March 2019 Monthly Report

Wed, 2019-04-17 18:04

In March, the Open Technology Fund continued reviewing and responding to the 121 concept notes received for the Internet Freedom Fund and Core Infrastructure Fund’s March 1 round, while accepting new submissions for the May 1 round. Also this month, OTF released an interactive dataset visualizing the more than 2,000 concept notes OTF has received for the Internet Freedom Fund and Core Infrastructure Fund between January 1, 2012 and September 1, 2018. The data can be filtered by criteria such as targeted geographic region, submissions vs. funded projects, and topical focus area, for example. You can read more about the project here or explore the data visualization here.

Notable accomplishments

  • Privacy and security enhancing open-source browser extension NoScript was officially released for Google Chrome. The release of NoScript version 10.6.1 for Chrome fulfills a longstanding demand to make the extension available on Chrome. NoScript increases user security by making JavaScript, Flash and other executable content run only from trusted domains of a person’s choosing or block them in their entirety. It is enabled by default in the Tor Browser and has over 1.5 million Firefox users, but the extension has not been available to Chrome users until now. If you’re using Chrome, you can add the NoScript extension to your browser via the Chrome Web Store here. Read more about the release in ZDNet here: NoScript extension officially released for Google Chrome
  • The Tor Metrics project completed work on a technical report explaining all the software behind the services that evaluate the functionality of technologies behind Tor. The report features a high level overview of the Tor Metrics software architecture, an overview of the software’s codebase, and a comparison between Tor’s data pipeline and that of censorship detection tool OONI. Next steps regarding how to improve the existing codebase are also included. Tor Metrics also presented their work at FOSDEM 2019; click here for a video and transcript of the talk, “Privacy-preserving monitoring of an anonymity network.”
  •’s App Store Censorship project made continued progress and improvements to their interactive site, which is designed to track censorship of Apple iOS applications across App Stores worldwide, documenting when and how apps are removed at government request in order to provide transparency. The tool now features detailed app pages with historic test data in a calendar view, which will allow visitors to more easily identify when apps are pulled by censors. Other new features include an app store overview page detailing how many and which apps are unavailable in different national app stores, sorted by average ranking, and listing the most common name for each app across different app stores and its average ranking, making it easier to determine when popularly used apps in a given category are the target of censorship. The tool, while under active development, can be accessed and used here:
  • Decentralized, encrypted messaging tool Briar released version 1.1.6, featuring support for using Tor in China without a VPN, various usability upgrades, and several bug fixes. Briar 1.1.6 was released in new translations including Azerbaijani, Macedonian and Ukrainian thanks to translations facilitated by Localization Lab. The full changelog can be viewed here.
  • DeltaChat, a unique server-less messenger tool that utilizes email provider infrastructure to enable the exchange of end-to-end encrypted messages, released their first user-testing report, informed by engagement with a dozen users from Ukrainian media and NGO groups. The testers provided feedback and feature requests to the DeltaChat team, who then formulated recommended changes to the platform. The full 23-page report provides a detailed look at the complexities and challenges that go into getting usability right given the varying demands and interpretations of various users. The full report can be accessed here.
  • The IODA (Internet Outage Detection and Analysis) tool was used to monitor power grid connectivity in Venezuela by Resilient Societies, an NGO focusing on the protection of critical national infrastructure like electric grids. Resilient Societies was effectively able to monitor broader grid connectivity with IODA’s macro-level Internet connectivity measurements serving as a useful indicator. Limiting grid connectivity is a techniques some governments have employed to shut down access to the Internet.
  • The Security Policy Generator project completed work on a research report, Securing Civil Society, analyzing security policies and their use in the Internet freedom community. The report explores topics such as best practices for organizational security policies in this space, common barriers to policy implementation, and how organizations without a policy in place work to manage their security. The report is informed by interviews with 16 individuals from 14 civil society organizations and will help to inform the creation of a free and easy-to-use tool for creating organizational security policies that are “relevant, clear and supportable.” Access the full report (pdf) here.
  • OpenAppStack (OAS) continued technical development of the OAS platform, which will allow civil society organizations to easily deploy and manage open source software groupware tools in a manner that helps make work flows more secure and reduces the likelihood of user error. The OAS team shared a pre-alpha version of the tool at InfraCon while gathering user feedback in the process. You can read more details in the full OpenAppStack March report here.
  • Several new projects are now under OTF support, including:
    • MassBrowser, a volunteer-driven censorship circumvention tool that leverages the power of users in uncensored locations to “buddy” with users in censored locations, allowing them to access sites that would otherwise be blocked. The free and open source tool is designed and developed by the Secure, Private Internet (SPIN) Research Group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. OTF support will focus on the development of a final release desktop version of MassBrowser, an Android version, setting up and deploying a performance measurement framework, usability improvements, and ultimate adoption by third party systems.
    • A project focusing on Strengthening Digital Security for Journalists and HRDs in Mexico is now under contract with OTF. Through OTF support, Tierra Comun, a worker-owned cooperative made up professionals with expertise in free technologies and digital security and training, will work with several human rights and media-focused organizations in Mexico operating under threat. For these organizations, Tierra Comun will conduct a diagnosis, provide technical support for online and physical technological assets, conduct digital security trainings, and help implement safety-oriented IT policies.
    • The PyPI Improvements project is now under contract with OTF. PyPI is the official software repository for the Python programming language. Many Internet freedom projects rely upon the third-party packages hosted on PyPi, and as a result, it is a high value target for bad actors who want to inject malware into popular applications that run on Python. Through this project, PyPi will look to improve both its security and outreach efforts, implementing security-enhancing mechanisms for PyPi users while also helping spread the use of of PyPi into new languages thorough localization efforts. You can read more about the project in this Python Software Foundation blog post.
  • As of March, Localization Lab 7000+ volunteers continued to translate 80+ projects into 200+ languages and dialects. In March, completion or progress was made on new translations of tools such as the Bypass Censorship website, Mailvelope, Onion Browser, OONI Probe, Briar, and the Tor Project website. The Lab also welcomed 29 new contributors supporting the translation of Internet freedom tools in languages such as Traditional Chinese, Hindi, Tamil, Hungarian, Nepali, Russian, French, Bahasa Indonesian, Amharic, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Persian & Portuguese (Brazil).
  • Usability Lab provider Simply Secure has released Design Spots, a series of short explainer videos focusing on answering common questions related to design, user research, or product management as a whole. Topics explored include high-risk user research, onboarding new users, and human-centered design. Check them out here.

Select news collected by OTF from the month of March 2019 – Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund or sign up to receive our daily newsletter.

Balochistan’s Great Internet Shutdown | The Diplomat
For Africa, Chinese-Built Internet Is Better Than No Internet at All | Foreign Policy
Google bans VPN ads in China | ZDNet
Maduro’s internet blackout stifles news of Venezuela crisis | Committee to Protect Journalists
Why China Silenced a Clickbait Queen in Its Battle for Information Control | New York Times
Under Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law, U.S. tech giants face stricter censorship | Washington Post
Russia’s Putin signs law banning fake news, insulting the state online | Reuters
In the Middle East, a booming market for spy technology | Yahoo! News
Google Is Still Working on China Search Engine, Employees Claim | The Intercept
Egypt: Activists, government critics hit by wave of digital attacks | Amnesty International

Projects Mentioned