As an Internet giant, it is within Google’s interest to enhance access to online services for a greater part of the world. But while Google is the de facto go-to online service for a big part of the online population, the search giant is increasingly concerned about the lack of Internet access in certain repressive regimes. This is a sentiment likewise shared by Facebook, which is running its own Internet.org initiative, aimed at providing accessible, inexpensive and usable Internet service in emerging markets.
Google’s initiative focuses on repressive or restrictive regimes, and the company, through its Google Ideas think tank, has announced several tools it will release to the public in a bid to provide safe and secure Internet access. These tools are set to be launched on October 28th at the Google Ideas Summit in New York.
In an interview with Time Magazine Jared Cohen, Director at Google Ideas, pointed out how some governments and environments restrict freedom of expression. “We want to empower them to have access to the same Internet that the rest of us experience,” he said, stressing the importance of social responsibility for businesses like Google. Cohen pointed out Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Syria as countries where “the challenges are so serious.”
According to Cohen, Google Ideas is led by a team of so-called “white hat” hackers, or security experts that focus on finding innovative solutions to problems, which, in this case, include eavesdropping, censorship and content filtering.
Google Ideas’ projects include the following:
uProxy: This is a web browser extension that users peer-to-peer technology to provide proxy-based access to Internet users from within a repressive regime. Cohen says that dissidents in these countries would usually have contacts abroad, and uProxy capitalizes on these connections in order to tunnel in content from the outside contact to the person through the peer-based proxy service.
“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,” Cohen told Time. “We wanted to build a proxy service that builds on top of trusted relationships that already exist.”
Project Shield: This tool helps organizations like advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations ward off malicious hacking attempts that aim to disable, deface or destroy their online assets. These include distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and the like. Google Ideas notes that bigger organizations have the capability to avert these malicious hacking attempts, but smaller groups are often vulnerable if left to fend for themselves without adequate countermeasures, tools and skills.
Digital Attack Map: This is a live data visualization tool that displays DDoS attacks around the world in real-time. The tool displays real-time anonymous data relating to these attacks (including traffic that may have come from hijacked, but otherwise innocent, machines.
Digital security experts, entrepreneurs, journalists and dissidents will gather for the conference, which aims to bring light how digital media can become both tools for expression as well as state repression. “We care about free expression, and this is an example of us putting our product where our mouth is,” said Cohen of Google’s aim to improve access to information.