ACLU + The Guardian Project Case Study and Hackathon

We’re hacking away on the application, copy, and text right now!!

Case study:

Apologies for the brevity, will update later with more info but hacking away!!

== Update ==

Today we had a day-long, team hackathon with help from people outside the team too!  It was a lot of fun and very successful.  We were able to get a lot going with our application and have a basic version running for Android devices.  Seen below is the landing page for our application where the user can take actions to get more information (“ABOUT”), or scan the surrounding cell towers (“SCAN”).  The about action will take the user to another screen showing background information on the problem (“What is Spidey”, “What are IMSI-catchers”, “Why be concerned?”, etc.).  The scan action will actually scan and persist cell tower information.

Spidey landing page

Landing page for the Spidey application. Scan button in upper right will scan and persist cell towers. About button brings up additional information on the application and problem at hand (IMSI-catchers, Stingray devices).


With the initial version of our application running, we have a better idea on how to build out more features and are constantly coming up with new ideas.  We’re focusing on building out very clean scanning information for comparison and storage that will allow for us to do more with the data.  In addition to the application we’re working on copy for our promo website and the Google play store.

Tor/Transition House: Project Update

We continued our work on IPVTech Research Portal, a tool designed for advocates to help them find related cases of Intimate Partner Violence via technology.

We evaluated our previous iteration and made some modifications. We took into account issues such as privacy and potential legal caveats; we tried to define categories for cases; we explored more sources of information and considering include court decisions into our datasets.

We revisited how our product is integrated into the advocates’ workflow. We decided and drafted some mini infographics describing the new workflow, which will serve as our introductory material.

Besides, we started to work on our case study.

Some screenshots (see case study for more):
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UYC Blogpost #8!

Our group met this past Thursday to talk to Maria from UYC concerning our second iteration.   Bex was able to join into our Google hangout in order to answer any  questions Maria may have had concerning Vojo that we may not have been able to answers. Maria was largely concerned that the Vojo approach would produce just another website for UYC to manage and that Vojo would not be as appealing or accessible via mobile phone as opposed to an app.
During our meeting, we all submitted quick sms messages to our Vojo test page. Maria expressed to us that she would rather the Vojo stories site be kept closed, and we were also concerned about how to incorporate the “survey” aspect of our project into our third project iteration. Bex suggested a number of other media projects and platforms for us to look into, such as mobilecommons. We were recommended to research the success of apps like the NYCLU Stop and Frisk App and to look into mobile survey tools.
We have not been able to meet with Neo yet, but we hope to soon. We would like to see if it’s possible to create a lightweight app that could package Vojo, perhaps with a screen explaining how to send in a story, a screen explaining student rights, and a screen explaining how to get involved with UYC.
This upcoming Wednesday we will be leading the class discussion and presentation. Maria will be presenting on the history of the school-to-prison pipeline, as well as explain more about Urban Youth Collaborative as an organization. We will be leading a class workshop where we aim to have classmates discuss how to make Vojo suit our needs and perhaps ways to convey the stories once we’ve received them.

Team CURE: Prototypes + Design Development!

This past week, Team CURE made substantial headway with prototyping our project. While we are still working on finding a way to get a working prototype off the ground (neither Miho nor I are very adept at website design — hopefully we will get some help from NEO soon!), we have been trying to work through the graphic language + user experience of our project by creating mock up boards.

The website is meant to be a visual subversion of the existing red dot sex offender registry map. Instead of seeing registrant information when you click on the dots, you get super useful information from CURE about why the registry might be more damaging than productive. We anticipate that one of the main problems that we will be encountering going forward is the management of all of our dots (the multimedia content embedded in the site). As of now, we want the dots to have…. embedded video, essays, research pieces, facts, personal narratives, news articles and links to organizations. Depending on which dot you click, you will get a tiny morsel of information. The more you click the more you know!

Based on the feedback that we got from CURE, we will be working to make the graphic language less cute and more serious so expect a few more iterations of this shortly!

Website Draft_041414

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EFF: Update #8

This week we made some more prototypes and worked on the case study – now that we have another iteration of the website, we’re hoping that someone at Neo can make us a Drupal template into which we could send all of the information. Up next – hopefully we’ll be meeting with someone at Neo soon, and since Jillian sent us a few more final versions of the text, we’ll be making some more animations.

Case Study
Click below the cut for prototypes

Continue reading

Tor/Transition House: Project Update

During this week, we scraped the data from Cambridge police logs. We’ve got roughly 3600 lines of data of police reports. We’ve found that some of them are relevant to our research. (e.g. search with keywords like “computer” or “hacking”) There are also other interesting findings, such as police refer “domestic violence (DV)” to “domestic dispute”, which may provide some insight to workers in DV field.

