Turkey blocked Twitter. If you happen to have been on vacation over the weekend or haven’t had a chance to check out the newspaper in a few days, The Washington Post and Reuters both have good write ups on the potential political fallout of this Twitter block as well as some background information on the situation. The interesting thing, as noted in the Washington Post article, is that this “restriction” has had little effect on Twitter chatter within the country. In fact, in the aftermath of discovering that they were no longer able to access Twitter, tweets spiked to 138 percent of the normal posting rate, an ironic feat in light of the ban. This statistic begs the question, “How are Turks tweeting, and tweeting rapidly, and about a Twitter ban?”
Well, the answer is simple and not so simple. Turkey has faced routine website blocking for the better part of the last decade, most notably the 2008 restriction of access to Youtube (which was in effect for 2 years). By now, most Turks, especially the younger generation, are well acquainted with the various measures for circumventing such restrictions. In case you are not, here are a few of the ways to access Twitter in the event of a block.
On March 20th, Twitter sent out a tweet instructing Turks how they could tweet via SMS on both Vodafone and Turkcell networks. SMS tweets are popular in areas with limited access to internet data, but in this case the service is proving to be multi-functional. Users can also receive tweets from friends that the user designates they would like to receive mobile tweets from. Obviously Twitter via SMS lacks much of the user experience of the broader Twitter app and website, but it still proves to be an effective work around.
Is true mobile phone security a lost cause? With the increasing popularity of mobile messaging applications with weak security practices, the escalation of sim card registration requirements, and the nearly antiquated legal definitions of the ways that mobile phones are used by citizens, securing mobile phone communications is a multi-faceted problem.
I’ve done mobile security trainings for a number of years now. And one of the biggest challenges that emerges with thinking through mobile security is all of the different areas where threats can emerge: the technical infrastructure of GSM networks, the personal information that’s needed to obtain a sim card, the location tracking capabilities of phones, and the list goes on.
During RightsCon, I had the opportunity to chat with the following rockstars about the current state of mobile security and what can be done to make improvements:
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in an event to determine how human rights defenders might approach an emergency alert mobile app given their diverse risks, and to ensure that activists first consider their risks before adopting such a tool.
The following is a summary of this event, written by Alix Dunn of the Engine Room and Libby Powell of Radar.
How can an app developer make sure that an app doesn’t do more harm than good? For Amnesty International, that question could be one of life or death for human rights defenders using their new Panic Button app. READ MORE »
One of the key components to any well run organization is an efficient process for information gathering. This can seem a daunting task for professionals working from differing locations or even transnationally. Traditionally, organizations have relied on paper forms for collecting data only to later gather the forms and enter them manually into a database for analysis. Using web-based forms allows for real-time monitoring and analysis of data. Mobile collection of data also offers the ability to collect advanced data such as GPS coordinates, images, videos, and time stamp data - all on the go and in the field.
The best part of using mobile-forms is that you don’t have to be a programmer or statistician to utilize them. Building web-forms is a fast, uncomplicated task that can be executed by even the least tech-savvy individuals. In order to prove this, over the last week I have been working with two tools that are increasingly popular for mobile data collection: Formhub and Open Data Kit (ODK). Below is an easy 5-step breakdown for using Formhub and ODK Collect to enhance your data collection process.
Kenya's iHub recently released its research on crowdsourced information in the highly contested 2013 Kenya Presidential elections. The study sought to clarify the value of information collected from citizens about political incidents from online media, and to answer whether 1) “passive crowdsourcing” is viable in the Kenyan context - passive crowdsourcing being defined as monitoring social media such as Twitter 2) determine what unique information Twitter posts provided about the election, and 3) determine the conditions in which crowdsourced information is a viable news source. As part of the report, iHub provided a useful set of recommendations and a decision-making framework for practitioners who are considering similar methodologies.
The report provides great detail about the research methodology and data sources (Twitter, online traditional media, targeted crowdsourcing platforms like Uchaguzi, and fieldwork). Particularly impressive are the mechanisms described for capture, storage and classification of tweets and the detailed approaches to filtering for newsworthy tweets. The glossary is helpful in clarifying terminology such as that of "passive", "active" and "targeted" crowdsourcing of information from citizens. (NDI prefers the term "citizen reporting" over crowdsourcing for citizen-generated incidents data.) READ MORE »
It goes almost without saying that Twitter has changed the landscape of how people express and exchange their opinions online. Currently Twitter is host to 554.75 million users with an average of 135,000 new users signing up for the service every day. It is estimated that there are 9,000 new tweets every second. What is more, Twitter users have broken the news on events before the mainstream media. The Boston Marathon explosions, key events during the Arab Spring, and the London G20 riots as well as numerous earthquakes and other natural distasters were events where real-time updates were found on Twitter before anywhere else.
