Mobile tech is saving the world


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A quick presentation describing some interesting ways mobile technology is changing the world for the better. This was a lightning talk given at AnDevCon.

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  • System to leverage basic tools (a computer and cell phones) to allow 2 way communication on a large scale. Free Easy to Implement Flexibilité, extensibilité and compatibilité. Advanced Features HTTP Trigger PatientView Forms Flexibilité, extensibilité and compatibilité. These are our watchwords in making FrontlineSMS a useful tool with which to leverage the boundless possibilities offered by that humble tool, the mobile phone. With that in mind, FrontlineSMS is available to download for free, and may be modified to your heart’s content. Our developers are a vital part of our team, and their innovation, support and suggestions help make FrontlineSMS what it is. The latest release includes a flexible plugins system which allows easy addition of new features to the core SMS messaging system.
  • Mamadou Issoufou – Millet Farmer in Niger Can sell his Millet in 2 different markets One is 15 Km away The other is 11 Km Previously, the only way to get pricing info was from other farmers returning from market Unreliable and out of date Now current pricing info is updated via SMS 80% of villagers are illiterate System created to allow villagers to get current market prices in 4 different languages Using Mobiles for rural literacy and market information in Niger: Projet ABC/IMAC Projet ABC / IMAC Post Date 12.02.09 Author | admin This guest post was written by Joshua Haynes who is studying for his Masters of International Business, at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Reposted with Hayes' permission. Projet Alphabétisation de Base par Cellulaire (ABC), conceived of and spearheaded by Tufts University professor Jenny Aker , uses mobiles phones as tools to aid in adult literacy acquisition in rural Niger.  Adult literacy in rural areas faces an inherent problem.  In Niger, for example, there are no novels, newspapers, or journals in native languages like Hausa or Zarma.  The 20% of Nigériens who are literate are literate in French.  The vast majority of rural villagers have struggled to maintain their livelihoods since time immemorial without ever knowing how to read a single word. What’s the point of literacy if there is no need for written materials? Mamadou Issoufou, like 80% of people who live in rural areas, has access to a couple of different weekly markets where he can buy and sell his millet. One market, Dogon Kirya, is 11 kilometers away and the other, Doubélma, is 15 kilometers away.  As Dogon Kirya is closer, he usually travels there, but he knows that sometimes he can get a better price when he goes to Doubélma.  If a fellow villager who traveled to Doubélma the previous week indicates that prices were better there than in Dogon Kirya, then Mamadou might decide to go the extra four kilometers, but he’s not sure he’ll get the same prices this week, too. He leaves it up to chance. On Wednesdays, the Service d’Information sur les Marchés Agricoles (SIMA) sends radio broadcasts on the prices of the most important staples like millet and sorghum for the largest markets in the country.  Unfortunately, Mamadou, like most rural farmers, doesn’t have access to the broadcast, and if he did, his two main markets aren’t large enough to be covered by SIMA.  Even if they were large enough, Dogon Kirya’s market is held on Tuesdays, so any information from the radio would be six days old. If Mamadou had access to some sort of real-time, demand-driven information, he could make better choices on where to buy and sell his goods.  The mobile phone is a perfect device for transmitting information, but even though Mamadou may have access to a phone, he can’t read. The point of literacy in rural areas is increase access to information. This past summer, between my first and second year as a graduate student at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, I was fortunate to work with Jenny and the amazing teams at CRS and SIMA, inclduing Djibou Alzouma, Aïchatou Bety, Sadou Djibrilla, Scott Isbrandt and Ousseïni Sountalma. We developed a system called IMAC – Information sur les Marchés Agricoles par Cellulaire.  IMAC, pronounce ‘ee-mak’, that allows users to query for farmgate and market prices of agriculture products in a number of markets in four languages.   It is built to work as one of the Projet ABC components, but can be used in areas with higher literacy levels. Both Projet ABC and IMAC are funded by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), UC Davis, Oxford University and Tufts University and are housed at and managed by CRS/Niger. In addition to the querying functionality, we added the ability for SIMA-trained CRS agents to update the crop prices by sending IMAC a specially formatted SMS.  The prices are quickly checked for errors in Niamey, the capital, and then are live for all to use.  Before, it could take up to three weeks for market prices to get recorded, go through a number of different administrative stages and finally end up in the database in the capital, but now it takes a matter of seconds before the data can be accessed. Although the data is stored and updated in the database, FrontlineSMS , as free SMS tool, is the primary access point which captures the message, sends it to the database for processing, waits for the response, and then sends the response to the waiting villager.  By exploiting FrontlineSMS’ HTMLRequest functionality, we were able to access a backend system and turn FrontlineSMS into a demand-driven automatic information dissemination tool. I returned to Niger last month to not only see how well the system was still working – a big relief for developers - but to be surprised by the number of new markets and products that had been added to the system.  These additional markets will allow even more villagers, once at least semi-literate, to obtain information that will better help them make more informed decisions about their economic resources.
