[tor-project] OONI Monthly Report: September 2023


This email shares OONI’s monthly report for September 2023.

# OONI Monthly Report: September 2023

Throughout September 2023, the OONI team worked on the following sprints:

  • Sprint 99 (1st - 10th September 2023)
  • Sprint 100 (11th - 24th September 2023)
  • Sprint 101 (25th - 30th September 2023)

Our work can be tracked through the various OONI GitHub repositories: https://github.com/ooni

Highlights are shared in this report below.

## New research collaboration

In September 2023, we formed a new research collaboration with the GLITCH Research Interest Group (https://glitch.oii.ox.ac.uk/) at the Oxford Internet Institute, a department of the University of Oxford.

This involves collaboration on the GLITCH Dashboard (on the interdisciplinary study of information controls) and the exchange of knowledge and expertise on Internet censorship.

## Published report on Grindr blocking in Jordan

In collaboration with My Kali Magazine, we published a new report on the blocking of Grindr in Jordan (“Grindr blocked in Jordan: Shrinking LGBTQ spaces”).

Read the report here: https://ooni.org/post/2023-jordan-blocks-grindr/

Our report shares OONI data on the ongoing blocking of Grindr in Jordan. As of 8th August 2023, OONI data shows that access to Grindr (both the website and app) is blocked by means of TLS interference. According to Grindr, the block impacts their public health strategy as their Grindr for Equality program has played an important role in addressing the HIV epidemic in Jordan.

## OONI Probe Mobile

Throughout September 2023, we worked on improvements to the OONI Probe mobile app. Specifically, on OONI Probe iOS, we worked on bug fixes related to upload buttons (https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2487) and displaying the “upload measurement” toast (https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2511). On OONI Probe Android, we worked on supporting the optional grouping of results (https://github.com/ooni/probe-android/pull/613) and addressing a dashboard glitch (https://github.com/ooni/probe-android/pull/612). We also worked on addressing the inconsistent handling of empty OONI Run links on Android and iOS (https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2514).

In preparation for the launch (October 2023), we worked on final improvements to the “News Media Scan” Android app that we have been developing in collaboration with Deutsche Welle (DW).

## Published OONI Probe user guides in Vietnamese

Thanks to Nathan Tran, the OONI Probe user guides are now available in Vietnamese!

The Vietnamese user guides are available below:

## Translation of OONI documentation

Thanks to Nathan Tran, the OONI Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) documentation is now available in Vietnamese: https://ooni.org/vi/support/faq/

Thanks to our Senegalese partner, Computech Institute (https://ooni.org/partners/computech/), the OONI Risks documentation is now available in French: https://ooni.org/fr/about/risks/

## OONI Run

As part of our work on creating the next generation version of OONI Run (“OONI Run v.2”), we continued working on adding UI support to OONI Probe Android for displaying OONI Run v.2 link descriptors based on the API (https://github.com/ooni/probe-android/pull/582). We also added core support for OONI Run v.2 to OONI Probe iOS (https://github.com/ooni/probe-ios/pull/533). As part of this, we added support for fetch descriptors, save/update descriptors, and for a run descriptor with existing test suites for running tests (https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2471).

## OONI Probe CLI

We continued working towards facilitating A/B comparison of Web Connectivity v0.4 and Web Connectivity v0.5. To this end, we adapted all the v0.4 QA tests, which previously used the Jafar tool, to use the new netem QA framework. We are now well positioned to compare v0.4 and v0.5 in complex censorship scenarios and make sure there are no regressions (https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2525, https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/1803). The changes to OONI Probe CLI as part of this work can be found here: https://github.com/ooni/probe-cli/compare/f0f9b5f7…2051a2d3