Based on this, Researchers at Loughborough University in London have developed a new system for “Extracting the Meaning Of Tears Information in a Visualization of Emotion” aptly adapted into the acronym EMOTIVE. The academics working on this project say this new program can analyze up to 2,000 tweets a second to serve as a map of real-time public sentiment. READ MORE »
I’m recently back from Electech Afghanistan, an NDI-hosted elections and technology conference in Kabul. The event brought together senior officials from government, civil society, the private sector, and the international community to discuss applications of digital technologies to enhance transparency and participation in the election process.
Ahead of the Presidential elections in April 2014, the Afghan public lacks confidence in the government’s ability to run a credible election and this is diminishing participation and prospects for stability and democratic development. Afganistan is, of course, a supremely insecure environment with low rates of literacy throughout the population.
Participants identified ways that technology could improve participation and confidence by helping election authorities in administration, improving how political parties compete, increasing citizen’s participation, and enabling civil society organizations to observe more effectively, all while allowing journalists such as Pajhwok News to publicly share results and analysis. Discussion focused on the changing nature of political participation mediated by technology.
There is a new report by Hibah Hussein, a researcher at the New America Foundation that sharply critiques the lack of privacy and security considerations in mobiles-for-development projects. As readers of this blog know, mobile phones are proliferating as a communications and information delivery channel in international development - in health care projects, those focused on economic development and livelihoods, and also in social accountability and transparency work. We here at NDI have certainly extensively used mobile phones in systematic election monitoring, for citizen outreach and delivering civic information, and for citizens to hold their elected officials accountable.
But, as Hussein poses, mobile phones are inherently insecure channels easily surveilled and monitored by design (after all, telcoms charge by usage and thus watch closely what you do), poorly regulated if at all with meaingful privacy protections in most developing countries, and thus inherently subject to deliberate or inadvertent privacy and security breaches. Since mobile projects in development often target the most vulnerable and marginalized populations and much of development happens in countries with poor governance all the way to outright dictatorships, this combination, Hussein argues, is a recipe for disaster. She notes that international development projects lack privacy and security procols and guidelines and proposes a framework for them to consider in their projects.
It is no secret that the number of people using mobile phones has exploded in the last ten years. In 2002, for example, there were 49 million mobile phones in Africa; today there are more than 700 million. Mobile technology has revolutionized the way people communicate and connect to social, economic and political resources. And while there is still a considerable gender gap with regard to mobile phone ownership and usage throughout the developing world, more and more women are now using mobile phones to access social services and new economic opportunities.
Recently, USAID released a report that supports the fact that even in hard-to reach places with strict societal norms for women, mobile phones have an impact. The Afghan Women’s Capacity Building Organization conducted a survey of 2,000 women from five major provinces to determine their access to mobile technology in Afghanistan. In the report, USAID presented some key positive findings:
As of late 2012, 80% of Afghan women surveyed have regular or occasional access to mobile phones.
Access to mobile phones is growing quickly, especially among young women.
44% of women who live outside of urban areas own their own phones; 39% have access to a family member’s phone.
Mobile phones are becoming gateways to social and commercial services, including those related to health and education.
A majority of women surveyed believe that “connectivity enhances Afghan women’s lives, making them feel safer, better equipped to cope with emergencies, more independent, and more able to access the family members and friends who comprise their networks.”
A majority of women surveyed believe that mobile phones are essential tools.
The cell phone represents the most radical transformation in communication technology for the masses since... well, who knows when. Mobiles are a BFD, and they’re everywhere. However, I’m sometimes surprised that international development professionals designing program plans don’t always recognize this new world. Based on the lived realities of citizens in their target countries, proposals for future work should always use current communication tools in their plans of reaching and working with their intended audiences.
Over the past several years, a significant body of research has examined how communication technologies are transforming social, political, and economic dynamics in societies around the world. Much of this work has observed the positive effects of these technologies on improving civic engagement, increasing transparency, supporting free and fair elections, fostering economic development, and preventing violent conflict. We at NDI have developed numerous programs using communication technologies to improve democracy and good governance across borders and issue areas.
