Project team: add information on the people involved in this project.
Objective: to provide a method for citizens with oppressive governments involved in media censorship to provide breaking news.
As I am going through the presentation on Bolivia's economic and social conditions, I realized that the project is a bit early in terms of Internet penetration and e-readiness in general. In the next few years Bolivia (hopefully) will increase its broadband and mobile penetration. With a broader user base, the website will be able to generate enough traffic in order to sell advertising and become self-sustainable. Today, Bolivia's top website, Google, has between 4,000 and 16,000 unique visitors per month, a number strikingly low for a country with a population of almost 10 million people.
On the good side, the top most visited websites in Bolivia are social-networking related. This is a good indicator of people willingness to spend more time online and contribute to online communities. This could prove key for the future of the free press website.
Finally, we need to have more telephones with integrated cameras out there in order to have considerable user-generated content. However, in the short-term, this site can be appealing to more technically savvy bolivians (people that have digital cameras)
I put up a post over at my media lab blog on using Bouncy Castle crypto libraries in J2ME MIDlets. Check it out for the gnarly details.
The Free Press J2ME app I'm writing accesses two resources of the phone that require heightened security permissions: the camera, and HTTP connections. MIDP 2.0 has a security architecture which vaguely describes what implementors of MIDP (that is, each phone manufacturer) must do to fulfill the architecture. The basic idea is that the phone should prompt the user before allowing an application to access things that might be security risks, like photos that might include sensitive information, or data connections that might cost the user money.
"Scholarships are being made available to developing country applicants wishing to study on either of the following University of Manchester one-year Masters degrees
The IDPM Golden Jubilee Scholarship, worth £11,000, is available on a competitive basis for applicants from developing countries to any of IDPM’s Masters degrees. The IDPM ICT4D and MIS Scholarships, each worth £5,500, are available exclusively for developing country applicants to the MSc ICT4D and MSc M&IS programmes.
There is no specific application process for the scholarships - eligible applicants who have applied, received and accepted a formal offer by 30 June 2008 will be considered - but candidates are welcome to include a scholarship statement when applying for the MSc programme."
I am a recent user of mobile technology having resisted subscribing to a mobile phone service until I started my second year of graduate school which meant separation from my family. So maybe I am not the right person to comment on its usefulness but there is something that I found very fascinating during my last trip to Cameroon. An which may also explain the success of the mobile technology in Africa.
MMS is proving to be a pain. After spending a long time configuring and setting up mbuni, I discovered that it does not offer any support for GSM modems, unless you pay extra for commercial plugins. Consequently, it will be expensive and difficult to develop a picture uploading system that operates using the built-in "send-a-picture" functionality.
However, it seems as though this might end up focusing the project a bit better. I now plan to develop a J2ME app that does uploading of pictures via a web link (rather than MMS). This app can also be extended to resize media before uploading to save bandwidth, strip metadata to improve anonymity, and even possibly provide some encryption. The app can be set up to work with moving upload targets to help maintain uplinks should the server get blacklisted. I think that focusing on an app like this could result in a more tangible and functional product than an MMS based solution that requires tricky server setups to use. The application could be improved by future developers as well.
As I was working on our presentation, there is something that I was not able to answer. I did some research on google but could not find any satisfactory evidence. Basically, I wanted to answer the question of the motivation behind acquiring a cellphone. This technology has experienced phenomenal adoption rate in many poor countries. My question is the following: how do people value the cellphone? Is it because it enables them to maintain and develop relationship with others (social value) or because it enables them to transact with others (economic value)? Obtaining an answer to this question is certainly important as it will help us better design our system.
Someone came up after our presentation today and informed us about IMEID's - "International Mobile Equipment IDs". Apparently, regardless of the SIM card used, every cell phone has a unique identifier which the server can request of it at any time. Here's some more info:
This means that the strategy we had in mind for preserving anonymity (after all others seemed infeasible) of suggesting that users throw out their SIM cards after uploading incendiary data will not work. The users would have to throw out the whole phone, which might be economically infeasible.
So back to square one with anonymity. It may be necessary to rely on phone-based encryption, which definitely stands out in a crowd. Perhaps we can figure out some mechanism for using steganography to hide incriminating media in non-incriminating.
"Protests have taken place in Tibet for years, but they're only now getting reported,that's thanks to modern technology."
This statement, which is extracted from an an article on China's crackdown in Tibet, could apply to many countries. Very recently, you could have used the same sentence but just replaced Tibet by Burma and it would have remained 100% valid.
I was starting to feel frustrated by the scope of the project, the shortness of the deadlines, and the lack of communication. Due to scheduling conflicts, our group had only its second meeting last night, and our full writeup was due today.
But after the meeting last night, it became much more clear exactly what the scope of the project will be, and we managed to pare it down to the barest essentials: just a system for posting news stories and photos from your phone, without an initial focus on anonymity or encryption on the mobile end. We also now have clear plans for what each of us will be doing for the project, which is very helpful.
Anonymity and encryption on mobiles are big enough topics to be a dedicated research projects on their own, let alone working them into the context of ICT4D. If we were to try to tackle these problems in the planning phase before implementing even a simple prototype, we might never get off the ground.
Few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend regarding the project HananTek. He is very well informed about the technology space which is why I could not hide my surprise when he asserted that the project was “finger in the nose” and that he failed to understand why it was such a challenging effort. It was all the more surprising considering that he grew up in a society where free speech has not always been paramount. His argumentation was essentially economic: according to him, it is unlikely that any government will have the political nerve to shut down the operations of telecom operators given the tax revenue that these businesses generate.
Sadly, the recent experience of a young Moroccan engineer is here to remind us that political regime do not need extremely fragile political situation to engage in actions which are gross human rights violation. Just imagine what else may take place if a country is under martial law. When a regime is fighting for its survival, the last thing it will care about are tax revenues.
Suppose you live in an oppressive country, and wish to report on the brutal repression of your government. How would you get images and videos out of the country? In much of the developing world, internet access is difficult to acquire, but mobile phone access is often more available. It would thus be useful to have some means of uploading videos, images and stories from a cell phone.
But how can this be done safely? Reporters sans frontières reports the following about the recent government crackdown in Burma (Myanmar):
"A Rangoon reporter said all of his colleagues were afraid to go about with cameras or video cameras. Radio DVB reported that the government has ordered the security forces to identify the journalists and demonstrators who sent photos and video footage abroad showing the demonstrations and their violent dispersal. The information ministry, the official news agency and the security forces have reportedly been told to work together to identify the 'citizen journalists.'" (full article)