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September 2018 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In September, 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, the OTF team continued reviewing and responding to applications submitted during the September 1 round and Learning Lab RFP, while also accepting applications for the approaching November 1 round deadline. OTF also posted the first blog in a new series, Research Corner, highlighting novel research efforts of interest to the internet freedom community.

Notable accomplishments

  • In September, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)’s censorship detection app, OONI Probe, was run 257,139 times from 4,661 different vantage points in 211 countries around the world. OONI also established a new partnership with Paraguayan NGO TEDICpy, updated test lists for Nigeria, Jordan, Argentina, and Colombia. In addition, OONI data was utilized by Digital Security Lab Ukraine in their research on websites blocked in Crimea and Ukrainian news websites blocked in the country’s Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
  • Decentralized, encrypted messaging tool Briar released version 1.1, featuring a new “dark” theme designed by Ura Design. Users can switch between “light” and “dark” themes or switch automatically depending on the time of day. The conversation screen was also redesigned and now features a new color scheme and graphic improvements. This engagement was supported through the Usability Lab. Version 1.1 also features new security and circumvention improvements, including by running Tor Bridges in cases where access to Tor is blocked. Read more about Briar v1.1 here.
  • Delta Chat, a unique, server-less messenger tool that utilizes existing email provider infrastructure to allow users to exchange end-to-end encrypted messages, is now under contract with OTF, focusing on bolstering the tool’s robustness and usability. Under OTF support, Delta Chat will work to develop an Android app and a cross-platform desktop app. To start, Delta Chat has focused on target user needsfinding research with journalists, activists, and trainers to inform the tool development process. You can learn more about Delta Chat on their website at https://delta.chat/en/.
  • Derecho Digitales publicly launched Torificate, a Spanish language resource designed to help guide users throughout Latin America on the installation of Tor nodes and other relevant information. The guide, designed in consultation with the Tor Project team, explains Tor basics, how Tor works, how to set up and run one’s own Tor relay, and more. The guide will help assist the project in their efforts to expand Tor node deployment throughout the region.
  • Through the Localization Lab, the aforementioned release of Briar version 1.1 was available in 22 languages, and following the new release, Briar began working to fully adapt the app for readers of right-to-left languages. In September, the Localization Lab welcomed 26 new volunteer contributors capable of providing translation services including in Chinese, Farsi, Spanish, French, and Vietnamese. Over the course of the month, volunteers translated a total of 127,269 words, edited 166,951 words and reviewed 73,383 words across Localization Lab projects.
  • Digital Integrity Fellow Iryna Chulivska began implementing increased digital security practices for the team of Ukrainian NGO Bihus.info while also conducting risk assessments to assess what additional countermeasures will be taken in order to increase the organization’s long-term digital resilience.
  • New Information Controls Senior Fellow Alexei Abrahams will work out of the Citizen Lab to investigate information manipulation on social media in the Arabian Gulf, documenting how states in the region use automation of centrally controlled accounts (bots) and elite social media influencers to alter the political opinions of domestic and foreign audiences.
  • New Information Controls Senior Fellow Nguyen Phong Hoang will work with University of Massachusetts - Amherst over the next year to study the Invisible Internet Project (I2P) with a focus on the network's censorship resistance. Phong plans to build a metrics portal for I2P that is expected to provide useful data for other researchers, identify blocking methods that a censor may use to block access to I2P, and investigate potential solutions to make I2P more resilient to blockage.
  • New Information Controls Senior Fellow William Tolley will work with Narseo Vallina-Rodriguez at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) at UC Berkeley to explore ways in which private communication is leaked to malicious actors through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and how these findings can be effectively communicated to both users and developers of VPN technologies.
  • New Information Controls Senior Fellow Sylvia Kanari will work with the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network to study the application of information controls in Tanzania, investigating the ways in which government and other non-state actors are limiting freedom of expression and other rights online.
  • New Information Controls Senior Fellow Mahsa Alimardani will study the effect of information controls on user behaviour in Iran, particular in their use of platforms using both qualitative and quantitative data.

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

China mulls censoring online religious content in new draft regulations | Hong Kong Free Press
Anger mounts in Benin as new data tax drives up internet costs | AFP
China shuts thousands of websites in clean-up campaign: Xinhua | Reuters
Vietnam jails another Facebook user for comments critical of government | Reuters
Pegasus spyware used to target journalists, civil society | Committee to Protect Journalists
South Asian governments keep ordering internet shutdowns — and leaving users in the dark | Global Voices Advocacy
Cyberspace controls set to strengthen under China’s new internet boss | South China Morning Post
China blocks top Australian broadcaster's website | CNN

Projects Mentioned