  • News for rural villagers in India Widespread illiteracy Newspapers and SMS alerts inadequate Irregular electricity makes television and radio unreliable. Voice Calls are very cheap In the region of Uttar Pradesh, Gaon Ki Awaaz delivers twice-daily news updates via voice calls to villagers in their native Avhadi language. Citizen reports, allow for focused news, in villagers native language with information that is more reliable than Government controlled outlets. Pick Up The Phone - The News Is Calling Post Date 03.26.10 Author | AnneryanHeatwole There are two new projects in India that are taking advantage of the ubiquity of mobile phones and cheap voice calling there in order to get news to rural villagers. Widespread illiteracy makes newspapers and SMS alerts inadequate as news delivery systems, and irregular electricity makes television and radio unreliable. Voice calls are also very inexpensive in India, with per-second billing and a downward price-war among the main operators. Voice calls over mobile phones are an easy way for villagers to stay informed. In the region of Uttar Pradesh, Gaon Ki Awaaz delivers twice-daily news updates via voice calls to villagers in their native Avhadi language. Launched in December 2009, the project now has 250 subscribers spread throughout 20 villages. Read our case study on the project here . Further south, a similar project is operating among the members of the Adivassi tribe in India. Like Gaon Ki Awaaz, it allows villagers to share and receive news over their mobile phones in their native language (in this case, Gondi). Launched by Shubhranshu Choudhary of the International Center for Journalists , the project focuses on citizen reports with dozens of citizen journalists reporting throughout the region. Watch the video below to see how the project works.  For more on audio services, see also our recent scan of projects and tools, Talk to Me: A Survey of Voice-Based Mobile Tech. These two projects highlight the promise of the mobile phone for targeted news reporting; mobiles can provide cheap, reliable access to hyper-local news that may be more independent than government-controlled media. As mobiles become more common in rural areas, similar projects can provide a way to keep citizens connected. 
  • Safe drinking water is a necessity for life 1 billion people worldwide lack access to quality drinking water. 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease. 43% due to diarrhea 84% of water-related deaths are in children ages 0 – 14. Aquatest Uses a J2ME app, or SMS to quickly test water quality Remote user enters info (including location, and sample info) Quickly provide feedback about how to handle local water problems Huge database of water quality information is created, and easily accessible remotely. Testing the Waters with Mobile Surveys: Water Quality Reporter Post Date 02.03.10 Author | AnneryanHeatwole Safe drinking water is a necessity for life. But according to a 2005 report published by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to quality drinking water.   In South Africa, a current project is monitoring water quality with SMS in a push to bring safer water to the area. Run by the University of Bristol and the University of Cape Town , the four year project is two-fold: 1) develop a new means of testing water quality and 2) develop a new means of reporting the results of these water quality tests.  Aquatest , the water quality testing system, is still under development, but the Water Quality Reporter is up and running – on mobile phones with reporting via SMS. The application allows field workers to cheaply and effectively transfer data about water quality to a centralized database, while receiving feedback about how to handle local water problems. Says Melissa Loundon, a researcher at the University of Cape Town who worked with the development of the Water Quality Reporter, “ The main part of the project is to develop the water test. But the original project team at the University of Bristol realized that if you’ve got a water test that can be used by people who aren’t in the field, or people who aren’t specialists, it doesn’t really help them if they get a result and see that their water is not safe to drink. They may not have a whole lot of resources to do anything about it. So the point of the cell phone application is that once somebody has a result, they can communicate it to a central database and also to somebody in the area who can provide support.” Loudon is an occasional contributor to Aquatest will be launched at the beginning of next year, so WQReporter is currently being piloted with an older water test in four regions in the eastern and northen Cape of South Africa. Loudon stressed that open source software was hugely important in the development of WQReporter. The University of Cape Town team developed the mobile data collection application with JavaRosa , part of the OpenRosa Consortium. Loudon explained, “One thing [about open source], is that we could get it together really quickly. Another is that we’ve learned a lot from the communities who are using the various tools. We’ve learned from that, from other groups’ experiences with the same tools and similar systems.” The Java version of the Water Quality Reporter is a mobile survey form application; users answer different questions regarding the water samples (such as where the sample was taken, what the results were, whether the sample was treated, when the sample was taken, etc…), and are able to transmit the data via GPRS to a centralized database. Although the application was designed to run on most basic feature phones, an SMS reporting system was also developed for field workers whose phones do not support J2ME (the Java Mobile Edition). However, the SMS system does not allow for the same level of in-depth reporting as the JavaRosa system. The SMS program is running in Alfred Nzo and Amathole regions, while the Java program is running in Chris Hani and Hantam districts.  Says Loudon, “I think the Java application people have found it incredibly easy to use, and I think that’s partly because we didn’t go into it designing it from scratch –  JavaRosa already had an application, and already had a whole lot of users who’d tried it and refined the interface.“ Below is a chart designed by the University of Cape Town team that shows how the system works: workers collect data on the water, send a message via GPRS or SMS to the water quality database, where the data is verified and synthesized, and then relevant data and updates are sent back to the field workers. The Water Quality Reporter project has been operational in the different districts for varying amounts time. In Hantam, where the project has been running for seven months, seven field workers have submitted 742 tests through the WQReporter. In Chris Hani, where the project has been running for three months, 11 field workers have submitted 193 test results.  Loudon said that although the project has been met with enthusiasm by the participants, it has still faced many challenges. One such challenge is the distance between the sites; there isn’t a lot of opportunity for one-on-one training because the test areas are so remote. Thus, the WQReporter platforms (both Java and SMS) have to be simple and accessible to the reporters who may not have much experience with mobiles. According to Loudon, users with less mobile familiarity use the SMS system, while users with more mobile experience use the Java application.  Furthermore, although the project is funded by the Gates Foundation , researchers were limited by the infrastructure of South Africa’s mobile phone payment system. The University of Cape Town team can’t have the charges for airtime used for the WQReporter billed directly to them, so they have to rely on field workers to use their own airtime to participate and then compensate workers for that airtime. Despite the challenges, the system is encouraging more frequent testing of water, and creating a feedback system that allows the field workers to have problems addressed more quickly. Says Loudon, “It’s been a really good experience, because once you have the cell phone system working and an information flow between people doing the tests, you’re able to aggregate the data and take action with it.” When the Aquatest water quality testing system is released, the Water Quality Reporter will have already laid the groundwork for how mobile phones can provide a reliable way of transferring and collecting data. We’re excited to see where the project goes as it continues to develop.  3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease - World Health Organization. 2008. Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, benefits, and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health.
