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[liberationtech] Does anyone know anything about this app's security?

Yosem Companys companys at
Sat Nov 5 09:00:46 PDT 2011

 [image: ows]

Protest4 <> is a brand new Android/iPhone app
developed specifically with the Middle East uprisings, as well as Occupy
Wall Street (OWS), in mind.

While we have seen Facebook used for campaigning, Twitter to coordinate and
inform, and YouTube and live-streaming to broadcast, Protest4 offers an
additional tool, giving protesters a virtual place to connect, mobilize and

So how does it work? When you first launch the app, you can sign up for a
new account or use Facebook Connect to sign on. The homepage features a few
options including searching for or creating a protest, a link to your
protests, the protest feed, as well as a way to search for protesters. It
also displays some of the recently created protests including events in
Greece, Egypt, Spain, as well as several US cities including LA, Chicago
and Miami.

Each protest or space consists of a ‘wall’ where protesters can post
messages and photographs, and in addition, users can communicate privately
with one another.

[image: protest4 Protest4: A mobile app for connecting

Each of the protests have active users, with the most active by far being
the protest in Egypt with almost 200 users connected, and over 1,000
followers, at the time of writing.

The quality of the content however is certainly lacking, but to be fair the
app has only been available for 3 days. Even in the OWS protests, quiet at
the moment probably because I’m writing from a different time-zone, the
content posted is minimal. Most of the posts are far from informative, and
the fact that users are able to access and post to any protest regardless
of their location could turn Protest4 into another rumour mill just like

On the one hand, having users check-in, without having to share their
location publicly is a much needed feature to verify information, but on
the other, the very idea of incorporating a location-based aspect to the
mobile app may very well stop activists from using the app.

If used correctly, Protest4 could easily become yet another essential tool
that activists can arm themselves with for quick and easy communication,
earning itself a place alongside other standout
Bambuser and Tor.

Speaking to Jim Kent, one of the Luxembourg-based programmers behind the
app, he told *The Next Web *about the inspiration behind creating the app:

 We created this free app because we love to communicate and we believe in
freedom of expression. We had already been working on an app, called Zapon,
that is able to identify interests that were trending in the mobile
environment but after tracking social media usage by protesters in the Arab
Spring and more recently with #OWS, we realised the functionality was
perfect for protests and dedicated the app for the mobilisation of
protesters around the world.

Within 1 day of launching, the app gained over 2,000 registered users from
around the world. Protests were created in Greece and the US, and a
campaign was launching calling for the release of Egyptian blogger Alaa
Abdel Fattah, who was sentenced to 15 days in military prison, pending

Abdel Fattah, one of the pioneering bloggers and activists in Egypt is no
stranger to incarceration, as he was jailed under former Egyptian president
Mubarak’s regime, and now finds himself once again the object of the
authorities’ attention.

Explaining how registered members can use the app, Kent said,

 We expect protesters to create an event and chat about the issue upon
which they are protesting. Most protests are centred around a physical
gathering whereupon they can use Protest4 as a crowd management tool,
because firstly, all members of the group have equal publishing access to
an “interest wall” allowing real time instructions to be given and received
by any member and secondly even when the app is not open they receive push
notifications instantly.

At the moment we are seeing more debate and discussion by protestors with
some intriguing interaction including; US military personal in Pakistan
berating locals on their inability to keep order, the Philippine middle
classes debating the cost of power and both the pro and anti-government
groups voicing their views in our Indonesian channel.

Twitter and Facebook have already proven their worth in contributing in one
way or another to the uprisings in the Middle East, so much so that many
were more than happy to slap the convenient, and exasperating, Facebook
Revolution label on Egypt’s protests. So the question remains, are
activists going to ditch their tried and tested tools like Twitter and
Facebook, in favour of a brand new app? Jim thinks so, and he explains why:

 The virtually closed community of Facebook pages reinforces the question
of “when was the last time you met anyone new on Facebook?” There are also
some events you are involved in but do not want to automatically involve or
inform all of your Facebook friends. Twitter hash tags and Twitter trending
were influential in our development process, but similarly they do not
build any sense of connection with other followers and the trending always
seemed broad and unfocused to the point of irrelevance with real issues
happening locally to us.

Protest4 is different in that although anyone can join an interest the
topic of discussion is focused and the community connected around this
theme. The mobile application reinforces this connection by sending users a
notification if there is activity in an interest encouraging users to
return. The groups also contain some innovative tech that can facilitate
fragmentation, meaning that if any one group becomes too active with too
many members it can divide into small geo-located groups allowing
protesters to choose if they wish to stay with the broader group or connect
with other protesters who are located close to them.

As far as privacy and security is concerned, users will not have to sign up
using their real names, although many of them seem not to be worried about
this issue, with many users using their full names on the app:

 We were concerned that the authorities could use the app themselves to
identify protesters. Therefore we decided to ask for no personal data at
all of protesters, merely their name, gender and email. If they wish they
can also use an alias. (Nevertheless we allowed Facebook connect because
people expect it nowadays, but we prefer protesters to use our regular
signup option where we do not require a full name).

Not requiring users to use their real names is a double-edged sword, and
just as we’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook, Protest4 has got itself a few
trolls, most noticeably in the Egypt protest, who are obviously there to
cause problems. The team behind Protest4 have already taken this into

 Our vision for the app is to employ a native speaker to act as moderator
for each channel. Of course we wish for all of our users to have
fulfilling, informative and engaging experience and if any problem user
comes to our attention we effectively communicate with them! We are working
on a tech solution for permanently banning accounts and allowing the
community to actively report and ban problematic users on their own.

So what else can we expect from Protest4 in the future? Jim tells us:

 Protest4 is just in its infancy, and the topic of protests is here to
stay. We will keep protest4 free and all users’ data private. Our vision is
to actively support and mobilize protesters all over the world. Any user
can create any protest and we invite anyone with a cause to join us. The
technology could also be used for other interest groups and we welcome any
group that could benefit from a worldwide trending network allowing users
to freely communicate to get in touch.
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