OTF FY2015 Annual Report

Year marked by record levels of usage, support requests amid rising sophistication of censorship techniques
Tue, 2016-09-20 14:53

OTF today announced the release of our 2015 annual report, summarizing the 18 months of operation ending in Spring 2016. The report highlights a time in which OTF received its highest level of support requests ever, as authoritarian actors worldwide increased the depth and breadth of their censorship capabilities. For the first time, OTF-supported tool adoption rose to over a billion people.

Notable highlights from FY2015 include:

  • More than 1 billion people began regularly using OTF-supported technology to circumvent restricted internet connections, strengthen their online security, and enhance their digital privacy;
  • Numerous circumvention tools supported by OTF integrated and built upon the “collateral freedom” approach noted in our 2014 annual report by taking advantage of widely used cloud servers to overcome internet censorship;
  • The OTF Team reviewed and responded to well over 400 requests for funding totaling close to $50 million in 2015;
  • OTF’s Localization Lab enabled translations of internet freedom tools and ensured their accessibility to a global audience, supporting 49 tools with over 4,600 volunteers contributing to the submission and verification of more than half a million translated words into over 200 languages and dialects;
  • Individuals supported through OTF’s fellowship programs produced ground-breaking research and analysis of emerging censorship techniques, analyzed the usable security of open-source tools, and bolstered the digital security of vulnerable groups;
  • OTF supported Rapid Response interventions to assist at-risk journalists, human rights activists, and NGO workers in response to digital attacks and threats in places such as Tibet, Iran, Thailand, Bahrain, Sudan, Vietnam and Azerbaijan;
  • OTF supported security audits of 26 internet freedom projects, identifying in total 352 privacy and security vulnerabilities; and
  • Through active coordination with other donors, OTF more than quadrupled the impact of 4 million dollars in public funding through collaborative joint funding, expanding the amount of funds for these projects to more than 30 million dollars.

These successes and milestones only served to highlight the extent to which global internet freedom came under increased attack during this time. Novel, offensive attack methods like China’s “Great Cannon” were employed for the first time, lobbing crippling DDoS attacks on the websites of OTF-supported project GreatFire.org and private American company GitHub. Politically motivated internet shutdowns occurred in countries such as Bangladesh, Turkey, Uganda, and Belarus, among others. Meanwhile, the leak of ‘cybersecurity’ firm Hacking Team’s internal operations revealed the widespread sale of surveillance technology to repressive regimes worldwide.

In this global context, OTF saw continued growth in requests for support, receiving the highest number of submissions in the history of its operations.

OTF received nearly 450 submissions requesting close to $50 million in FY2015.

Despite this marked increase in concept note submissions, OTF retained its ‘niche’ profile as a supporter of new and emerging anti-censorship tools. OTF aims to primarily fund projects requesting less than $300,000, acting as an incubator for emerging ideas and novel approaches to combat censorship.

In 2015, nearly 75% of concept notes submitted requested less than $300,000, OTF’s highest level ever.

You can find these tables and much more about OTF’s FY2015 operations in the “Trends from 2015” section of the report, accessible here.

Also of note, in 2015, as in years past, OTF spent a great deal of time listening to the activists, journalists, and regular citizens and communities most at risk of repressive censorship and surveillance. OTF recognizes the need to maintain a flexible approach to our support for internet freedom; constant adaptation and awareness of our adversaries’ capabilities is essential in this cat-and-mouse game where the censorship ‘Goliaths’ far outsize the internet freedom ‘Davids’ of the world. 2015 proved that this is now more true than ever before.

Read the full FY2015 report here.