The authors Jan H. Pierskalla and Florian M. Hollenbach chart new territory for this research in exploring the relationship between the expansion of cell phone coverage in Africa and higher levels of political violence. They write,
We contend that, in contrast to mass media, access to individual communication technology like cell phones can undermine the effects of government propaganda and, more importantly, play an integral part in overcoming other specific collective action and coordination problems inherent in insurgent violence.
According to the authors’ analysis, when cell phone coverage is present, the probability of conflict occurrence rises significantly. As they argue, private communication technologies such as cell phones can play an integral role in overcoming collective action and coordination problems inherent in insurgent violence. In Africa, the benefits of improved communication technologies are particularly substantial for insurgent groups. The cheap availability of cell phones improves and increases communication among group members and allows for the tightening of networks. These improvements are crucial for insurgents who are often spread out across vast geographical distances and who need an efficient means to coordinate actions and gather material support. The authors hypothesize that enhanced communication facilitates in-group trust and information sharing, which are key to collective action.
Enter Snapchat, an app available on iOS and Android that allows users to take a photo, send it to a friend, and is deleted after 10 seconds. (It's so easy, even Stephen Colbert can do it). Sounds pretty great, right?
Snapchat photos appear to live "beyond the grave" in the memory of smartphones (perhaps making the Ghost logo all the more appropriate).
Decipher Forensics recently investigated if Snapchat photos actually are deleted, or if the image and any associated metadata with such photos can be recovered. Report author used two Android devices to send and receive Snapchat photos, and found that: READ MORE »
Kenya's election is over and was largely peaceful, even as there are ongoing court challenges. We @NDITech assisted the Kenyan civil society organization, ELOG, in it's election observation effort on Election day so had an inside view of this much-anticipated and closely-watched election. NDI specifically supported ELOG's data collection effort where observers gathered process and incident data at polling stations around the country as well as vote share data to verify the results publicized by Kenya's electoral commission, IEBC. As the IEBC found out the hard way, it’s not easy to collect electronic data from tens of thousands of polling stations around the country. ELOG’s observers were trained by master trainers to collect relevant data and then send coded text messages for processing to a central database. READ MORE »
The polling stations are slowly closing in Kenya in a so-far largely peaceful day. This is a critical election in one of the most technically-advanced countries in sub-Saharan Africa with many monitoring efforts underway as #kenyadecides (to use the Twitter hashtag of choice). While many predict that is going to be a run-off election, we wanted to give a 'rundown' of all the cool tech used that we are watching:
1. The IEBC, the Kenyan Election Commission, put up (with some help from Google) an interactive map and SMS service for people to find their voter registration stations, registration status, and polling station on election day. It also includes a candidate finder. While the map has some usability issues, it's become a very useful resource for citizens that only can be improved upon. It's a model for other independent election commissions that is commendable. IEBC's Facebook Page is also worth watching. Incidentally, by all accounts, the IEBC so far has done a great job providing security and ballots; it's also been very responsive to incident reports from both systematic election monitoring organizations and citizen reporting efforts. No small feat given the enormous voter turnout.
Most interestingly, IEBC promises to report election results in close-to real time using its API. UPDATE: The API from the IEBC with real-time election results data as the vote is counted is working fabulously and media houses in Kenya are pulling the data and transmitting it live on television. Unprecedented for Kenya. READ MORE »
There are two projects in Mali that caught our eyes - or should we say, our ears? Al Jazeera, in partnership with mobile vendor Souktel, conducted a mobile survey in Mali, asking citizens' opinions via SMS about whether France's military intervention in the country was legitimate. Al Jazeera then translated, tagged, and displayed responses on a color-coded map as part of its Mali Speaks project. It is not entirely clear how many responses were recorded but the map is illuminating and well designed, illustrating how some sgment of the population feels about France's military intervention (Hint: Overwhelmingly positive). Of course, such citizen polls are not representative and tend to skew towards more literate, more urban, male, and wealthier resondents. Nonetheless, if combined with more systematic and stringent polling methodologies, they can provide a sense of the sentiment of citizens and can be conducted inexpensively in close-to real time. Combined with compelling visualizations, they can also be used by citizen groups as a tool for advocacy and by policy makers as a barometer of public opinion.
Al Jazeera has conducted other Speaks projects in Somalia, Uganda, and Libya. Souktel, earlier this year, also worked in Kenya where local youth leaders used the service to conduct and participate in live polls and votes via SMS to elect a board of directors, choose a name for their network, and determine an organizing structure for their regional youth movement. READ MORE »
Times are changing in Burma. The by-elections in April resulted in the NLD winning 43 out of 44 contested seats, removal of the press restrictions that require journalists to submit articles to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department prior to publication, and the historic visit of President Obama to Myanmar (the first time a sitting president has visited the country).
