to both receive a large number of support requests and to support a diverse portfolio of internet freedom projects and fellows addressing internet censorship and surveillance threats in closed societies around the world where the free flow of information is curtailed. During the past month, OTF began reviewing and responding to the 150+ concept notes submitted for the January 1 round, which in total requested almost $30 million in support. OTF also opened the application window for its fifth cohort of Information Controls fellows, following on the success built during rounds one, two, three, and four. Application are due March 25th.

Notable accomplishments

  • In January, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) released a new version (1.3.0) of its mobile censorship detection app OONI Probe, adding support for running tests to measure the blocking of WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook Messenger, thanks to the contributions of Joe Landers. The app was run more than 425,000 times from more than 5,600 different vantage points across 212 countries around the world - an increase of more than 140,000 runs and 1,000 vantage points compared to the month prior. OONI also established new partnerships with Tuwindi Foundation (Mali) and Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Venezuela), joining OONI’s other recently established partners in Egypt, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe. These partnerships enable the collaborative, stable collection of network measurements from local, in-country vantage points, while also allowing for censorship test lists to be better maintained while more accurately reflecting local censorship threats.

  • The Computer Incident Response Center Luxembourg (CIRCL) completed their OTF-contracted work on CIRCLean/KittenGroomer, an independent hardware solution that enables the safe and secure transfer of materials from a USB flash drive, offering a viable counter against the spread of malware during USB data transfer - one of the most common ways to transfer information in many repressive countries. A new version of USB key sanitizer was released by CIRCL through OTF support, adding easy to follow visual documentation for users, increased security, bug fixes, and fully published documentation for developers (see the GitHub repos for PyCIRCLean and CIRCLean here and here). Find more information and guidance on usage here.

  • The Sub-Saharan Africa Cyber Regionalism and Elections project completed their work examining patterns of censorship in African countries during elections, with Arthur Angola releasing a report detailing how Angola is becoming an emerging battleground state for digital rights. The report focused on analyzing potential censorship leading up to and during Angola’s August 2017 legislative elections. While Gwagwa did not find evidence of internet censorship in the country during this time, he found through a mixed approach incorporating both technical measurements and qualitative research components, that the country’s repressive offline media and free expression environment is increasingly reflected online. Read more about the report here.

  • The Operator Foundation is now under contract with OTF for Adversary Lab, a new real-time analysis engine that will analyzing captured network traffic to extract statistical properties and determine their ability to evade censors. The Operator Foundation brings with them experience and expertise in circumventing network filtering using network protocol obfuscation techniques and building Pluggable Transport technologies.

  • Digital Integrity fellow Stephane Labarthe established a formal partnership between his host organization, the civil society and digital rights-focused Karisma, and censorship detection platform OONI to collect measurements, contribute to test lists, and share research findings on censorship in Colombia - bolstering both OONI’s global testing platform and Karisma’s capacity to share their regional expertise and insight.

  • Localization Lab facilitated the translation of the OONI Probe mobile app into Traditional Chinese, Hindi, and German, while also making a new release of Umbrella, a digital security app geared towards journalists, available for users in Traditional Chinese and Spanish - a notable feat as the application contains roughly 231,000 words and all translations are conducted by volunteer contributors.

  • OTF is preparing to co-host the 2018 Internet Freedom Festival (IFF), to be held March 5-9 in Valencia, Spain. Serving as the premiere gathering for the global internet freedom community, the 2018 IFF is already sold out and will boast its most diverse instance yet. This year, IFF has 125 countries represented, 53% of attendees are women or gender non conforming, and 56% are from the Global South. You can check out the schedule in advance here.

    Select news collected by OTF from the month of January 2018 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund or sign up to receive our daily newsletter

    ‘Me Too,’ Chinese Women Say. Not So Fast, Say the Censors. | New York Times
    Spying on a Budget: Inside a Phishing Operation with Targets in the Tibetan Community | Citizen Lab
    China directs users to approved VPNs as firewall tightens | Channel News Asia
    How Psiphon Is Helping Iranians Beat Tehran’s Internet Censorship | Motherboard
    Want to Avoid Malware on Your Android Phone? Try the F-Droid App Store | Wired
    DR Congo shuts down internet, SMS amid bloody anti-government protests | Quartz
    Vietnam unveils 10,000-strong cyber unit to combat ‘wrong views’ | Reuters
    Iranian Authorities Block Access to Social Media Tools | New York Times

Projects Mentioned