We started to design the user interface for a database. Advocates can use this database to explore the uncharted sea of domestic surveillance. The database allow advocates and general public search among vast of police logs, which was unfriendly to researchers in the past. The database will also allow advocates and domestic violence shelter staff comment on logged cases, tag on cases to summarize device and technology uses, and submit new cases. This tool will be included in IPVTech, a resource center for people who want to eliminate intimate partner violence or abuse through technology.

The next step is to choose the proper web technology and build the interface out. We also contacted some interviewees and tried to reach out Cambridge Police. So interviews are also included in our schedule.



UYC Update #7

This week’s “Fail Hard” workshop in class addressed many of our concerns and questions regarding our collaborative project with UYC. As  none of the members of our group can code, building an app for UYC would have required extensive help from Neo or other programmers. Additionally, there are several platforms, including Vojo, that already perform many of the functions that UYC requires (sharing stories, text and video, as well as geo-mapping).
Our updated project is then to work on the front end for the Vojo page, and we will be meeting with Maria and Yorman to discuss how they would like to have that designed (e.g. an independent website/blog or as an additional page on the UYC website). We would like to test the efficacy of this platform with student users as soon as possible, so that we can get any issues with contributing to/using the site sorted out before the end of the semester.
This weekend we looked over Vojo and familiarized ourselves with the tools on the website. For our second iteration we have created a sample website that features the functions of the app we initially planned, most importantly the story uploading, pictures, text and heat-mapping. We have added several stories via email, text, and the blog function on Vojo, taking examples from UYC’s website and creating example “profiles” to show how telling stories will look like on this platform.
During this week’s meeting with UYC, we will take them through this alternative, and answer their questions about Vojo’s functionality, as well as get their feedback on refining the page further.
This week was incredibly helpful, since we will be able to use Vojo to achieve most of our initial goals with the app. We will be speaking with NEO this evening, and get their feedback on some of our questions on developing the website, including the possibility of a ‘skin’ for mobile that allows users easy access to the site, and/or suggestions for optimizing the web page/site.

Update #7: EFF

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Last week the EFF (Jillian & Eva) led a discussion on threat modeling and how and why we might want to make threat models. Afterwards, as a class, we split into groups and worked through some of the different modules, thinking through interactive and visual elements. We talked about doing anything from flow charts to inserting animated GIFs.
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We also got some feedback from Hugh and this is the next iteration of the design (it’s cat-free!).
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At the moment, we’re going to start thinking more critically about design elements and ask Neo for help with a framework for the website. Here are a few of the design elements (in various draft-y states).

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batman threat model



Spidey project class review (ACLU & The Guardian Project)

During the class review of our project we got a lot of useful feedback. The presentation outlined my project partners, the ACLU and the Guardian Project, and their missions — leaving some of the detailed information to Kade and Nathan who were in class to talk after presentations. I then gave a quick overview of the cellular topology and how cell phones connect to the network and trasnmit data back and forth — again leaving out specifics as Nathan was giving a talk specifically on this. I then talked about IMSI-catchers or Stingray devices, and how they can be used to intercept data. To put our project into context, I went over our team values and project goals and talked about the various user personae. Finally, I went over a few of the design candidates that we’re considering and talked about the one that we have started to implement.

The feedback from the class was really helpful. After the presentation a few questions led to the discussion of what would happen post-discovery of an IMSI-catcher or Stingray device. This is something that I hadn’t really thought of as an important aspect of the project/application. Initially I saw the main value of the application to be the alerting feature — purely a technological/engineering approach. It turned out that the audience didn’t know what they should do given the information that their signal is possibly intercepted. One member told us to consider suggesting to users where safe places are. Another asked specifically in what ways they should they react to finding out that they are being spied on. This is something to really think about and sort out going forward. A naive solution would be to present a set of steps that informs the user of things to do — such as turn off the phone, move to a safe location, and report the behavior.

Some of the feedback around sharing the information recorded was a little unexpected. We initially hypothesized that people would not want to necessarily share their data — the data pertaining to the possibility of an IMSI-catcher detection. It turns out that this seems to be an incredibly useful feature — and one that people would want. Specifically one member of the audience suggested, “Consider sharing publicly when an IMSI catcher is found via FB, twitter, with a hashtag”. This brings additional benefits such as alerting as many people about the issue as possible and increasing awareness of the subject, and letting law enforcement know that we know what they’re up to.

Finally, the biggest thing we learned is that there are a lot of people who don’t really know what the issue it or why it should matter to them. A suggestion was made to make it more friendly to people who aren’t aware or who don’t care about being under surveillance. A member of the audience suggested that we “make them somehow more aware of why it’s important”, and someone else agreed with this. This is something that we are addressing and will test in the next phase of our design process. It’s also something that we hope to address before people get their hands on our application. Hopefully we have a website or description of the app available and why people should care.

The Cambridge Media Lab DiscoTech

This is the “director’s cut” of a shorter article about the Cambridge DiscoTech published in The Dig. Reposted with permission.