  • Means "testimony" in Swahili. The software allows text messages (and email or web) to be mapped by time and location. Designed to be a platform anyone can use to collect and visualize information. Free and Open source Case Studies: Monitor Sudan’s first multiparty elections in 26 years Haiti earthquake relief Arizona Harassment and Intimidation (SB 1070) Louisiana Bucket Brigade The software allows text messages to be mapped by time and location. It was developed to track reports of ethnic violence in Kenya in 2008. Our goal is to create a platform that any person or organization can use to set up their own way to collect and visualize information. The core platform will allow for plug-in and extensions so that it can be customized for different locales and needs. The beta version platform is now available as an open source application that others can download for free , implement and use to bring awareness to crisis situations or other events in their own locales, it is also continually being improved tested with various partners primarily in Kenya. Organizations can also use the tool for internal monitoring or visualization purposes. Ushahidi Used to Aggregate Reports of Harassment and Intimidation in Arizona [ Guest Post by JD Godchaux, Executive Director and Lela Prashad, Chief Technology Officer of NiJeL | Community Impact Through Mapping . Lela holds an MS in Geological Sciences from Arizona State University (ASU). JD holds a Master in Public Administration from ASU. Lela and JD worked to deploy Unite Arizona along with Project Manager of Unite Arizona, Layal Rabat . Lela can be reached at lprashad 'at', JD at jd 'at', and Layal at lrabat 'at' ] As you may be aware, Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (SB 1070) recently passed the Arizona legislature and was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer . The Associated Press described the four “key provisions” of this new law, which – if it survives various legal challenges – will go into effect on July 28, 2010. According to the AP, the new law: Makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally by specifically requiring immigrants to have proof of their immigration status. Violations are a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Repeat offenses would be a felony. Requires police officers to ‘make a reasonable attempt’ to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation. Exceptions can be made if the attempt would hinder an investigation. Allow lawsuits against local or state government agencies that have policies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws. Would impose daily civil fines of $1,000-$5,000. There is pending follow-up legislation to halve the minimum to $500. Targets hiring of illegal immigrants as day laborers by prohibiting people from stopping a vehicle on a road to offer employment and by prohibiting a person from getting into a stopped vehicle on a street to be hired for work if it impedes traffic. There has been much discussion in the national and local media with respect to this law and it’s implementation, specifically the potential use of racial profiling by law enforcement to apprehend and deport illegal immigrants in Arizona. However, this is nothing new to Arizona. Over the last several years, some law enforcement agencies in Arizona have been particularly aggressive in enforcing Federal immigration laws and other state and local laws to apprehend and remove illegal immigrants from the state. For example, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office conducted a raid at City Hall in Mesa, AZ on October 17, 2008. The raid took place at about 2:00 am targeting the Mesa City Hall cleaning crew and 13 people were apprehended on suspicion of being in the country illegally. This was just one of many “raids” or “sweeps” that have occurred here with regularity in recent times. Whatever your personal position is on the issue of immigration, there are a few things that we all should be able to agree on. First, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states in Section 1 that States cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (emphasis mine). The architects of the 14th Amendment were careful not to use the word citizen in the second half of Section 1, a word they had used twice in the prior clause. All this to say that persons within the borders of the Unites States do have rights granted by Federal and State laws that cannot be infringed upon. Second, we think we should all be able to agree that people should not have to live in fear, whether it be fear of criminal activity in their neighborhood, fear of workplace raids, intimidation or harassment, or fear of being potentially deported for reporting a crime. Many people in the U.S. and Mexico live in fear of criminal activity perpetrated by organized gangs often times involved in moving drugs or people across the U.S./Mexico border. One only has to look at the state of fear that the residents of Juarez , Mexico must endure to know that this is unacceptable. With the expansion of law enforcement powers under SB 1070, it is likely that some legal U.S. residents, green card holders, H1B Visa holders, and other legal residents of Arizona will fear their interaction with law enforcement because they speak a language other than English, they speak English with an accent, or they are a member of a racial or ethnic minority group. There are large number of cases, such as this one , where U.S. citizens have been detained or deported, and with aggressive enforcement of SB 1070, many more legal U.S. citizens could find themselves detained for long periods of time or even deported. This is also unacceptable. Finally, we think we all can agree that people should be able to report criminal activity against them, their family or their friends (or crime they’ve witnessed) without fear of retribution. Whether or not safeguards are in place to protect those in the United States illegally who need to report criminal activity, with SB 1070 as the law of Arizona, it will be very difficult to establish a trust relationship between these people and law enforcement. As a result, some crime will undoubtedly go unreported and criminals will learn quickly that they can prey upon those who are here illegally – those who are afraid to call on law enforcement and cannot fight back. This might be the most unacceptable, perhaps unintended, outcome of SB 1070. Unite Arizona At NiJeL , we watched closely as this bill made its way through the Arizona House and Senate, and we urged the Governor not to sign it. When she did , we thought about how best to respond to this issue with the tools we had at hand. It was our former intern, now Project Manager and Volunteer Coordinator of Unite Arizona , Layal Rabat, who developed the idea at ICCM 2009 to use Ushahidi as a tool to track the immigration raids and sweeps. Rather than limit the implementation to the raids or sweeps, we collectively decided to expand the focus to include unreported crime, harassment by law enforcement, harassment by non-law enforcement, organized intimidation, hate group activity, and boycotts. We’re also considering an expansion of the categories to include positive efforts made by law enforcement and others to lessen tensions within and across our Arizona communities. As we mentioned