Combating “Fake News” With a Smartphone “Proof Mode”

Reposted from the Guardian Project blog

We have been working for many years with our partners at WITNESS, a leading human rights media training and advocacy organization, to figure out how best to turn smartphone cameras into tools of empowerment for activists. While it is often enough to use the visual pixels you capture to create awareness or pressure on an issue, sometimes you want those pixels to actually be treated as evidence. This means, you want people to trust what they see, to know it hasn’t been tampered with, and to believe that it came from the time, place and person you say it came from.

Enter, ProofMode, a light, minimal “reboot” of our more heavyweight, verified media app, CameraV. Our aim was to create a lightweight (< 3MB!), almost invisible utility (minimal battery impact!), that you can run all of the time on your phone (no annoying notifications or popups), that automatically adds extra digital proof data to all photos and videos you take. This data can then be easily shared, when you really need it, through a “Share Proof” share action, to anyone you choose over email or a messaging app, or uploaded to a cloud service or reporting platform.



On the technical front, what the app is doing is automatically generating an OpenPGP key for this installed instance of the app itself, and using that to automatically sign all photos and videos at time of capture. A sha256 hash is also generated, and combined with a snapshot of all available device sensor data, such as GPS location, wifi and mobile networks, altitude,  device language, hardware type, and more. This is also signed, and stored with the media. All of this happens with no noticeable impact on battery life or performance, every time the user takes a photo or video. We have been running it for months on fairly old, low end phones, and you just forget it is happening.



While we are very proud of the work we did with the CameraV and InformaCam projects, the end results was a complex application and proprietary data format that required a great deal of investment by any user or community that wished to adopt it. Furthermore, it was an app that you had to decide and remember to use, in a moment of crisis. With ProofMode, we both wanted to simplify the adoption of the tool, and make it nearly invisible to the end-user, while making it the adoption of the tool by organizations painless through simple formats like CSV and known formats like PGP signatures.

The source and direct APK downloads are available on Github:

The beta release is also available today for Android phones on Google Play. We hope to have an iPhone version in beta in the next few months.

We have also published a sample batch proof data set on Github here:

Our design goals included the following:

  • Run all of the time in the background without noticeable battery, storage or network impact
  • Provide a no-setup-required, automatic new user experience that works without requiring training
  • Use strong cryptography for strong identity and verification features, but not encryption
  • Produce “proof” sensor data formats that can be easily parse, imported by existing tools (CSV)
  • Do not modify the original media files; all proof metadata storied in separate file
  • Support chain of custody needs through automatic creation of sha256 hashes and PGP signatures
  • Do not require a persistent identity or account generation

We also were able to take advantage of the new Android “Quick Settings” developer API, to add a ProofMode toggle button right along side other system functions like Wifi, Location, Bluetooth and more. This fulfills a vision that WITNESS has had for a while in mainstreaming the concept of our prototype into mainstream adoption, giving every citizen journalist a quick mode to activate when their moment arrives.


You can read a bit more in the project README on the workflow we imagine being used for all of this. What we hope is that the ProofMode app is simple and low impact enough that potential users will install and forget that it is there. It will go along doing its business quietly without fuss, until the users realizes they have taken a photo or video that might have some value as digital evidence. Then, using the SHARE PROOF action, send their proof data set off to an organization, journalist, lawyer, or other advocate that would be able to verify the chain of custody and integrity of the files and proof using off the shelf OpenPGP and CSV visualization tools. While we have a bit more work to do on the last part, we already have many partners in the human rights world who are skilled and capable of doing just that.

If you’d like to learn more about the CameraV app and our collaboration with WITNESS and Coletivo Papo Reto video activist group in Brazil, please watch this video below from the Al Jazeera “Rebel Geeks” documentary.

Co-working in Gowanus

Creative studio co-working space seeking part-time makers, hackers, artists, writers and anyone else with a need to join us. Whether you are interested in a fun, bright, open space to work on your laptop during the day, or somewhere you can have to yourself now and then for photography, painting or other creative ventures, we’d like to hear from you. We’re flexible to meet the needs of the right people.

The studio is located in the heart of Gowanus, Brooklyn, on 9th Street between Smith and 2nd Ave in an artist and music centric four story converted warehouse. This is just two blocks from the R (4th Ave/9th), G and F trains (Smith/9th). We are dog and bike friendly with 24 hour access possibilities. The space is also right next to Lowe’s Hardware with access to a large freight elevator.

