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October 2018 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In October, the Open Technology Fund continued to receive a large number of support requests while also supporting a diverse portfolio of Internet freedom projects and fellows addressing online censorship and surveillance threats in closed societies around the world. This month, OTF held its annual Summit, a two-day conference held this year in Taipei, Taiwan, offering OTF’s supported projects and fellows the opportunity to meet, discuss their work, assess Internet Freedom priorities and challenges and foster new avenues of collaboration. (A formal report summarizing the event is forthcoming.) Also this month, OTF’s November 1 application round closed, with OTF receiving 150 concept notes in total. The OTF team is now reviewing those submissions. The November 1 round also marks the last round in calendar year 2018, during which OTF received over 1,000 concept notes for the first time in program history.

Notable Accomplishments

  • DNS Privacy’s Sara Dickinson presented their work focused on additional benchmarking of DNS servers using TCP/TLS to the DNS working group at RIPE 77, a multistakeholder gathering of ISPs and others interested in coordinating technical internet developments. That can be found here https://ripe77.ripe.net/programme/meeting-plan/dns-wg/#dns2. Also at RIPE, Dickinson gave a talk on DNS encryption, its recent evolution, and the current status of new Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards supporting encrypted DNS resolution via DNS-over-TLS and DNS-over-HTTPS. That talk and accompanying slides can be found here: https://ripe77.ripe.net/archives/video/333/
  • Secure submission platform GlobaLeaks completed their OTF-supported work focusing on integrating multitenancy support and profile support into the platform, among other technical updates. By integrating multitenancy support, a single GlobaLeaks instance can now support multiple sites, enabling the tool to scale in a more widespread, sustainable way, while by supporting profile definitions the platform can be more easily customized by users.
  • Real-time internet interference monitoring took NetBlocks completed their OTF-supported work, taking the platform from public launch to improved functionality and increasing adoption, with NetBlocks web probes running hundreds of thousands of measurements from thousands of vantage points each month. Since April 2017, when NetBlocks first started full global measurement, the group has produced a dozen reports documenting shutdowns (including in Iran, Pakistan, Nicaragua, and Cameroon, among others) while also open sourcing the individual technical components that the platform runs on to foster community adoption.
  • In October, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) released a report examining Uganda's social media tax through the analysis of network measurements. OONI’s research found that Ugandan ISPs are blocking social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp for non-paying citizens primarily through TCP/IP blocking while also blocking access to the sites of several circumvention tools. Read the full report, produced in collaboration with local CSO DefendDefenders, here. Also this month, OONI’s censorship detection app, OONI Probe, was run 391,014 times from 5,062 different vantage points in 214 countries around the world.
  • Ionosphere completed development of a ‘chatbot’ for the Signal messaging network, via a standalone JavaScript library. This will allow for the automated sending and receiving of dynamic and interactive content through Signal messages, a capability that people use regularly with WeChat, WhatsApp, Line, and other popular messaging platforms. This tool can be integrated as a more secure and more engaging medium for journalists, civil society organizations, and other human rights defenders. Ionosphere released several related open-source repositories that collectively give civil society a functional, extensible chatbot platform for the community of Signal users:
    • libsignal-service-javascript: A standalone port of the "libtextsecure" library components of the Signal-Desktop client. It can be found on NPM here.
    • hubot-signal-service: a Hubot adapter for connecting to the Signal network that utilizes the library above. It can be found on NPM here.
    • The Ionosphere repository, which contains instructions and a Dockerfile for tying the the projects above together into a demo with hubot-list (on NPM here), a simple Hubot script for providing a basic distribution list functionality.
  • Derechos Digitales released a resource documenting existing Tor network relays, nodes, and user metrics from throughout Latin America since October 2017, broken down by country and relative to other parts of the world: https://tor.derechosdigitales.org/tortola/
  • New Information Controls Senior Fellow Marcus Michaelsen will work with Hivos to investigate digital threats against diaspora activists from Egypt, Iran and Syria, with a goal of assessing the methods, motivations and capabilities of state actors targeting human rights defenders and journalists beyond their borders.
  • A new Information Controls Fellow will examine Internet censorship and surveillance in Egypt, particularly focusing on the adoption of regulations restricting digital freedoms and increasing information controls in the country. They will analyze network interference and DDoS attacks against civil society organizations, while also documenting arrests of those freely expressing themselves online.
  • A project focusing on Security Support for Sexual Minority Groups in Nigeria is now under OTF support, providing holistic security training and support to LGBTQI organizations in Nigeria, building organization-level security capacity for relevant CSOs, documenting progress, and tracking behavioral change within the movement.
  • Usability Lab service provider Simply Secure published several resources to help internet freedom technology makers better incorporate usability into the development process, including a guide for gathering group feedback on apps, a resource outlining how to use personas in open-source projects, and documentation of Simply Secure’s work with Open Archive, which focused on how the media archiving tool brands and describes themselves.

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

A software developer just became the latest victim of China's VPN crackdown | CNN
Vietnam cyber law set for tough enforcement despite Google, Facebook pleas | Reuters
Russia's federal censor wants to fine Google for ignoring its Internet blocklist | Meduza
How China complicates Apple’s chest-thumping about privacy | The Verge
In Iran, state-sanctioned messaging apps new hallmark of internet nationalization | Global Voices
One Year of #MeToo: How the Movement Eludes Government Surveillance in China | New Yorker
Bangladesh: Crackdown on Social Media | Human Rights Watch
The Kingdom’s Hackers and Bots: How Saudi Arabia surveils dissidents, stifles dissent | Foreign Policy

Projects Mentioned