We redesigned how OONI Probe communicates with the OONI backend and the Web Connectivity Test Helpers (THs) to increase reliability and performance. Specifically, we created a specific TLS and HTTPS network stack for performing these operations that relies on the concept of “beacons”. A beacon is a known-in-advance IP address that allows communicating with the backend or the THs and with which OONI Probe can use arbitrary SNI values. Refactoring OONI Probe CLI to add support for beacons touched upon several areas of the implementation. Roughly speaking, we can divide this work into four major activities:

  1. Creating a custom TLS dialer and HTTP/HTTPS stack for communicating with backends and test helpers to avoid mixing measuring-specific and operational concerns;

  2. Recognizing that the availability of a custom stack for these interactions opens up nearly for free the possibility of using HTTP/HTTPS proxies for OONI Probe;

  3. Adapting the custom TLS dialer and HTTP/HTTPS stack to have a more complex notion of what it should connect to, which is more complex than just knowing domain names and the resulting IP addresses, and includes several “tactics” where each tacting may incorporate knowledge from DNS lookups, prior knowledge about well-known IP addresses, alternative SNIs to use, and knowledge about what OONI Probe knows to be working well;

  4. Recognising that some properties of the new TLS dialer may, in the future, cause issues with our probe-IP-address scrubbing policy, and proactively applying changes to be sure that we are not going to include any IPv4 or IPv6 addresses and endpoints into the HTTP body and HTTP header value of submitted OONI measurements.

A more detailed description of this work is available here: https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2531#issuecomment-1743087781

## Creating a Censorship Incident Reporting Platform

As part of our ongoing work on the (new) Censorship Incident Reporting Platform, we refactored the code (https://github.com/ooni/explorer/pull/862) and moved the new components to our component library (https://github.com/ooni/design-system/pull/163). We tested the latest version of the platform to identify further opportunities for improvements. We also continued to make progress on identifying censorship events (along with relevant OONI data) to be published as reports on the platform once launched.

## OONI backend

We began adding support for the compression of measurements (https://facebook.github.io/zstd/) uploaded in the API. This will significantly improve the measurement submission speed and reduce the impact of the probe on slow networks. This is especially useful for OONI Probe users running tests in environments with poor network performance.

We cleaned up a significant amount of disk space on the backend host by removing query logs. We also created a Jupyter notebook to better investigate high query load on the database. The txexitmap tool has been extended to integrate with OONI’s infrastructure (support ClickHouse, generate metrics and alerts ,etc).

We started updating the backend hosts, CI and development containers to Debian Bookworm. This is expected to provide security and performance benefits and newer libraries and tools.

### Enabling circumvention

Following the blocking of OONI in China in July 2023 (https://ooni.org/post/2023-china-blocks-ooni/), we have been working towards boosting circumvention support and making OONI Probe more resilient to blocking. As part of this process, we have been evaluating many options (each with different trade-offs).

We prepared an internal design document describing a probe bootstrap process using STUN. This will increase the reliability of the probes on highly censored networks and provide a method for circumvention.

We started deploying the forwarding of “OONI bridges” that provide circumvention in the event that OONI services are blocked by means of SNI-based or DNS-based filtering, simplifying the process of probe bootstrap and measurement submission. They also provide better reliability for the test helpers by doing active load balancing. We tested load balancing in Nginx and Haproxy and selected the latter.

## New ECH experiment contributed to OONI by CIS India

In September 2023, Divyank Katira from CIS India (https://ooni.org/partners/cis-india/) published a blog post describing the new Encrypted Client Hello (ECH) blocking experiment that they contributed to OONI last year: https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/detecting-encrypted-client-hello-ech-blocking

We worked towards integrating this experiment as part of the experimental suite of the OONI Probe apps: https://github.com/ooni/probe-cli/pull/1217

## OONI Community Interviews

We have an “OONI Community Interviews” series on our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pam2UQoZ1qM&list=PL1sH9kYR-16nlPlFT-RDBs8O0OiS2N6fJ), where we publish video interviews with OONI community members to highlight their important work, and the ways through which they use OONI tools and data.