before, harassment and intimidation of racial minorities has been happening in Arizona for some time, and there are other organizations providing support and services to people involved in these incidents. Yet this is the first instance in which an open platform has been deployed to track the impacts of immigration policies Arizona’s state, county and city governments and law enforcement agencies have put in place. It’s unclear how often incidents of harassment, intimidation and other organized efforts to instill fear in minority populations will occur – in fact the main function of Unite Arizona is to attempt to understand the scale and scope of the problem. Since the launch of Unite Arizona, we’ve heard from both supporters and detractors of SB 1070, and we’ve responded to these groups with the same few messages. First, the Ushahidi platform is open for anyone to use, be it viewing the data, submitting an incident, or getting alerts of local reports, and we’re crafting policies on report approval and validation that will be open for all to see. Next, we’re working very hard to disseminate the text message and voicemail number – 602-824-TALK (8255) – the twitter hashtag – #MHRSAZ – the email address – - and the url – – and if we’ve done a good job of disseminating this information, then a lack of reports to the system might indicate that SB 1070 did not lead to increased levels of harassment and intimidation. It is possible that this might happen, but it would be impossible to know if harassment and intimidation was occurring without some tool to measure it. Unite Arizona provides an independent tool that people can use to anonymously report incidents, and it provides a simple framework for understanding how big of a problem we have here in Arizona. Technical Aspects For those of you who follow this blog with an eye toward interesting Ushahidi implementations, we’ve done a few things differently on the back end than the “traditional” out-of-the-box installation. To keep costs down initially, we’re using a Qwert unlimited SMS plan ($20 per month; $10 activation), which you can use in the U.S. with any unlocked GSM handset. We’re hoping that future funding will enable us to set up and rent an SMS short code from Clickatell , which will preclude the need for this SMS plan, but for now, this appears to be working well. However, we’re currently only using the Qwert along with FrontlineSMS for our sending out SMS alerts. Qwert provides you with a random U.S. phone number, and in our case the area code is 978. For our local SMS number – 602-824-TALK (8255) – we’re using Google Voice to bring messages directly into Ushahidi. Google Voice allows you to forward incoming voice and SMS messages to an email account, and so we’re simply forwarding the messages we receive on our Google Voice number to the reporting email address – [email_address] . One advantage this offers over a regular SMS system is that Google Voice attempts to do voice mail transcription, so if a reporter attempted to call the number above instead of texting, we would still be able to incorporate their message, which is machine-transcribed by Google Voice. Admittedly, machine transcription is limited and we’re unsure how the system will respond to machine translation in Spanish, but we’re hoping that this might allow more people to use the system who are calling from public pay phones or land lines where SMS is not an option. Given the wide array of news reports related to immigration and the lack of appropriate, available news feeds, we’ve relied on Google News to help us pre-process news from over 40 local, national and international news organizations. We’ve created feeds with Google News that pull stories from each news organization that have both “Arizona” and “Immigration” in their body. By using this method, we’ve been able to create reports directly from news stories with greater frequency than we otherwise could. How to Help As we mentioned above, we’re currently putting together a protocol for volunteer moderation, but if anyone would like to help us moderate incoming reports, please contact us. In addition, if your organization would like to show support for this effort and would like more information about how to get involved, we’d love to hear from you. Finally, you can also help us by following our updates on Twitter and becoming a fan of our project on Facebook . Thank you! ----------- Ushahidi Used to Create Oil Spill Crisis Map Guest Blog Post by Shannon Dosemagen, Member Action Associate for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. She has a MS in Cultural Anthropology and is currently managing the technical efforts behind the Oil Spill Crisis Map. She can be reached at [email_address] In February, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade ( LABB ) began working with students from the Tulane University GIS class of Professor Nathan Morrow to develop a map using the Ushahidi platform. The purpose of the map was to address the large number of oil refinery accidents that happen in the state of Louisiana. The same day as their final class presentation, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. The following day it sank into the Gulf of Mexico, spewing what is now estimated at 210,000 gallons of oil a day. Burning the oil was one of the techniques that officials were testing to figure out ways to stop the spread. On April 29 th , while standing in front of our office in Mid-City New Orleans, we smelled that burning oil as it blanketed the city that afternoon. Our office is located approximately 80 miles from Venice, the town closest in Louisiana to where the oil rig once stood. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade works with communities located near oil refineries and has seen firsthand, over the last decade, the health impacts on communities from the un-regulated release of VOCs and benzene (among other pollutants) through refinery accidents. Thus, our staff team of four grabbed buckets to go take air samples in Plaquemines Parish. While sitting in a traffic jam caused by the tourist rush of the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival, we made a group decision to launch the Ushahidi platform as the “Oil Spill Crisis Map” since the Gulf Coast was faced with the onslaught of a man-made disaster. One of the interesting things about an oil spill is that, contrary to the common idea that everyone can help scrub a bird free of oil, people are only able to volunteer to help with such efforts if they are properly trained and certified.  