On censorship and privacy

Seeing how American tech giants (Google, Facebook et. al.) are cooperating with NSA and similar organisations (wether forcibly is irrelevant) have you considered the implications of being based out of NY (or even the US)?

[…] Outernet is able to bypass censorship, ensure privacy, and offer a universally-accessible information service at no cost to global citizens. […]



is a strange combination of sentences. Who has the final say in what will be delivered?


[…] a basic level of news […]

How basic? Just headlines? Or basic as in, China did evil things and Famous person did that, but not American Whistleblower just released X?

Where will these news come from? BBC? Reuters? Swedish Aftonbladet?

Questions, so many questions.
Thank you for answering!

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One idea that would improve the privacy would be to have multiple and flexible downlink locations. Multiple downlink would prevent short term disruptions. Flexible downlink would insure longer term privacy. For example:

  1. NSA wants to seize the down link in NY. Solution: NY down link is turned off and other locations world wide continue to provide the service.
  2. When the down link is flexible, this means that the antenna can be re-aimed toward a completely new location. So even if several downlink locations are seized, new one can be created easily.

The decision on which news outlets to use will be largely community driven. Over time, a list of news organization will be created through community input. The BBC is widely regarded as among the most fair and objective in their reporting; if our community of users agrees with this, then they may be the go-to source for breaking content.

Of course, we won’t be limiting information sources to large, professional organizations. If we have users in the field that are experiencing an event in real-time then we will very likely be broadcasting their views on the subject.

I would also like to add that, as far as user privacy is concerned, even a subpoena would be useless because the broadcast nature of Outernet means individual consumption patterns are impossible to know from our end. This is a critical difference between Outernet and other Internet-based information services that have a record of user behavior.

Regarding the process of selecting the information that Outernet broadcasts, Syed addressed that. I would only add that we are openly discussing these challenges and believe the best answer may come from the community. For example, I wrote an article about these challenges here: qz.com/243444/i-am-editing-the-internet-for-the-rest-of-the-world-and-could-use-your-opinion/

I think you need to give up on ‘fair’ or ‘objective’ these things are only subjective.

The BBC promotes a Western, progress driven, market-based world view. It’s one you and I probably share, but that doesn’t make it ‘right’.

I think the best you you can hope to do is present news from a range of sources.

Al Jazeera, Russia Today, Haaretz, Palestine News Network will all have different perspectives on things. You shouldn’t be trying to find the one ‘true’ perspective, but you can present them all (bandwidth permitting) to people.

More thoughts on representing this cultural & linguistic diversity here: https://discuss.outernet.is/t/who-decides-what-2mb-of-content-i-get/852/3


I think we all need to look at the Outernet for what it is —

It is a broadcast platform much like radio or television. The interactivity as-is, is none. You can either tune the signal and receive and decode or you cannot. It’s a passive consumption routine post-setup for those on the Outernet.

With that said, there are no subscriptions to track, no ads to make sense of, no human data to crunch. Like a big AM radio station where the switchboard is silent, those involved in the project will at times wonder - IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?

Because of this and the limited payload that can be shipped, the goal should be to have compelling content and reference material ahem, news, minus the spin factor.

Clearly there needs to an “editorial” board within Outernet to steer content. Carrying a strict payload of non offensive, dull, emotionless filtered boil down probably isn’t going to work. But being an activist platform for multitude of causes won’t fly either. There needs be some balance and without being US centric or heavily focused on any other power group or even continent.

The monitoring groups and government chill should be rather non existent with such a project outside of their propaganda pieces strategically placed. Not like they care / mind / babysit satellite TV, FTA area, or most other things. The satellites are an area of limited controls on speech and regulation (post launch). Pre launch is all sorts of red tape, costs, liability, etc.

I think there is some work to do here on use cases/ user stories. Key ones that are of interest to me are:

  • Me (privileged westerners buying as a toy) as keeping us amused helps the economics.

  • Dissidents in repressive regimes speaking a non- western language, North Korea, China, etc

  • People in areas with little infrastructure: Notably Sub Saharan Africa but other places too.

I’m interested in whether some automation can help with a baseline of news. With a bandwidth budget of within 0.5Mb. I reckon you could send this (without the images) daily:


  • I find the above page interesting enough to amuse me for a few
    minutes a day, it also encourages me to improve my language skills.

  • If I’m living in North Korea there is some news, in Korean about
    North Korea from a western perspective

  • If I live in the wilds of Senegal there is some news abut Senegal
    in French

There is some question of whether republishing the Google news feeds infringes copyright which needs proper clarification. But the principle of a bit of news from every country could be made to work in any case.

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Please remind us again about that news feed if it is not implemented soon. It’s a great idea. I’m going to place it on our board, but feel free to check in if it hasn’t been implemented in a few weeks.