You enter the Center for Civic Media through MIT’s fabled Media Lab, its lobby full of prototype future vehicles and artificial limbs. The elevator takes you up through the atrium, surrounded by glass walled labs with names like “Laboratory for the Connected World” and “Viral Spaces”. As you walk back to “Civic”, as it’s called, you encounter a different vibe, a hodgepodge of chairs and couches, and random artifacts like an outsized cowboy hat and a cutout Dr. Who Dalek. Civic’s vibe is not the only difference. While the Media Lab is in many ways an advanced research and development lab for capitalism, the scholars and students of Civic study things like how the Trayvon Martin story moved from social to mainstream media or how Anonymous’s denial-of-service cyber attacks fit into a history of physical denials of service such as boycotts and sit-ins.

The Codesign Studio, a class taught for the last few years by Assistant Professor Sasha Costanza–Chock functions as a critique of the expertise culture of MIT. The Studio’s core premise is collaborative design, that those creating for a community should design in a partnership with that community and should recognize the expertise and knowledge of community members. Collaborative design arose in the United States during 1990s, a response to the time when computers were still relatively rare, but were beginning to be used to define solutions and impose processes for large groups. Viewing these as a technologies of control, the “participatory design movement” strove to democratize these systems, starting with their design.

Chock, along with his teaching team, chose to focus this semester’s Studio on surveillance. While the Media Lab partners with corporations like Panasonic, Samsung, Google and Microsoft, the Studio’s partners represent a very different stratum of society. “Traditional” civil rights groups are present via the Electronic Freedom Foundation and the ACLU, but so are groups representing immigrants, public school students, victims of domestic violence and sex offenders. Each organization’s constituency has, in its own way, become a focus of surveillance. In New York schools, school security is handled by the NYPD, criminalizing misbehavior and creating what the Urban Youth Collaborative calls the school to prison pipeline. The Detention Watch Network focuses on ending mandatory detention of undocumented immigrants, for-profit prisons, and the detention bed quota, the mandate to fill 34,000 beds each night with the undocumented. Citizens United for Rehabilitation of believes that sex offender registries, by combining offenses as divergent as public urination and serial rape, create a class of people who are under life-long surveillance despite a low statistical probability of recidivism. TOR, the software project intended to provide enhanced privacy and security on the Internet, has joined with Transition House, the Cambridge-based domestic violence shelter, to increase awareness of how often victims of domestic violence are targeted for electronic stalking by their abusers. Entire networks of shelters and support groups have had their computers and phones compromised, and the police response is often unhelpful.

If hackathons are old enough to be said to have traditions, Saturday’s event at the Media Lab was non-traditional. In a more usual hackathon, there are introductions, perhaps some brief talks framing the purpose of the hackathon, then people with projects make pitches seeking to recruit other attendees to work on their projects. Then, it’s head-down hacking, sometimes overnight, until time runs out.  A critique of hackathons is that they rarely meet their overt goals and that their true value is in the connections and community they create. This event was structured with that critique in mind, using a DiscoTech (“Discover Technology”) format and being more a community organized workshop/fair than a software-oriented hackathon. After introductions, participants break up into small groups and share stories about how surveillance has affected their lives. This serves as both an ice breaker and brief education. After hearing stories involving racial profiling and surveillance of dissidents, one participant asked to revise his answer that he’d not been affected by surveillance. His job, managing spam for a large email provider, his work was surveillance.

Short talks follow and then lunch. The measure of the approximately forty people who attended is that, in one lunch conversation, two people who had never previously met, compared notes on their last few weeks in Iraq where they had set up hacker and maker spaces, community networks and anti-car bomb community surveillance systems.

Meanwhile, similar events were taking place across the globe. In San Francisco, there was a hackathon focused on making the user interfaces of privacy and security tools more accessible. People in Bangalor, India worked on repurposing old closed circuit surveillance cameras. In Mexico City, participants given color coded ribbons to wear, indicating whether or not they wished to be photographed and were urged not to live tweet or live blog the sessions as some individuals might have specific security concerns. The San Francisco event was part of RightsCon, an annual meeting whose is goal protecting the open internet and the digital rights of its users.

After lunch, Cambridge attendees joined small workshops. One group experimented with facial recognition software and face painting, seeing what sorts of colors and designs worked to fool this increasingly prevalent surveillance tool. Another group held a threat model workshop, allowing people to map their assets, what threats may target those and the risk associated with those threats. This will allow the EFF to make their Surveillance Self Defense web site more approachable.  A third group worked on “IMSEI catchers”, counterfeit cell phone infrastructure that allows governments and cyber-criminals to identify all cell phones in a specific area. The goal for this ACLU project is to find some way to, at least, notify a cell phone user that an IMSEI catcher probed their phone. Another group walked through the Kendall Square area, mapping public surveillance cameras.

As people moved from workshop to workshop, the day wound down slowly. Video hangouts were held with some of the other events, and as the sun set, a day of countersurveillance work came to a close.