Even though the oil spill happened in what could be considered our neighborhood, the environmental groups in Louisiana have only been allowed a small degree of access to the spill area and efforts to assist in the clean up. As an environmental and social justice organization, we felt that by launching the Oil Spill Crisis Map we would be contributing a creative solution that could make a real impact, especially as clean-up efforts continue and the livelihoods of our fishermen, shrimpers and oystermen, as well as the already fragile wetland ecosystems they rely on ( and Louisiana relies on for Hurricane protection), are threatened. Docked trawlers in Venice as commercial fishing and shrimping is closed When I went to Hopedale, a fishing community in St. Bernard Parish, as I spoke with fishermen and shrimpers, I repeatedly heard comments such as “What am I going to do? I have no education, I have no way to support my family,” or “I’ve been fishing for 70 years, this is all I know, and all I can do now is sit and wait.” It is critical that there is a platform that engages people and provides a place where they can share their experiences and stories and that is exactly what the Oil Spill Crisis Map does. In partnership with the Tulane University Disaster Resilience Academy we are using the visual reports generated on the Oil Spill Crisis Map to document and create public transparency to the way that the Gulf Coast is being affected by the oil spill. With this map we will also be facilitating accountability of the response as this must be watched and documented in any man-made disaster. As the oil continues to spill and we find that there is limited access to the official clean-up efforts, we also use this map as a way for the public to give visible testimony to how they are being affected and what they are seeing firsthand. The Gulf oil spill has the attention of the world, but besides the environmental impacts, we have yet to see the humanitarian crisis that is emerging. Only five years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Gulf Coast fishing communities are still recovering from losses that they suffered and thus this blow to their livelihoods could be completely devastating. The seafood and hospitality industries rely on coastal environments and communities and thus an entire economic chain is being destabilized. The potential impact to livelihoods is immeasurable and will be mapped to show the economic extent of this spill. ----------------- U sing Ushahidi to Monitor the Sudanese Elections Guest blog post: Fareed Zein is the Project Leader for the Sudan VoteMonitor project and Research Associate with the US-based Sudanese Institute for Research and Policy ( SIRP ). Email: [email_address] Sudan VoteMonitor is the latest successful Ushahidi implementation in Africa. It is a pilot project led by the Sudan Institute for Research and Policy ( SIRP ) and Asmaa Society for Development , in collaboration with other Sudanese civil society organizations (CSO’s), and supported by eMoksha (technical partners). The purpose of this initiative was to utilize the Ushahidi platform to support the independent monitoring and reporting of Sudan’s first multi-party election in 26 years. This technology is particularly useful in Sudan, Africa’s largest country, where long distances and inadequate infrastructure posed a significant challenge to CSO’s. The spread of mobile communications throughout the country in recent years offered a unique and feasible opportunity to utilize SMS to overcome this challenge. The site went live Aril 10, 2010 with web and SMS reporting in Sudan (in English and Arabic) to coincide with the start of the elections held April 11-16, 2010. Response was quite strong both inside and outside the country. It attracted wide interest from a variety of international organizations active in Sudan, as well as the local National Telecommunication Commission. The site was blocked inside Sudan for two days before it was permitted again, during which time the Ushahidi community worldwide was extremely supportive. Election results are still being finalized, and the site continues to receive and publish reports. The team will be looking to leverage the experience gained to help support Sudan’s Civil Society Organizations in their future work. Feedback and ideas of the Ushahidi community are greatly appreciated.
  • Variety and multitude of interconnected platforms facilitate sharing of user-generated content Technology makes censorship by oppressive regimes more difficult Blocked sites can be relocated Data can be anonymized easily Censoring massive amount of people is futile Falsifying crowd sourced info is difficult A Keynote on Freedom of Speech 2.0 I recently had the distinct pleasure of giving a Keynote on “Freedom of Speech 2.0″ at a conference on Human Rights and New Media in The Hague. I was very impressed with how the organizers of this superb conference managed to pull through in spite of the havoc caused by the volcano in Iceland. They took this an opportunity to demonstrate the application of new technologies to run part of the conference on Skype and other tools. So congratulations to the entire conference team for their pro-active, can-do attitude. I kicked off the presentation by asking the following: “What do martians, Tom & Jerry and Venice have to do with Freedom of Speech 2.0?” An unlikely way to start, I admit. But lets take our Martian friends. You may recall H.G. Well’s “ War of the Worlds ” drama about a Martian invasion of planet earth. The story was read as a radio broadcast in 1938 using a series of simulated news bulletins. The radio station ran no commercials during the broadcast which prompted many listeners in the US to believe an actual invasion was taking place. The panic this caused even made it to the front page of the New York Times: How was this possible? The information ecosystem in the 1930s was not only sparse but also mainly broadcast—one to many. Not particularly democratic compared to today’s information ecosystem which facilitates a considerable amount of user-generated content. The ecosystem we’re used to looks something like the graphic below. Not only are there more platforms but these are increasingly interconnected and interoperable. This makes the freedom of speech 2.0 possible. The Ushahidi platform is a tool that facilitates the aggregation of information across many of the technologies displayed above. In Kenya, where the platform was first used to document the post-election violence, Ushahidi aggregated information coming from SMS, web forms, social media and mainstream news. Individuals in Kenya could text a dedicated short code number to report any violence they had witnessed. The platform has since been deployed by partners around the world. At it’s heart, the platform allows users to increase transparency and accountability, and to improve coordination in a more distributed, democratic manner. One of the most recent deployments of Ushahidi is MapKibera , a project run by our good friends over at OpenStreetMap . MapKibera gives voice to people who don’t necessarily enjoy freedom of Speech 1.0 to begin with. So that explains what Martians have to do with Freedom of Speech 2.0—at least indirectly! Next is Tom & Jerry, the cartoon. With Freedom of Speech 2.0 comes Repression of Speech 2.0. In other words, a cyber game of cat-and-mouse quickly evolves between those seeking more ways to express themselves and state officials who see this as a direct threat. One recent example of this dynamic is the SudanVoteMonitor project which was run by Sudanese civil society organizations. Apparently, the site was blocked a couple days into the elections. The group found another way to get the site back up within a few hours. So it’s clear that in non-permissive environments, there will be push back on Freedom of Speech 2.0. The key is to recognize that both technologies and tactics are important when communicating in repressive environments. Technologies alone won’t circumvent repression 2.0. One of the tactics commonly used, for example, is to use code for the indicators being monitored, eg, 1 = fraud.  