In September 2023, we continued working on creating several new video interviews with OONI community members. This involved drafting relevant interview questions, filming the interviews, and working with a videographer to edit the footage.

## Preparing for upcoming OONI trainings in the DRC and Thailand

In preparation for a week-long OONI training for human rights defenders and journalists in the DRC, we coordinated with the training organizers on creating a detailed training agenda that meets the needs of the participants. We provided live demos of the OONI tools that will be taught as part of the training, in order to enable live translation during the upcoming training programme. We also prepared and shared relevant OONI resources and reading materials for the participants.

Similarly, we also prepared a detailed training agenda, related workshop slides and hands-on exercises for our upcoming OONI training programme in Thailand.

## Planning the OONI Team Meeting 2023

In September 2023, we continued working on required logistical planning for the 2023 OONI Team Meeting and we continued to solicit team feedback for the sessions of the meeting.

## Planning the OONI Partner Gathering 2024

In September 2023, we continued to work on fundraising efforts required for hosting the next OONI Partner Gathering in May 2024.

## Rapid response efforts

### Blocking of TikTok and Google Play Store in Azerbaijan

On 19th September 2023 (amid the military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh), TikTok users in Azerbaijan reported that they were unable to use the platform. On the same day, we reported on Twitter that the user reports were corroborated by OONI data collected from Azerbaijan, which showed that access to TikTok was blocked on at least 2 networks in the country (https://twitter.com/OpenObservatory/status/1704160713256628716).

We followed-up to share that in addition to TikTok, OONI data also showed the blocking of the Google Play Store in Azerbaijan amid the conflict (https://twitter.com/OpenObservatory/status/1704475063867642269). We shared all relevant OONI data with advocates from the #KeepItOn campaign (https://www.accessnow.org/campaign/keepiton/).

## Community activities

### Global Gathering 2023

Between 15th-17th September 2023, OONI’s Maria and Arturo traveled to Portugal to attend Team CommUNITY’s Global Gathering event (https://wiki.digitalrights.community/index.php?title=Global_Gathering).

At the Global Gathering, we participated in the 3-day Summit (during which we collected community feedback on our upcoming Censorship Alert System) and we hosted an OONI booth for outreach purposes.

### Advocacy Assembly Internet Shutdown Mentored Training Program

On 21st September 2023, OONI’s Elizaveta hosted a session for the participants of the Advocacy Assembly Internet Shutdown Mentored Training Program (https://advocacyassembly.org/en/news/236). As part of this session, she addressed all the OONI-related questions of the training programme participants.

### FIFAfrica 2023

Between 26th September to 2nd October 2023, OONI’s Norbel and Arturo traveled to Tanzania to participate in the FIFAfrica 2023 conference (one of the largest annual digital rights conferences in Africa). Information about the conference is available here: https://internetfreedom.africa/

On 26th September 2023, we facilitated a session (“Measuring Internet censorship with OONI tools and data”) as part of the Internet Shutdowns Academy FIFAfrica 2023 workshop (https://twitter.com/uproar_fyi/status/1706972250157539551). On the same day, we also facilitated an OONI workshop as part of the Tor Training Academy (https://twitter.com/zaituni_njovu/status/1706742476596236331).

As part of our participation at the main FIFAfrica 2023 conference, we facilitated the following 2 sessions:

### OONI Community Meeting

On 26th September 2023, we hosted the monthly OONI Community Meeting on our Slack channel (https://slack.ooni.org/), during which we discussed the following topics:

  1. Updates from the OONI team
  2. Discussion on recommended reading materials in the field of network measurement and how to gain deeper knowledge on the impacts of internet censorship

## Measurement coverage

In September 2023, 61,542,643 OONI Probe measurements were collected from 3,012 networks in 175 countries around the world.

This information can also be found through our measurement stats on OONI Explorer (see chart on “monthly coverage worldwide”): https://explorer.ooni.org/

~ OONI team.

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