Year in Review: OONI in 2019
As the new decade begins, we publish this post to share some OONI highlights from 2019. We also share some thoughts for 2020.
Revamped OONI Probe Mobile App
The new OONI Probe mobile app has been revamped entirely based on community feedback and features requests from the last years, following the initial launch of the OONI Probe mobile app in February 2017.
Highlights from the revamped OONI Probe mobile app include:
Major UI overhaul. The new app has an entirely new design and UX, simplified navigation, and improved presentation of test results.
Enhanced website testing. You can test the websites of your choice directly through the OONI Probe mobile app! You can also test the URLs included in the Citizen Lab’s country-specific test lists, and choose which categories of sites to test.
Overview of test results. You can now have a bird’s eye view of all your OONI Probe test results, enabling comparison.
Data usage. You can keep track of how much of your mobile data the OONI Probe app is using.
Thanks to support from the Localization Lab community, the app has been translated to the following 15 languages: Arabic, Farsi, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Catalan, Turkish, Italian, Albanian, Greek, Slovak, German.
New OONI Probe Desktop App
Image: New OONI Probe desktop app
Throughout 2019, we worked on developing the first native OONI Probe desktop app, which we plan to publicly launch soon!
Supporting OONI Probe on Windows has been a popular community request over the last years. We previously supported macOS and Linux users with a command line version of OONI Probe that could also be run from a web user interface. However, setting up OONI Probe from the terminal presented a technical barrier for many community members. Furthermore, many human rights defenders globally (that are interested in running OONI Probe) use Windows, which wasn’t previously supported.
Now, Windows and macOS users will be able to easily install and run OONI Probe through the upcoming new desktop app. We have generally tried to create a seamless experience between the OONI Probe mobile and desktop apps, which is why you will notice that the design and UX of the two apps is very similar, and that they include many of the same tests.
However, the new OONI Probe desktop app includes some different features in comparison to the OONI Probe mobile app:
Website testing. Due to bandwidth constraints on mobile, the default setting is configured to test a random sample of URLs within 90 seconds. In the OONI Probe desktop app, on the other hand, you will test all URLs included in the Citizen Lab’s country-specific and global test lists in one run. You have the option to limit the number of websites you test through the OONI Probe desktop app settings.
While the new OONI Probe desktop app was released in 2019, we plan to publicly launch it soon (once it’s more polished). So stay tuned!
Near real-time publication of OONI measurements
As of November 2019, OONI measurements from around the world are published in near real-time! This means that as soon as anyone runs OONI Probe anywhere around the world, their test results are (automatically) openly published within minutes (unless they have opted-out from publication).
This is a major milestone because for the first time, the public can track global censorship events in near real-time. And this is thanks to our colleague Federico Ceratto, who joined the OONI team in May 2019 and built a new fast-path pipeline that makes instant analysis and publication of measurements from around the world possible.
Revamped OONI Explorer
Consisting of millions of network measurements collected from thousands of networks in more than 200 countries since 2012, OONI Explorer is arguably the largest publicly available measurement resource on internet censorship to date.
Highlights from the next generation OONI Explorer include:
Revamped country pages. Through the new OONI Explorer country pages, you can learn which websites were most recently blocked (if block pages are served), how many measurements have been collected per OONI Probe test over time, and how that compares across networks in each country.
Search tool. With the new OONI Explorer search tool, you can filter measurements to view which websites are confirmed blocked (i.e. block pages are served) and which websites presented network anomalies (and therefore may be blocked). You can also filter measurements per ASN to compare censorship across networks.
Measurement pages. Through the newly designed OONI Explorer measurement pages, you can gain an overview of test results, as well as access to the raw measurement data, which you can download in JSON format.
Censorship highlights. The landing page of the new OONI Explorer shares some examples of interesting cases that you can uncover through OONI data. These include politically-motivated censorship events, media censorship, the blocking of LGBTQI sites, and censorship changes around the world.
OONI PostgreSQL MetaDB
To support batch consumption of OONI data, we have made a full copy of the OONI PostgreSQL MetaDB available.
The OONI PostgreSQL MetaDB enables you to set-up a read-only replica of the OONI MetaDB, allowing you to run heavy database queries on your own infrastructure for batch analysis. To enable adoption, we published documentation that explains how to set-up a copy of the OONI MetaDB.
