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Gibberbot Wins Inaugural Develop for Privacy Challenge

Chris Conley,
Policy Attorney,
ACLU of Northern California Technology and Civil Liberties Project
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August 12, 2011

The Develop for Privacy Challenge, organized by the ACLUs of Northern California and Washington, the Tor Project, and the Information & Privacy Commissioner’s Office of Ontario, was launched to highlight some of the best privacy-enhancing mobile apps out there — apps that improve, rather than erode, our ability to protect and control our own private information. After our judges evaluated many qualified applicants, we were delighted to recognize secure chat and instant messaging app Gibberbot as our inaugural challenge winner, and to provide one team member with a trip to Las Vegas to accept the award and discuss the app at the awards ceremony held during DefCon 19.

Representatives of the winning apps show off their swag

There are many examples of ways that technology has been used to intrude upon our privacy. But new tools and services that are designed with privacy in mind can actually make it easier to protect our information and control how it is shared and used. And we know that there are already developers out there who are producing apps and tools that enhance online and mobile privacy, but these apps don’t always get the attention they deserve. The challenge was designed to highlight some of the best apps out there to encourage their continuing development and adoption and to inspire others to build their own privacy-enhancing tools.

We were delighted to receive many high-quality submissions showcasing the wide range of approaches that developers can take to enhance privacy. In the end, we recognized three apps that demonstrated innovative and sophisticated approaches to a range of privacy challenges.

  • Gibberbot, the winner of our challenge, was developed by the Guardian Project. It demonstrates how technology can enable individuals to communicate securely with each other while preventing anyone in between from eavesdropping on the conversation or even identifying who’s on each end of the line. It exemplifies one important piece of controlling your own data: keeping it out of the hands of anyone who doesn’t need to have it.
  • Our runner-up, tiqr, is an open-source application that is intended to provide secure authentication using a smartphone as an alternative to traditional authentication methods such as passwords.
  • ObscuraCam, our third-place app, is a camera app that blurs out faces in photos, allowing users to capture moments — whether at protests, meetings, parties, or elsewhere — while protecting the identities of the actual people in the photo. The idea of an app designed to respect and protect other people’s privacy resonated strongly with our judges.

We’d also like to thank our judges: Jacob Appelbaum of the Tor Project, Chris Hoofnagle of the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, Tadayoshi Kohno of the University of Washington, Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum, and Kai Rannenberg of Goethe-Universität, for their support and involvement in selecting the best apps.

All of these apps are still works in progress, and are already available as open source projects that other developers can examine, use, and improve upon. We announced our winners at DefCon in the hopes that the hackers and developers out there would be inspired to contribute to these apps and to build their own. But these apps aren’t designed just for programmers — we hope you will check them out as well!

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