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January 2019 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. This month, OTF continued accepting applications for the Internet Freedom and Core Infrastructure Funds’ March 1 concept note round, while also accepting submissions for the Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP), with a final deadline of February 24, 2019.

Notable accomplishments

  • The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) published a report documenting social media blocks and Internet shutdowns in Zimbabwe amid protests over rising fuel prices. The report, co-published with local partner Digital Society of Zimbabwe (DSZ) and informed by data compiled through local, on the ground testing, shows that WhatsApp was blocked for the first known time in the country. Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube were also blocked, according to OONI data. Additionally, available OONI data - corroborated by findings from the OTF-supported Internet Outage and Detection and Analysis (IODA) project - suggests that the Internet was blocked entirely during two distinct periods.
  • OONI and the IODA project co-authored a blog post on disruptions to Internet connectivity in Gabon during an attempted coup. IODA monitors for shutdowns “affecting the edge of the network,” or large-scale events at a macroscopic level (i.e., a whole country), while OONI’s measurements are more local in scope. The report found that Internet access was disrupted in the country for 28 hours, affecting “around 75% of Gabon’s address space.”
  • DeltaChat, a unique server-less messenger tool that utilizes email provider infrastructure to enable the exchange of end-to-end encrypted messages, released two new versions this month: the new DeltaChat Desktop app and a new DeltaChat Android version 0.100. A summary of DeltaChat’s recent developments and releases can be found in this blog post. The new releases are available in six languages, thanks to translations provided through the Localization Lab. DeltaChat is currently available for download via F-Droid and the Google Play store (beta testing version) here.
  • Localization Lab, a volunteer-based network of translators facilitating the translation of Internet freedom tools from English into priority languages for at-risk online communities, published a report examining best practices for developers and localizers, highlighting the importance of effective communication and consistent, open collaboration between these groups throughout the localization process. The report includes how best to prepare for a localization sprint, conduct a sprint, and follow up after these concentrated translation sessions. Localization Lab also held AMA (“ask me anything”) sessions connecting developers from the Tor Project and Briar with localization contributors. In January, the Lab’s volunteer contributors translated a total of 112,072 words, edited 70,053 words, and reviewed 62,067 words across all projects in the Lab’s Transifex hub.
  • Usability Lab service provider OKThanks is currently beginning work on a new project focusing on “Overcoming Inauthentic Clones,” addressing the problem of phony versions of popular apps - an especially prevalent issue affecting popular circumvention tools, social media, and VPNs. These fake apps can harm users, as they may be state-sponsored, malicious honeypots or at the very least, give users a false sense of security and subpar user experience. OKThanks will work closely with Psiphon to 1) understand why individuals use inauthentic versions of apps and 2) “generate solutions that help official app teams overcome this challenge.” Read more about the project in this OKThanks blog post introducing the project.
  • Anti-censorship software tool CGIProxy released version 2.2.4, featuring updates for support of technical standards that improve compatibility with websites accessed while using CGIProxy and some usability improvements as well. CGIProxy is available for download here.
  • Privacy and security enhancing open-source browser extension NoScript published the Chromium branch of the tool’s public source repository, which allows anybody to utilize the published code and experiment with the NoScript 10.5 experimental pre-release on Chrom(ium/e). A full, stable release is planned for March.
  • Several new projects are now under OTF support, including:
    • A new project by GreatFire.org focusing on tracking censorship on Apple’s App Store. Through this project, GreatFire will develop a tool that monitors the removal of apps from the App Store and will allow for users to easily compare the availability of a given app in a specific country, thereby providing evidence of possible censorship. The project follows on Apple’s November 2017 disclosure that the company removed 674 VPN apps from the China App Store. An initial public beta for the tool can be accessed here.
    • The Claims and Memes Database (CMDb), a programmer accessible repository of fact-checked claims and debunked visual misinformation from Internet repressive countries. In such places, disinformation and social network manipulation have become key censorship strategies; CMDd will work to raise awareness of such practices and assist in countering them by enabling human rights investigators and journalists to parse and query the connections between newsmakers, assertions, memes, and events in the world.
    • Onions on Apples, a project that will focus on expanding the development of Onion Browser - the only open-source, privacy-enhancing, Tor-enabled browser - for iOS.
    • The Fake Antenna Detection Project, a project aiming to develop the strategy proposed by the University of Washington SeaGlass program to detect the use of IMSI-Catchers through a standardized methodology. The focus will be on utilizing the SeaGlass methodology in three Latin American cities, with a goal of promoting use of SeaGlass, including the technical tools relied upon to gather data and the data itself, democratizing the use of SeaGlass so it is useful for local free speech organizations and/or independent media outlets in repressive contexts.
    • The Ukraine Censorship Monitoring project, which will focus on monitoring Internet censorship throughout Ukraine, including the annexed Crimean peninsula and occupied Donbas region - where censorship and scrutiny of free expression have increased markedly amid an ongoing conflict with Russia.
    • CertBot, a tool built by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to help encrypt the Internet by installing SSL/TLS certificates for free and increasing adoption of the HTTPS protocol. This contract will focus on expanding Certbot to support Windows-based servers and to build a better distribution system for Certbot.

Projects Mentioned