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November 2017 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In November, 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 hosted its annual Summit in Valencia, Spain from November 14-17, convening projects, fellows and Advisory Council members in the OTF community to foster collaboration, strengthen communal ties, and advance awareness around new and existing internet freedom challenges, priorities and efforts. OTF this month also opened the application window for its third Digital Integrity Fellowship Program (DIFP) cohort, with the deadline set for December 30th.

Notable accomplishments

  • The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)’s mobile app OONIProbe was run 184,800 times from 3,544 different vantage points across 202 different countries around the world. OONIprobe allows any user to runs connectivity tests to determine whether websites are being blocked and assess network performance, and is available for both iOS and Android devices (and via F-Droid here). OONI publishes these measurement statistics on their website here.

  • Through the Localization Lab, secure submission platform SecureDrop had its first multilingual release, making the tool available in Arabic, Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Norwegian (Bokmål), and Portuguese (Brazil). Also this month, Localization Lab held a sprint in Southeast Asia which resulted in the translation of secure messaging app Signal for both iOS and Android into Burmese, Bahasa Indonesian, and Khmer. Additionally, the Lab published its technology terminology glossaries in several languages via the Lab’s wiki, with the goal of standardizing technical terms in use across languages and cultures.

  • In response to an emerging censorship event in Pakistan, NetBlocks worked with local NGO Digital Rights Foundation to evaluate the scope and breadth of the restrictions in near real time, using web probes to collect a diverse set of samples on short notice while keeping local activists and contributors safe. The NetBlocks assessment found that the block in its early stages was implemented nationwide and included social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Read the NetBlocks report here or access their data (CSV) here.

  • OONI released an in-depth report outlining the Pakistan internet shutdown, where authorities blocked access to 14 news websites, social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, while also cutting off access to instant messaging apps WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. The shutdown was conducted following widespread Islamist protests calling for the removal of the country’s Federal Law Minister over his failure to include a reference to the Prophet Muhammad in a proposed law. OONI data found DNS blocking to be the technical means utilized to carry out the censorship. Read the full report here.

  • Certbot, an automated tool that makes it easier to deploy HTTPS on websites and increase their security by granting a Let’s Encrypt certificate, released version 0.20 of the Certbot Apache plugin on November 6th, featuring various improvements for reliability and configuration management for multiple Linux operating system distributions - most notably including CentOS, RHEL, Fedora, Gentoo Linux and OpenSUSE.

  • Net Alert, a project investigating and raising awareness around targeted digital attacks against at-risk populations, released “Secure Your Chats!”, a visually friendly explainer on how to safely use secure, encrypted communication tools. The resource is available in English, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Arabic, French, and Spanish.

  • ICFP fellow Simone Basso started work on their fellowship project focused on advancing MeasurementKit, the engine underneath censorship detection tool OONI-Probe’s mobile testing platform and the Measurement Lab performance testing platform, which generate millions of data points each year. It is currently being integrated into OONI’s desktop testing platform, creating a streamlined approach to future maintenance and upkeep. As a result, Simone will take on a variety of tasks to increase measurement capability and flexibility, platform availability and third party integrations. New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute will be hosting Simone for the duration of the project.

  • ICFP fellow Ksenia Ermoshina began working with host organization Citizen Lab on her project analyzing informational controls, surveillance and circumvention tactics in the region of Crimea in the post-2014 period. Ksenia will employ a hybrid methodology combining network measurements, science and technology studies, and a qualitative ethnographic approach to assess the various internet disruptions that have occurred on the peninsula since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014.

  • Following the OTF summit in Valencia, Spain, DIFP Fellows Poncelet Ileleji, Bex Hurwitz, and Stephane Labarthe provided feedback to internet freedom technology projects, based on their work to improve the digital security practices of front-line organizations in the Gambia, East Asia, and Colombia. These projects include Signal, Tails, OONI and Tor Project.


    Select news collected by OTF from the month of November 2017 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund or sign up to receive our daily newsletter

    Russia’s Security Council tells the government to develop a separate Internet for the BRICS | Meduza
    Cameroon has restricted internet access for more than 150 days in 2017 | Quartz
    How Russia Polices Yandex, Its Most Popular Search Engine | Motherboard
    Apple drops hundreds of VPN apps at Beijing’s request | Financial Times
    Skype Vanishes From App Stores in China, Including Apple’s | New York Times
    Secular blogger arrested in crackdown on free expression in Egypt | The Telegraph
    Russia’s anti-VPN law comes into effect | The Register
    What you can’t say about the 19th National Communist Party Congress on WeChat | Citizen Lab

Projects Mentioned