I’m very impressed with your ability to basically echo what we have talked about during our team calls. Those three bullet points are absolutely spot on, though I think there is one point related to the first point that might be neglected: Some rich people (relatively, from a global perspective) want to buy a Lantern for the purposes of emergency preparedness. For example, in the United States it would have been very useful during hurricanes Katrina and Sandy (assuming we were transmitting useful information, or course). Same with the numerous typhoons that hit Southeast Asia.

What would happen if you decided to reserve some bandwidth to broadcast random content daily?

When I say random, I really mean it, any random page each day. You’d need to find/develop a good random implementation in the internet context. Interesting chalenge.

This is the most disruptive approach I found

Hi Syed, Great thanks :slight_smile: good to hear you are doing the feed thing! I think it should provide a good baseline to build on.

One thing that would be nice is if the news could build cumulatively so by default I’d have 10 days or so of news built up in my hard drive/ reader. I could extend or shorten this time period depending on my preference.

The other thing I think is definitely worth getting right is only sending content that has updated. This will allow you to include many more feeds. For example the French Wikinews site only updates once a week on average. So it should only send that content, not the last five items in that feed every single day.

In terms of layout I actually quite like http://www.netvibes.com/samuk#General if the option to minimise certain sections persisted across a reboot. It would be good if the user could drag and drop the boxes to their taste too. Not sure how viable that kind of thing is on a low power computer…

I think Google News feed is the least worst option for a single feed of Headline/teaser content per country. Their algorithm is obviously good and it gives a range of sources in a single feed. In terms of the copyright question you could put up a page on your site saying; This is what we are doing, we think it’s fair use, if your content is syndicated by Google and you don’t want us using your headlines fill out the form below. It would then be trivial to filter the feed for ‘AFP’ or whoever filled out the form.

https://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Main_Page Wikinews is good as far as it goes, and the creative commons licensing means that you could include up to five full articles a day across multiple languages. It does illustrate the slight randomness/ US centric slant you get when you crowd-source a news feed. At the moment one of the top stories is a Texas robbery…

http://globalvoicesonline.org/ is another creative commons source you could use for full articles. It doesn’t seem overtly left or right. A good choice of languages, but many of them don’t update that frequently.

http://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/ I have seen suggestions that outernet should build ‘reddit like’ functionality. I’d argue Reddit already exists and this is an interesting stream to use for headline/teaser content to just use

http://en.rsf.org/ Reporters without Borders has some good stuff in their feed. .

http://www.un.org/news/ might outrage some right wingers, but arguably worth including

http://www.hrw.org Might annoy some left wingers who see it as extension of US foreign policy.

https://wikileaks.org doesn’t have a functioning RSS at the moment, otherwise I’d suggest including that too.

This is an excellent idea. I think it has something to do with how content will be broadcast and updated. Having a manual way of controlling what gets kept after it goes “out of date” on the server side would be potentially useful and/or neat.

I think this is specifically hard to do as who can say what each person has already downloaded on their individual pillar or lantern? If i’m correct i believe the current frame of thought on the matter is having a couple of transmissions, one for news, one for the core content, and one for software updates (for example).

Have you all seen what Librarian UX looks like? http://librarian.outernet.is/en/

I know @ben has. But for everyone else, that link is where we try to keep the most current stable (ish) version of Librarian. It should also be a current feed of what is being broadcast, but I don’t think that is yet the case.

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you haven’t answered the most important aspect of first post. How you plan to avoid control/censorship/bias of your broadcast by US government and more less (in)depended institutions (CIA, FBI, NSA, DHS, FSM :wink: ect.).
Any visitors from those organisations already?.. Oh, wait it’s illegal in US to admit that you cooperate. Damnit!

The problem with all broadcasted content, like shortwave radio programs offered by Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, etc. is that repressive regimes can easily cut off access to these broadcasts by disturbing the broadcast frequency. How can Lantern receivers avoid radio jammers, in North Korea, for instance?

At the bottom of this page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lantern-one-device-free-data-from-space-forever

Outernet states:

We planned for anti-censorship from the beginning. Our mobile receiver, which I have written very little about, is a frequency agile receiver. This means that if one frequency is jammed, we simply move to an alternative–and can do this across 5 difference channels (or more). Since Outernet is a broadcast solution, the monitoring stations are actually irrelevant, since the reception of broadcast content ensures the anonymity of consumption. Since we use existing spectrum licenses, our anti-censorship plan is all perfectly legal and abides by all restrictions of local jurisdictions. But since we are broadcasting data in a multi-channel, multi-speed, and super duplicated manner, it just makes it hard to selectively censor specific works that we distribute. Of course, a government is always able to continuously jam all of our frequencies (this is a little more difficult for certain bands), but which government wants to be the one that is publicly known for disrupting humanity’s public library? My hypothesis is that our global brand equity will offer more resilience to government censorship than any of our technical strategies.

Thanks. I hope the technology works. In my experience, opressive regimes do not shy away from very aggressive radio jamming - they will just label Outernet as foreign proganda. I cannot imagine the North Korean regime to be much concerned about global brand equity.

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