Access to ICTs in Burma has historically been challenging. Throughout the country, there is low internet and mobile penetration. There were significant cost barriers to gaining access to basic technologies like sim cards (which can cost up to $900), and constant efforts to censor content and strike fear in activists through draconian telecommunications regulations.
This time of change has also reached the technology sector in Burma. The price of sim cards has dropped, the censorship of popular online news outlets such as the Irrawaddy and Mizzima News has been lifted, and use of Facebook has grown incredibly throughout the country. READ MORE »
Last week was Internet Freedom Day - a year after a bill attempting to restrict content online, the so-called SOPA/PIPA bill, was defeated in the United States Congress. We here at NDItech are people of the Internet. We believe, as described in the Declaration on Internet Freedom, that
a free and open Internet can bring about a better world. To keep the Internet free and open, we call on communities, industries and countries to recognize these principles. We believe that they will help to bring about more creativity, more innovation and more open societies.
But, we are worried. As an organization that supports and works for democratic principles and practices, empowered communities, and responsive and accountable governments under the rule of law, and, as a unit within this organization that believes and works on the effective and innovative use of technology in this work, we see troubling trends.
These are trends not happening on the Internet as we typically define it per se, though even there is plenty to worry about. What we are seeing is in the land of mobile phones - the devices and networks where most of the world communicates today. There is actually very little information on 'internet freedom' issues in telecommunications - there is no 'state of mobile freedom' report, and there is precious little data on mobile censorship, SMS tracking, surveillance, etc. Much of it is anecdotal, unsubstantiated, or both. READ MORE »
IIn Ghana's recent election NDItech partnered with the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), an independent Ghanaian NGO focused on election accountability. Our goal was to increase information to citizens about the election. CODEO ran a large monitoring program where 3999 citizen observers transmitted incidence and election results data via SMS to a central data center - a standard systematic election observation.
CODEO also used social media as part of a citizen communication campaign to voters via a Facebook page where political issues facung the country were actively debated, and a call-in service for radio stations to broadast voter information (listen to the audio below this post).
We spoke with NDItech's Program Officer Chris Doten about this innovative mobile audio-to-radio project.
Ghana has a robust technology infrastructure and a great NDI partner that was willing to try some new campaigns for this election and invited us to work with them. There also was a little bit of funding in place to do new media voter outreach, and we were able to run with it on a short time frame. Additionally, CODEO has a very good reputation in the country and we worked with them before in several previous election. The staff there is exceptional and was a pleasure to work with.
Two recent reports emphasize the importance of the ICT gender gap in developing countries. These in-depth analyses provide statistics, case studies, and conclusions that clearly demonstrate why closing that gap is so essential to development and to increasing women's political participation.
Last year, the GSMA (the association of GSM mobile operators) and the Cherie Blaire Foundation produced a report on women and mobile technology. Intel, in coordination with Dalberg and GlobeScan, released a report yesterday that focuses on Internet access in developing countries. Key takeaways from each publication:
Closing the mobile gap for women represents a $13 billion dollar opportunity: With the gender gap representing over 300 million women, providing service represents not only an important step for human rights, but a monetary incentive to the private sector as well.
The top three benefits of cell phone ownership for women: feeling safer (93%), feeling more connected with friends and family (93%) and feeling more independent (85%)
The top five factors predicting ownership of mobile phone: Household income, urban/rural location, age, occupation, and education level.
Barriers preventing ownership of mobile phones: cost of handsets, no need to have one as everyone is local, and use of landline instead of mobile.
The report also includes: case studies of projects in Pakistan promoting female literacy, culturally appropriate advertising for women in Afghanistan, distance learning in Mexico, and providing input for women in Kosovo's constitution
Closing the Internet gap for women represents 50 to 70 billion dollars: Similar to mobiles, increasing the number of women online also represents a potential increase in GDP of $13 to 18 billion across 144 developing countries.
Internet penetration varies greatly among continents: while North America experiences 79%, the Middle East has 40%, Asia has 28%, and Africa lags behind at 16% internet penetration.
Access to the Internet provides both positive individual and ecosystem outcomes: including increased confidence and self worth, more opporutnities for education or employment, and access to networks, as well as economic development through GDP growth, gender equality through the leveling of opportunity, and diversification of markets.
Major individual inhibitors to Internet access: awareness of the content and use of information on the Internet, ability to navigate and consume web content, and an environment lacking in encouragement of use.