There are many more which you can read up on here . If this cat-and-mouse game continues, perhaps repressive regimes will come to see the futility of trying to censor or block certain websites—much like the music industry vis-a-vis the likes of Napster, e-Mule, etc. So if censorship becomes more difficult, then perhaps launching campaigns of disinformation may be the way to go for authoritarian states; this would dilute attempts at Freedom of Speech 2.0. Open crowdsourcing platforms like Ushahidi are certainly susceptible to misinformation. There’s an obvious trade-off: open up entirely, and get more crowdsourced information, but run the risk of some clowns gaming the platform. But I’d like to argue that falsifying crowdsourced information is perhaps not as easy as one might think, particularly in today’s ecosystem where multiple witnesses can report on unfolding events in near real-time. The picture below is a good illustration of this ecosystem in action. The fact that crowdsourcing can generate a lot of information is a distinct asset, and one that can be used to weed out disinformation. Take the screenshot below of the Ushahidi-Haiti deployment. Multiple witnesses can be using different technologies to provide a better picture of what is actually happening. The different text messages, pictures, tweets, etc, can be triangulated and validated when they overlap. This prompted my colleague Anand from the New York Times to ask whether the triangulated crisis map might be the new first draft of history? They say that history is written by the winners. Will future history be written by the crowd thanks to Freedom of Speech 2.0? The above graphic reminds me of Photosynth , which is a neat platform that stitches pictures together to form an overall tableau. This is where Venice comes in. Taking pictures from Flickr or other sources, one can veritably recreate Venice in 3D. Really great stuff. So the question I posed during my TEDx talk last week is, can Ushahidi become the ALLsynth to facilitate Freedom of Speech 2.0? Can we crowdsource crisis information across diverse media and stitch these together to recreate what truly happened—not just over space but across time as well? And if we could, what would it take to game the Ushahidi ALLsynth system? Dozens of pictures from as many different camera phones of an event that never happened. Text messages using different wording to describe an event that never happened. Tweets (not retweets!). Fake blog posts, Facebook groups and Wikipedia entries. Fake video footage. Heck, you’d probably want to hack the international media and plant a fake article in the New York Times home page. If you really want to go all out, you’d want to get hundreds of (paid?) actors like in The Truman Show. You’d likely want to cordon off an entire area of the city or city outskirts. Then you’d want to choreograph a few fight scenes with these actors. A few rehearsals would probably be in order too. Oh and of course props, plus lots of ketchup if you want things to look like they went badly. So in a way, a repressive regime interested in diluting Freedom of Speech 2.0 by falsifying crowdsourced information would probably have to move to Hollywood to recreate entire scenes that never happened.   Revolution by cell phone in Iran 6:00 am June 22, 2009, by Bob Barr In early 1968, North Vietnam launched a series of military offensives across South Vietnam that became known as the Tet Offensive. Military experts agree that by the end of the offensive in April, the United States and South Vietnamese had beaten the North, which suffered significant casualties. Paradoxically, however, the offensive was widely perceived as a defeat for the U.S., and in fact precipitated a protracted decline in popular support for our involvement in Vietnam. The reason for this anomaly lies in the fact that television was bringing real-time images of the street fighting directly into the living and bed rooms of millions of American viewers. This was the first example of the manner in which commercial visual communication dramatically influenced the outcome of a military conflict; a nightmare scenario in which military victory was turned to political defeat. The power of real-time television was apparent a generation later when, at Tiananmen Square in 1989, the world witnessed a single Chinese man, armed with a plastic shopping bag, stop a Red Army tank moving against civilian protestors. Unfortunately, the Chinese government then (and now) understood the power of mass communication, and moved quickly and brutally to quell that nascent popular uprising under cover of night and with no television cameras allowed. Now, in the streets of Iranian cities from Teheran to Isfahan, citizens by the tens of thousands are staging mass demonstrations unheard of in that country since similar, sustained uprisings toppled the Shah in 1979. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the clerical “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Khamenei — are desperately attempting to tamp down popular support for Mir Hossein Mousavi, who lost the June 12th presidential election to incumbent Ahmadinejad. However, the regime is finding its efforts undermined by cell phone cameras employed by demonstrators to record and send images of the demonstrations — and the government’s sometime harsh methods to stanch them — to friends and media around the world. If the demonstrators and supporters of Mousavi succeed in having the recent election overturned and even perhaps in having their candidate sworn in as president, it will be the first revolution whose primary weapon was not the tank or even the TV camera, but one of the most empowering of modern inventions — the personal communication device. Despite the tight control over the population that the 30-year-old religious-based regime has maintained in Iran, it may be no match for a population of nearly 70 million, with a high percentage of young people, and which is armed with millions of cell phones, “personal digital assistants,” and laptop computers. Meanwhile, critics of President Barack Obama are whipsawing the president because he is “not doing enough” to support the anti-government forces. Former presidential candidate John McCain last week blasted Obama for failing to speak out forcefully against the “corrupt, fraud sham of an election” that “deprived the Iranian people of their rights.” Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has introduced a resolution. The reality is that Obama is expressing support for the Iranian students and others demonstrating against the Iranian regime; only in a less fiery tone than critics like McCain (who joked during his campaign that we should “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”). Obama’s tactics may very well yield more than the red-meat approach — especially long term. Loud calls for extreme action may please constituents back home, and make for popular sound bites on the Sunday talk shows. However, Obama apparently understands that behind-the-scenes actions (likely being conducted by certain agencies of the U.S. government), coupled with more measured public criticism, may reduce the chances that the Teheran regime will decide to crack down massively on the protestors, as did China 20 years ago, and snuff out a promising move toward reform.
