Google New SDK To Fight Against Internet Censorship

Category Technology

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Google is launching a new anti-censorship technology through their Jigsaw project in response to the actions of Iran's government during the 2022 protests. The technology is called Outline and helps to provide free, open and encrypted access to the internet - even during internet access blocking and censorship episodes. Outline is also providing a 'software developer kit' which helps other websites and applications build stronger censorship resistance for their users.

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Google is launching new anti-censorship technology created in response to actions by Iran's government during the 2022 protests there, hoping that it will increase access for internet users living under authoritarian regimes all over the world.

Jigsaw, a unit of Google that operates sort of like an internet freedom think tank and that creates related products, already offers a suite of anti-censorship tools including Outline, which provides free, open, and encrypted access to the internet through a VPN. Outline uses a protocol that makes it hard to detect, so users can surf the web largely out of sight from authorities who might want to block internet access.

Iranian government blocked access to Outline in 2022

But during last year’s pro-democracy protests across Iran, the regime used sophisticated tactics, not only intermittently blocking all internet access but targeting VPNs like Outline too.

Now Jigsaw is releasing Outline’s code in the form of a software developer kit (SDK) so that other websites and applications can build censorship resistance directly into their products, the company exclusively told MIT Technology Review. This will create an easier and more streamlined user experience. For example, users of an app that runs this code—like a news site, for example—need not connect separately to the internet through a VPN. And at the same time, Google hopes it will put the users one step ahead of the censors.

The new SDK is part of Google's Jigsaw project to increase access to internet

Lessons from Iran .

As Iranians started looking for alternative ways to access WhatApp, Instagram, and the rest of the web, many turned to VPNs, like Outline, which can route traffic out of the affected area through a sort of virtual tunnel. The number of daily users of Outline’s VPN on Android jumped a whopping 1,500 percent in Iran during the fall of 2022, according to Jigsaw’s lead engineer for internet freedom, Vinicius Fortuna.But at the same time, the Iranian government also sometimes blocked access to Outline and to apps that relied on the VPN. Jigsaw’s team then had to respond by quickly publishing new open-source code that could evade the blocking and restore internet access.

The SDK makes it easier for developers to work on the same code and run updates efficiently

This was a challenge for Jigsaw, and also for applications and websites dependent on Outline, which then had to re-code their own products to accommodate the changes. Martin Zhu, the director of engineering for one such app, nthLink, which also helps users circumvent censorship, said that this process could take up to a few weeks—while users were kept in the dark.

While the idea had been floating around for several years, Outline’s new SDK is a direct response to the obstacles from Iran, according to Fortuna.

The SDK will enable users to streamline user experience without separate VPN connection

Fortuna also says that through the SDK, Jigsaw is extracting components of Outline’s technology "that we think are useful to other people" and building a library. This enables a sort of plug-and-play functionality so that others can take elements of the library to build censorship resistance into their own products as they see fit.

Importantly, during crackdowns, the SDK will make it easier for developers from different companies to work on the same code and enable them to run updates more efficiently, allowing for quicker responses to evolving censorship .

It creates a library of plug-and-play base for developers to build censorship resistance

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