The largest ecosystem inhibitors to Internet access: network infrastructure, economic viability of Internet connection options, policies encouraging women to use the Internet,
As technology closes the time between when events happen and when they are shared with the world, understanding what approaches and tools are the best solutions to implement in crisis response and good governance programs is increasingly important. During the “Technology for Crisis Response and Good Governance” course, which I took earlier this month offered by TechChange at GW, our class was able to simulate different scenarios of how such tools can be used effectively.
The first simulation we did was on how to use FrontlineSMS and Crowdmap to track and respond to incidents in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Each team was responsible for managing FrontlineSMS, mapping incidents and other information on Crowdmap, and going into the field to get more information and verify reports. Management of the incoming data at this point becomes the highest priority. Designating specific responsibilities to different individuals, and determining how to categorize data (reports to be mapped, questions to be answered by other officials, overly panicked individuals, etc.) helps to more efficiently handle processing a large amount of information during a short timeframe. READ MORE »
Collecting election-related data provides information about the conduct and integrity of elections - critical events in emerging democracies. This data is collected from both trained observers deployed in a systematic manner and from empowered citizens contributing their witness reports to provide a lense on the election. Collecting such data in an election allows civil society groups and citizens assess and evaluate the process, mitigate the potential for violence, reform the legal frameworks for elections, and engage citizens in menaginful ways.
As I noted before, decisions on what tools and techniques to deploy for data collections in an election need to be driven by the intended goals.
NDI and our partners in many countries have pioneered and over the years greatly improved election-related data collection through trained and organized observers. Still still involves moving paper but also call-in centers, and, of course, highly efficient and systematic SMS-based reporting. Citizen reporting efforts with the goal of engaging them meaningfully have, of course, proliferated. Unfortunately, they also have often been plagued with the “Garbage In, Garbage Out” problem that has made it difficult to tell a cogent story about an election or come to any definitive conclusions. That said, we believe that citizen reporting can be useful especially in the period before election day to flag and highlight potential issues with voter registration and other preparations for election day.
We are exploring a number of tools and methods in our work to intelligenty combine both systematic election observation and citizen reports both prior to- and during an election. Some of these tools underused right now are:
1) Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
IVR systems (ex. Freedom Fone) enable automated, interactive, audio-based data collection and communication through mobile phone networks. They can be set to respond with prerecorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct reporters through a series of simple interactions. Their importance has been highlighted for reaching offline or illiterate constituencies, bridging language barriers, and allowing users to move past the 160 character limitation of an SMS. READ MORE »
Often discussions of technology for (fill in the blank here) get confused about tools, techniques and processes. This is especially true when the discussion turns to crowdsourcing, a technique where a group of individuals voluntarily undertake a task. In an electoral context, crowdsourcing often emphasizes participation over systematic evaluation. The use of online maps (a tool) emphasizes analysis and story-telling based on geographically relevant conclusions, at the expense of other analytical frameworks.
Instead of tools and techniques driving strategic decision-making, it’s important to identify intended outcomes and the processes supporting those outcomes.
In a recent NDI "ElecTech" workshop in Nairobi, we posed that any use of tech in elections should have as the primary outcome the ability to assess and evaluate the electoral process. We think it is helpful to think about four specific processes, a series of actions taken to achieve an end, where technology can significant impact the achievement of these outcomes.
These include: Organizational Structures, Data Collection, Telling a Story and Outreach. Let's focus on organizational structures first.
Organizational Structures: Having Your Ducks in a RowREAD MORE »
I will be working with the pioneers at NDItech, and the creative program staff in the NDI offices that are using tech in innovative ways to support representative democracy in areas such as citizen participation, elections, open parliaments, strong parties, and accountable and transparent institutions. Democracy and governance, as the field is affectionately known by those inside it, is where I started more than 20 years ago, and I am thrilled to return to it, throwing into the mix creative uses of online technologies, new media, and mobile (of course). And while 'innovation' is a much-(over)used term these days, I'm hoping to put our own imprint and interpretation on it as a part of the growing #tech4dem field.
The need for civil society organizations and activists to understand best practices behind digital security and digital safety has grown exponentially over the past few years. This need has expanded beyond closed environments to more open societies that may not have as looming of a threat of communications interception, targeted malware attacks, and other dastardly deeds.
While there have been a lot of “wins” for civil society in restrictive environments to use ICTs to mobilize ahead of key political moments, these regimes continue to step up their efforts to counteract such communication.