Some other aspects of note: 32’x5′ worktable area with wifi, whiteboards, projector and natural lighting. A variety of tools, two sewing machines, and a fairly open floor plan to accommodate a variety of wacky needs.

Leave a comment here, send an email to nathanfreitas at gmail, or contact me via @nathanfreitas on twitter, if you are interested, want a tour, or more information!


Workbench for what not!

Open-Source Ukulele Proto Uno Lazzzzored FTW!

Some of you might have seen the Flying V Rockin’ Ukulele Design I posted to Thingiverse a few weeks ago, after being inspired by Bre Pettis’ talk at ROFLThang.

I just realized how much of a mouthful that last sentence was so let me break it down… Bre encourages and teaches people how to make the things in their head become real. I’m not talking really about aspirations, but actual, physical things. He and the NYC Resistor crew even have an amazing workshop laboratory in Brooklyn where they let anyone come over and hang out at, to learn how to make, build and fabricate pretty much anything. They also have a laser (aka “LAAAZZZOOOR”) which you can think of as an automagic thing cutter-outer!

With that, here’s what I did:

1) I drew up plans for my dream ukulele using the free, open-source Inkscape vector drawing tool. You can see my open-source Ukulele plans here.

Ukulele plans for the laser

2) With the help from a kind friend, I got this file into the proper format for printing, stuck a sheet of 1/8″ x 24″ x 12″ plywood into the laser, and then hit the “GO” button. Just before you hit that button, you are required to shout “FIRE THE LAZZZZOR”, just so people know, well, that something magic is about to happen.

3) After about twenty minutes of laazzzoor (which costs me $20… $1 per minute of laser use), out came the piece of wood, from which I could easily pop out the various parts of my new uku. From there, some simple wood glue and human hand pressure produced the outcome seen below.

Lazzzzored UkuleleLazzzzored UkuleleLazzzzored UkuleleLazzzzored Ukulele

Now, like the title says, this is “Proto Uno”, so I’ve got a ways until this thing is playable… first of all, it needs to be about twice as big to fit my fingers. However, purely measuring from the “random idea in my head” to “actual physical thing” perspective, this was definitely a #WIN.

Stay tuned for further adventures in on-demand musicality via lazzzzors, and who knows, I might just be able to play a song for you some day soon! iPhone App Demo Video

Tonight at the New York Tech Meetup, I, along with Greg and Chevon, demo’d the soon-to-be-released Coovents iPhone app (sign up to beta test here). David Oliver and I, through our mobile consultancy, Oliver+Coady chosed to work with Coovents due to their great focus on a killer app: shows you which happy hours are going on today and shows you which ones are going on now. With one glance you can see happy hours in your hood! You can also send a text message to Coovents and we’ll send you happy hours to your phone! Bar hopping will never be the same. iPhone iPhone iPhone App
Now, even if you aren’t interested in happy hours, you might be interested to know that this application was writtten using the PhoneGap Framework… in other words, while it may look like a “native” iPhone App, it is actually developed in HTML, CSS and AJAX, using Mobile Safari enhancements such as Scalable Vector Graphics, WebKit Transitions and HTML 5 Database support. The client app on the iPhone interfaces with Coovents via a JSON query interface, with all the rendering, requests and other magic shenanigans in the user interface happening via JQuery.

I’ve blogged about PhoneGap many times before here, but I have to say this is the farthest I’ve taken it both functionally and visually… perhaps it is because the app (happy hours) is an enjoyable problem to solve!

Watch the video below to see the app in action…

You can also checkout the Flickr Screenshot Set of the app…

Again, if you are interested in being a beta tester, please sign up here. Otherwise, the app will be in the iTunes store very soon!

My Christmas Vlog on a Flip Mino HD

MC bought me a swell gift for Christmas – the Flip Mino HD – a tiny wonder that delivers on the promise of high quality video in a small package. The only real issue I have with it is that being so small, it is difficult to keep steady. Perhaps with time and practice I’ll improve. However, the upside of the stealth profile is that almost no one notices I am filming them at all, allowing me to capture people in very natural moments. Also, according to my buddy noneck, you can hack your flip, adding a wide angle lens to it!

Anyhow, enjoy this four minute peek into my Christmas day revelry….

Christmas in the Colonies from natdefreitas on Vimeo.

This was definitely the year of gadgets for me, as I also was given a Polaroid Pogo mobile printer and a ThinkGeek Wifi Finder T-Shirt! More on these awesome toys in a later post…

Many thanks to Snr. Sufjan Stevens for the tune… go buy his Christmas album if you like it!