  • A- Anonymous – able to be used without revealing the user E – encrypted; all data is secured and protected I- invisible; doesn’t reveal itself to be out of the ordinary O- Obfusciated; hides itself within the noise and traffic of the network U- Ubiquitous – widely available at low cost (cheap, lots of hardware, open source) Tool to be used by Human Rights workers to ensure they are safe, and their info is reported Android based; Open Source; Free Included cryptography, remote wipe, location monitoring, secure email/voice calls, and more. Works on all Android compatible handsets Transparent to the user Not suspicious when examined by security personnel Welcome While smartphones have been heralded as the coming of the next generation of communication and collaboration, they are a step backwards when it comes to personal security, anonymity and privacy. The Guardian Project aims to create easy to use apps, open-source firmware MODs, and customized, commercial mobile phones that can be used and deployed around the world, by any person looking to protect their communications from unjust intrusion. The Android operating system created by Google provides an open-source, Linux-based foundation on which this project is building. From sleek, stylish smartphones to large format e-book readers, Android provides the most creative, functional and open platform on which to base this type of work. The combination of Android and Guardian will create the most secure, trustworthy, mass market consumer smartphone solution for improving the privacy of our daily lives. Whether your are an average citizen looking to affirm your rights or an activist, journalist or humanitarian organization looking to safeguard your work in this age of global communication, Guardian is the solution for your mobile security needs. ------------------- Guardian All of this would be achieved by injecting a healthy dose of security paranoia into Android’s core platform.  That would include securing or removing certain hardware drivers, tweaking the kernel, runtime and virtual machine to prevent snooping, strengthening the application framework, and updating existing apps (or replacing them altogether) with more security.  To the end-user it would all be transparent, both making for an easy-to-use device and one which, if examined by security personnel, wouldn’t raise any red flags. There’s also talk of a version of Guardian for Windows Mobile devices, which would be distributed on a memory card, and users could add Guardian-style secure functionality to their network of Android-using friends.  Already Tor has been ported to Android , and the Guardian Project is looking for more developers to continue the work. Cryptographically secure phones aren’t new, but their usefulness up until now has been tempered by their generally high pricing and the lack of actual users with the handsets.   The Guardian Project plans to change all that, and they’re intending to use Android to do it.  A Guardian Android device – which could be any Android-compatible handset, merely updated with a new firmware release – would add an anonymous browser, encrypted email, secure voice calls and secure data sync, among other things. ----------------------- Technology of Liberation? Activists Get their Own Smartphone You're in a jail in a remote region of southwestern China. The men who arrested you have confiscated your mobile phone, which contains photos of a Public Security Bureau official brutally beating a young man who organized a protest over the working conditions in a local salt mine. No one knows where you are and the police officer sitting opposite you is not smiling. But what he doesn't know is that you have already used your phone to send the photos over the Internet to a prominent human rights organization who has distributed it to the international press. Your phone has automatically replied to a text message inquiry as to your whereabouts with your GPS coordinates. A friend is on her way to the jail in a jeep with a civil rights lawyer, and your detention is already being discussed in Congress. The same friend has remotely erased all incriminating material off your mobile. Without evidence, the police have no choice but to set you free with a warning. The Guardian--a revolutionary mobile phone software--will embody a number of such James-Bond-like features especially designed with these situations in mind. Its developer, Nathan Frietas, who has been writing code since he was eight years old, is one of a growing community of digital specialists who are bringing their skills and knowledge to social justice causes. He describes Guardian as "the first open-source, secure, privacy-focused mobile phone with a target user base of activists, human rights advocates--people working for good and change within difficult circumstances." Open source describes an approach to the design, development, and distribution of software that allows public access to the source code, and encourages peer-based collaboration to customize the code to fit the needs of specific users. "The exciting thing is that this software is being developed already around the world by many different open-source developers," says Freitas. "Guardian, in a sense, is pulling these pieces together." Guardian's software is especially designed for privacy and security, including a foundational network that protects anonymity and offers secure web access. Internet use is the critical issue of mobile phone security, as mobile phone operators generally have much more control over their networks than do Internet providers. Guardian also offers encrypted SMS, voice messaging and walkie talkie options, ingenious ways to hide information, and instant one button erase all for sensitive content. The software will also include custom citizen journalist tools as activists often find themselves playing the role of reporters in places where access by independent journalists has been restricted. Tenzin Dorjee, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, sees the Guardian phone as "a game-changing tool" for social justice movements. He points out how Tibetans routinely get arrested, tortured and imprisoned for phone conversations that are tracked and censored by Chinese authorities. Freitas himself served for four years on the board of Students For a Free Tibet and Guardian was directly inspired by his experience with Tibet activists. A former senior manager at Palm, the mobile technology company responsible for the Palm Pilot, he became frustrated by stories of activists having to resort to eating their SIM-cards or smashing their phone and flushing them down the toilet. "You have to do something better than eating SIM-cards and flushing mobiles." The Center for American Progress agrees. In a recently published report, the liberal think tank calls on the US government to take steps to apply technologies such as mobile phones to the issue of human rights abuses, and proposes direct collaboration between human rights workers and new technology researchers and developers. "As new technologies are discovered, new human rights applications will emerge," the report reads. "If the US government is to be the global human rights leader its citizens want it to be, it