New OONI Probe tests
We expanded our methodologies by developing the following new OONI Probe tests:
Telegram rewrite in Go
For follow-up measurements, we wrote the following tests:
To ensure that our methods work as expected and to make OONI Probe more resilient, we built a censorship simulation tool (called Jafar) to run experiments and improve the robustness of our tools.
New OONI Probe measurement engine
We released a new OONI Probe engine!
Over the last years, the OONI Probe mobile app was powered by the C++ Measurement Kit library. To enable the integration of tests, improve its maintainability, and iterate more quickly with higher confidence in code quality, we re-wrote the OONI Probe measurement engine from C++ to Go.
The new OONI Probe engine powers both the OONI Probe mobile and desktop apps. We plan to complete the process of making the apps rely entirely on the new golang engine in 2020.
Our network of partners grew in 2019!
Throughout the year, we had the opportunity to establish 6 new partnerships with the following digital rights organizations:
Fundación Internet Bolivia (Bolivia)
Open Culture Foundation (Taiwan)
Software Freedom Law Centre (India)
With our growing coalition of partnerships, we will continue to measure and report on internet censorship around the world.
In collaboration with our partners (and other community members), we published the following 13 research reports covering censorship events around the world:
OONI workshops and presentations
As part of our community engagement and outreach activities in 2019, we facilitated workshops and presented OONI at the following conferences and events around the world:
FOSDEM 2019 (Belgium), Session: “Designing for Activism: An overview of the UX overhaul of OONI Probe” (2nd February 2019)
BarCamp Chiang Mai (Thailand), Session: “OONI workshop” (16th February 2019)
Vietnam Cyber Dialogue (Spain), Session: “OONI censorship measurement” (31st March 2019)
Internet Freedom Festival 2019 (Spain), Sessions: “OONI community feedback: Improving censorship measurement research“, “Conducting network measurements in censorship hotspots – lessons from the field“, “Multi-disciplinary teams, journalistic capabilities, and methodological protocols to monitor and investigate internet censorship“, “OONI Partners Meetup”, OONI presentation at the IFF Expo & Tool Showcase (1st – 5th April 2019)
Digital Rights & Inclusion Forum 2019 (Nigeria), Session: “Uncovering Censorship Evidence” (23rd April 2019)
Media for Democracy Forum (USA), Panel: “New and Emerging Threats to Media Freedom: What’s Next?” (7th May 2019)
RightsCon 2019 (Tunisia), Sessions: “Supporting the KeepItOn campaign with network measurement data”, “Measuring internet shutdowns“, “Detecting, understanding, and countering censorship of Wikipedia“, “Methods: Measuring freedom of internet”, “OONI Partners Meetup”, “OONI workshop (Day 0)“ (11th-14th June 2019)
Citizen Lab Summer Institute 2019 (Canada), Sessions: “Censorship Measurement Campaigns: A decentralized approach to measuring and responding to internet censorship events” (1st August 2019)
Chaos Communication Camp 2019 (Germany), Sessions: “OONI: Measuring Internet Censorship Around the World”, “OONI Hackathon” (22nd-25th August 2019)
OONI partners and other community members facilitated OONI workshops around the world too! Examples include the Open Culture Foundation’s OONI workshop in Taiwan and an OONI workshop hosted in Venezuela for local journalists.
To support OONI community engagement efforts around the world, we created and published several resources. These include:
OONI workshop slides. Interested in facilitating an OONI workshop? Download the OONI workshop slides and adapt them to meet the needs of your communities.
OONI Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). The new OONI FAQ addresses many questions that community members ask about OONI, OONI Probe, OONI Explorer, and OONI data.
OONI Glossary. The new OONI Glossary provides brief explanations for terms commonly used in the OONI-verse (within OONI apps, documentation, and research reports), as well as for a number of technical terms used in the internet freedom community.
OONI Run buttons page. Is social media reportedly blocked in a country? To support rapid response to emergent censorship events, we integrated thematic OONI Run buttons on our website to enable the testing of specific types of websites.
Thanks to the OONI community, many measurements were collected from far and wide.
Every month in 2019, more than 8 million OONI Probe measurements were collected from more than 4,000 networks in more than 205 countries around the world.
