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[liberationtech] Google Unveils Tools to Access Web From Repressive Countries |

Yosem Companys companys at
Mon Oct 21 10:25:48 PDT 2013

Google Ideas, the New York City-based “think/do tank” run by the
Internet search giant, is launching several new technologies designed
to highlight hacker attacks around the world and help people in
repressive regimes access the Internet. The new products, which are
being announced Monday at the Google Ideas Summit in New York City,
represent the most substantial offerings delivered by the
three-year-old Google policy unit and could be a major boon to
activists and reformers in the world’s most closed and repressive

“There are billions of people around the world living in environments
that severely restrict their free expression,” Jared Cohen, Director
of Google Ideas, told TIME in an interview on Sunday. “We want to
empower them to have access to the same Internet that the rest of us
experience. We talk about how we have a responsibility to our users.
That also includes people in Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria, where
the challenges are so serious.”

Cohen, a 31-year-old geopolitical expert, earned undergraduate and
graduate degrees from Stanford and Oxford and later worked as a U.S.
State Department advisor to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton
before being asked by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt to launch
Google Ideas in 2010. Cohen, who co-authored The New Digital Age with
Schmidt in April, said that he was attracted to Google by the
“activist spirit” of many of the company’s employees.

“This is a company of activists and white-hat hackers,” Cohen says.
“When you work at Google and tell these engineers that their skill-set
is relevant to somebody in Iran who doesn’t have access to information
in their country or the rest of the world, it really inspires them to
want to do something about it. There is a genuine altruism that exists
at this company, and that’s why I’m here and not anywhere else.”

The most ambitious product launch is uProxy, a new Web browser
extension that uses peer-to-peer technology to let people around the
world provide each other with a trusted Internet connection. This
product is designed to protect the Internet connection of users in,
say, Iran, from state surveillance or filtering. Google Ideas is
providing funding and technical assistance for uProxy, which was
developed by researchers at the University of Washington and Brave New

“If you look at existing proxy tools today, as soon as they’re
effective for dissidents, the government finds out about them and
either blocks them or infiltrates them,” says Cohen. “Every dissident
we know in every repressive society has friends outside the country
whom they know and trust. What if those trusted friends could unblock
the access in those repressive societies by sharing their own access?
That was the problem we tried to solve.”

UProxy allows users in the U.S. to give their trusted friends in
Iran—people they might already be emailing or chatting with—access to
the open U.S. Internet. “The user in Iran can get unfiltered access to
the Internet that’s completely uncensored and will look just like it
does in the U.S.,” says Cohen. “It’s completely encrypted and there’s
no way for the government to detect what’s happening because it just
looks like voice traffic or chat traffic. We wanted to build a proxy
service that builds on top of trusted relationships that already

Google Ideas is also launching Project Shield, which is an initiative
designed to help human rights activists, non-governmental
organizations (NGOs), election monitoring groups, and news
organizations better protect their websites from “distributed denial
of service” (DDoS) attacks. Several high-profile news organizations,
including The New York Times, have recently been targeted by hackers
who used DDoS attacks to temporarily shut down websites. ”Google is
very good at protecting itself from DDoS attacks,” says Cohen. “But
NGOs, independent media outlets, human rights organizations, and
election-monitoring organizations don’t have the capacity to protect
themselves in the way that we do.”

“We believe in human rights, we believe in free expression, we believe
in election-monitoring, and we believe in independent media.” Cohen
says the goal is to leverage Google’s technology to aid these efforts.
Project Shield is currently under development—consistent with Google’s
“launch and iterate” product philosophy—and the company is inviting
web-masters working in these areas to apply to join its next round of
“trusted” testers. For now, the product is free, Cohen says.

The third Google Ideas product launch is the Digital Attack Map, which
is a live data visualization, built in conjunction with network
security firm Arbor Networks, that displays DDoS attacks worldwide in
real-time. This online tool shows real-time anonymous traffic data
related to DDoS attacks, and also lets users explore historical trends
and see related news reports, via Google News, of website outages as
they are happening.

“What we’ve done for the first time is take all of the DDoS attacks
worldwide and show what the state of DDoS activity looks like in
real-time, much like you’d check the weather,” says Cohen. “If you
think about all of the organizations around the world that use a
website as their modern-day office—NGOs, businesses, governments—it’s
not OK to have this many digital office raids shutting them down.”
Cohen says DDoS attacks are the online equivalent of masked gunmen
storming a newsroom and taking a station off the air by force.

(MORE: The Internet Doesn’t Hurt People — People Do: ‘The New Digital Age’)

Google Ideas is introducing the new products during a conference in
New York City called “Conflict in a Connected World,” which the tech
giant is sponsoring in conjunction with the Council on Foreign
Relations and the Gen Next Foundation. Computer security experts,
entrepreneurs, dissidents and journalists from around the world have
gathered in lower Manhattan to discuss how technology can be both a
liberating force—and a tool for state repression.

Given Google’s size and influence in the tech world, it’s only natural
that some observers might take a cynical view of the company’s
Internet freedom efforts. After all, Google is neither a non-profit
group (although it has a philanthropic arm called nor a
charitable organization. Google is a capitalist juggernaut with a $337
billion market capitalization, $56.5 billion in cash, and a stock
price that now exceeds $1000 per share. Put simply, as more people
around the world use the Internet, Google is poised to benefit
financially. Last quarter, Google said that revenue from outside the
U.S. totaled $7.67 billion, representing 56% of the company’s total
business, a figure that will only grow as more people around the world
get online.

In the interview with TIME, Cohen addressed such doubts. “If you think
about some of the environments we’re talking about, like North Korea,
Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Sudan, all of these countries have sanctions on
them,” says Cohen. “So there’s no business interest in these
countries. The interest we have is in giving users in every
environment the same level of security and unfiltered access that you
or I have here in the United States. We care about free expression,
and this is an example of us putting our product where our mouth is.”

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