will need to ensure that human rights are a principal beneficiary of the development of cutting-edge innovations." The Guardian software is designed to be compatible with Google Android mobile phones, 18 variations of which will be on the market by the end of 2009. Anyone who buys an Android phone and has Internet access will be able to upgrade to Guardian for free, says Freitas. "The vision is that some young person somewhere in the world goes to a night market, picks up an HTC [Android] phone, downloads the software off the internet, and we've enabled someone to have this phone in their pocket. " Once someone downloads the file onto a secure digital (SD) card, they can then pass the software from one phone to another, by-passing the Internet. Security phones with encrypted voice and SMS messaging that scrambles the data into a form that can't be understood by unauthorized people, already exist. But their price tag puts them beyond the reach of the average user. The idea of Guardian is to create a crypto-phone that is accessible for everyone. Don't get an iphone, says Freitas, because AT&T shares its user information with the US government and Apple is close-sourced. According to Freitas, Blackberry's developer, Research in Motion, has collaborated with various authoritarian states "and doesn't make clear what they've compromised in their security." Do not buy these products, he says, "because you can't trust them." Guardian looks destined to become a must-have for human rights defenders the world over. But activists aren't the only people interested in protecting their privacy and security, and the projections for Android phones puts Guardian on the breaking end of a potentially massive wave. Analysts predict that by 2012, Android will become the world's 2nd most popular smartphone platform, pushing iPhone into 3rd place, and that the shipment of Android phones will close in on 32 million by the following year. Ben Wood, an analyst with CCS Insight, told the BBC that social networks "are the fuel propelling the momentum," behind an anticipated explosion in the sales of smartphones next year--a market that has proved persistently resilient to the global recession. While the rest of the world is exchanging jokes, pick up lines and film reviews, however, civil resistance groups and activists are using communications technology to more effectively network and organize against authoritarian states. This is an example of what Patrick Meier calls an irevolution --the merger of technology and individual empowerment that he believes has the potential to change the balance of power between repressive regimes and resistance movements in favor of the resisters. Meier, a doctoral research fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, sees the Guardian phone as one example of the "technologies of liberation" to emerge from this union. But Meier is quick to point out that, "Just at the same time as civil resistance groups, civil society groups and transnational networks are starting to leverage these technologies to create more transparency and accountability, obviously repressive regimes are not going to just sit still and watch that happen." It's a good bet that states like China, that have become expert in managing citizen access to information, will respond to Guardian by stepping up their own systems of control. And if they are successful, then people working against the interests of authoritarian states may be making themselves more vulnerable by using these phones, especially since their increased sense of protection will encourage them to act less cautiously with politically sensitive information. "In the state-of-the-arts censorship system in China, there is a great need for technology that provides secure data and communication tools," says Sharon Hom, the Executive Director of Human Rights in China. "The Guardian phone could be empowering, depending upon specific functions, ease of use, and price--and its ability to stay ahead of the censors." It's this ability to stay ahead of the censors (and hackers) that will be the measure of Guardian's success. Greg Walton, a fellow at Toronto University with the think tank SecDev and consultant for Psiphon--a human rights software project whose censorship circumvention software is part of the Guardian package--is cautiously optimistic about Guardian's future. In the Spring of 2009, his group at Toronto exposed "Ghostnet"--an international computer spy ring that had infiltrated embassies and government offices around the world. Walton is part of Psiphon's "red team" that attempts to hack its own technologies to find possible security weaknesses that the "black hat" hackers (i.e. the bad guys) might manage to exploit. Walton describes Freitas as a "software curator" bringing together the best of open-sourced software. "It may seem counter-intuitive," he says, "but people have made very strong cases for the inherent security of open source software." This is because anyone can download the code and read it line by line, looking to see if it's been tampered with. "Because the code is openly available to hundreds and thousands of developers, it's far more likely that they're going to discover security vulnerabilities in the software than were the codes proprietary or close-sourced, as is the case with Microsoft, for example, where there is a very limited pool of software engineers looking for flaws and vulnerabilities." Walton is the author of a seminal study analyzing China's censorship and surveillance systems. If Guardian proves to become the tool of choice for activists, he says, "the Chinese state is going to mobilize significant resources both technical and human, to monitor and block networks of people using it." He points out that China now leads the world in internet censorship, a technology that was once believed to be impervious to government interception. "It's definitely an arms race," admits Freitas, who envisions keeping one step ahead of the "black hat" hackers through regular system upgrades that can be easily downloaded, much like Firefox. The trend of toys for social fraternizing becoming tools for social change is on the rise. Twitter did not define the post-election Iranian protests, but it galvanized international concern by bringing the living rooms of the world into the dust, terror and excitement of the streets of Tehran. Perhaps more importantly, it created a forum to unite the personal and real-time narratives of ordinary people that not only challenged state propaganda but made it seem silly. The Guardian phone may well have a similar role to play in future movements. And as ordinary citizens gain increased access to secure communications technologies, the autocracies of the world may find it increasingly difficult to dominate the story.
  • Mobile tech is saving the world

    1. 1. 5 Minutes, 5 Ways mobile technology is going to save the world @mikewolfson
    2. 2. SMS
    3. 3. SMS – Example 1
    4. 4. Voice – Example
    5. 5. Testing water
    6. 6. Crisis Mapping
    7. 7. Freedom of Speech 2.0
    8. 8. Guardian Project
    9. 9. Questions… <ul><li>Questions? </li></ul><ul><li>… you really didn’t think we were going to have time left over for questions did you? </li></ul>