Communications: Protesters turn to new tech tools

Communications: Protesters turn to new tech tools

 “The list of the most popular apps right now offers a glimpse into how people are using tech to take action,” said Rani Molla in Vox.com. Since protests began after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, downloads of an app called Citizen soared 633 percent, making that community-safety platform, which scans police communications, “the fourth most downloaded iOS app of any kind.” Trailing just behind it is Signal, an encrypted-messaging service long favored by scoop-hunting journalists as a means to securely obtain confidential information. Police, too, are relying on technology, and migrating to encrypted communications as scanner apps become more popular.

Signal’s popularity could soar even more after the service announced last week that it will automatically blur faces in images before they are shared, said Shoshana Wodinsky in Gizmodo .com. That function makes Signal the “app of choice” for protesters who are “keen on maintaining their digital privacy.” The shift to encrypted messaging copies a tactic of protesters in Hong Kong, said Nicolas Rivero in Qz.com, who favor a similar service called Telegram. But Signal “provides an even greater degree of anonymity, because in addition to encrypting the content of messages, it doesn’t store metadata about who sent or received a message, when it was sent, or the location of the participants.” Whether Citizen is actually making protesters safer is unclear, said Jared Newman in FastCompany.com. The app uses police scanners to map incidents reported to “911 dispatchers, police, fire departments, and other emergency responders.” Then it adds a “social-networking layer,” with users’ videos and comments. At its best, Citizen’s first-person view of the protests “can be inspiring.” But the comments on Citizen can “devolve into shouting matches” or spread misinformation. That’s what happened on two other services, said Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins in NBCNews.com. “False rumors about antifa organizing bus rides to take protesters into white neighborhoods” spread on the neighborhood-watch app Nextdoor, as well as on the homesecurity app Ring, “sparking fearful comments among rural and suburban communities.”

Police as well as protesters are relying on data from protesters’ phones, said Alfred Ng in CNET.com. So-called geofence warrants “sweep up information on any device that happened to be in the vicinity of a crime.” Instead of getting a conventional warrant aimed at a specific person, police ask Google and other companies for location data on everyone in an area. Requests for such warrants increased fivefold last year; privacy advocates fear that law enforcement can use them to “surveil the public en masse.”

Comments