Based on this global measurement coverage, many cases of internet censorship were detected and reported around the world. Apart from our reports, many other cases were reported by community members who made use of OONI data as part of their own, independent research efforts.
Some highlights include:
Media filtering in Russia and Crimea amid presidential elections. Through the use of OONI data, OTF Information Control Fellows Ksenia Ermoshina and Igor Valentovitch published a research report that investigated, contrasted, and compared internet censorship in Russia and Crimea during the 2018 Russian presidential elections.
Measuring internet censorship across Ukraine. The Digital Security Lab of Ukraine created its own “local OONI”, coordinating OONI Probe censorship measurement efforts across Ukraine. Based on their analysis of OONI data, they published several research reports documenting the blocking of websites and how that varies across regions and networks in Ukraine.
Freedom on the Net 2019 reports. Many Freedom House reports on Freedom on the Net cited OONI data, including those for Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Kenya, Jordan, Iran, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Cuba.
Overall, OONI data became more actionable in 2019, as community members used OONI Probe and OONI data in many interesting ways. Below we share a few highlights from 2019:
OONI data supported a High Court petition in Pakistan. Back in November 2017, we reported on the blocking of several media websites, Facebook (facebook.com and Facebook Messenger), YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Telegram in Pakistan amid protests. Our report – which shared OONI network measurement data collected from Pakistan – was cited as evidence in a petition filed in the Islamabad High Court by Pakistan’s Media Matters for Democracy, challenging the blocking of media websites and popular social media platforms during the protests. The petition – filed through Charahgar – challenged the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) authority to block websites without due process. As an outcome, the Islamabad High Court declared that the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority’s interpretation of Section 37 of PECA is against the Constitution, and that they cannot regulate content without following the due process, the principles of transparency, and oversight. This is a landmark victory for internet freedom in Pakistan.
Venezuelan partners nominated for 2019 Gabo Award. Through the use of OONI Probe and OONI data, IPYS Venezuela (along with Venezuela Inteligente / VEsinFiltro) has been measuring internet censorship in Venezuela since 2014. They have created a network of volunteer OONI Probe users across Venezuela, who coordinate on measuring and reporting on emergent censorship events. Through the use of OONI data, they have published numerous research reports, documenting internet censorship events in Venezuela on an ongoing basis. Their Intercortados project was nominated for the 2019 Gabo Award, among the 10 best innovation projects.
Harvard’s AccessCheck project powered by OONI data. Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society launched AccessCheck, a platform that enables you to check the accessibility of websites around the world. We are excited that AccessCheck is powered by OONI data, along with data collected from virtual private network (VPN) endpoints and virtual private servers (VPS).
We are excited to see how community members make use of OONI data in 2020! If you’re interested in working with OONI data and need support, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
There’s no doubt that 2020 will be a challenging year for everyone around the world.
In light of the escalating global impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus), many digital rights conferences and events have already been cancelled (such as the Internet Freedom Festival and RightsCon), and we’ll likely see less of each other in person this year.
Nonetheless, we look forward to connecting more with you online. Join us on the OONI Slack channel to chat with the OONI team and community members from around the world. Please feel encouraged to use the OONI Slack channel as a social space amid social distancing: a space to connect with others, share ideas and thoughts, and to support each other.
We facilitate monthly community meetings on the OONI Slack channel to receive news and updates from the community, collect community feedback on OONI tools and methodologies, address questions, and foster discussions on internet censorship issues. We usually facilitate these meetings at 14:00 UTC on the last Tuesday of the month, but we confirm these details on the ooni-talk mailing list.
We will also explore opportunities to facilitate online workshops and events throughout 2020. If you’re interested in facilitating an online OONI workshop to engage people with censorship measurement, we encourage you to do so and we share OONI workshop slides that you can download and adapt.
Ensuring a free and open internet during an emergency, like the current pandemic, is more important than ever. But a few days ago, state-owned CANTV blocked access to a coronavirus information portal in Venezuela. Measuring internet censorship can therefore be a question of public safety.
Throughout 2020, we will continue to improve upon the OONI Probe apps and methodologies. We will continue to improve upon OONI Explorer and our data analysis capabilities. We will continue to report on censorship events around the world, and to serve the internet freedom community.
We hope you all stay safe during these difficult times.