The Knight Foundation awarded $3.4 million on Monday to 19 projects aimed at making the Internet free and accessible to the masses. From a platform helping journalists quickly verify the accuracy of online media to tools that can detect and prove network neutrality violations, winners of the Knight News Challenge spanned the spectrum of solutions.
Winners were announced at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference at the MIT Media Lab, which kicked off on Sunday and is scheduled to run until Tuesday, June 24. The theme for this year’s three-day event was “The Open Internet and Everything After,” perfectly positioning the projects recognized by the Knight Foundation, which is focused on promoting quality journalism, advancing media innovation and keeping communities engaged and informed.
“The winning projects strengthen or defend the power of the Internet to inform communities and help innovation thrive,” said Michael Maness, the Knight Foundation’s vice president of journalism and media innovation, in a statement. “They help build a more inclusive, open Internet that represents diverse voices and ideas.”
Whether addressing privacy and censorship or working to expand the diversity of the tech workforce, each winner exemplified what it takes to build a powerful democracy. Each also caught the eye of the Knight, Ford and Mozilla Foundation — the three collectively behind the Knight News Challenge.
“With threats to privacy, security and access to the Web intensifying, there is a real craving for a more open and trustworthy Web,” said Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, in a statement. “This competition inspired hundreds of technologists, thinkers and builders to contribute ideas that will strengthen the Internet for people everywhere.”
Ten early-stage ideas received $35,000 through the Knight Prototype Fund, designated to help innovators take media and information projects from an idea to a demonstration. Those winners, as described by the Knight Foundation, were:
Anti-Censorship Alert System by Center for Rights (Boston; project lead: Tiffiny Cheng): Allowing the public to see a blocked website by launching a series of tools, including an index and shareable website widgets, that enable the distribution and decentralization needed to provide local access to proxies and mirrored versions of the sites.
Breedrs by Swell Creative Group (Los Angeles; project lead: Phillip Holmes): Creating a platform for parents so they can better understand the apps, games and technology that kids buy, use and learn with.
CertiDig by University of Kansas (Lawrence, Kansas; project lead: Michael Williams): Providing a seamless, secure method for authenticating information and data sources online while maintaining the privacy of the identity of sender and receiver.
Checkdesk by Meedan (San Francisco; project lead: Tom Trewinnard): Helping journalists quickly verify the accuracy of online media–whether it’s a video, photo or a tweet through a digital tool–in deadline situations.
Inquisite by Whirl-i-gig (New York; project leads: Seth Kaufman and Maria Passarotti): Promoting collaboration among researchers on complex investigative projects across disciplines through an online hub. By combining an open sharing, visualization and publishing platform with mobile data gathering tools, researchers can use the hub to contribute media and data, and share projects.
Poking the Bear by Salak TeleSystems (Washington, D.C.; project lead: Bart Stidham): Creating a new family of tools that can detect and prove network neutrality violations even when it occurs within mobile network operator networks.
Report-a-Troll by Hollaback (New York; project lead: Emily May): Creating a platform where victims can safely report online harassment — including violent threats, stalking and racial epithets — and volunteers can respond.
Safe Travels Online by Tibet Action Institute (Boston; project lead: Nathan Freitas): Helping people avoid cyberattacks, malicious software and digital surveillance, by testing and improving resources that allow users to safely navigate the Internet. The resources were initially designed for high-risk communities in Asia subject to strict controls on freedom of expression and other human rights.
Swarmize by Guardian Media Group (London, UK; project lead: Matt McAlister): Allowing journalists to conduct research with the help of readers by creating a platform to improve data collection, analysis and distribution of crowd research.
Threshold Future, Inc. (San Francisco; project leads: Elizabeth Stark and Mike Sofaer): Making it easier for open Internet projects to find funding by creating an open Internet-themed virtual currency as a way to build a community of interested investors.
Another group of nine were awarded investments of $200,000 to $500,000. Those winners, as described by the Knight Foundation, included:
Check Out the Internet by the New York Public Library (New York; project leads: Tony Marx and James English): Bridging the digital divide by allowing New York residents with limited broadband access to borrow portable Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to a year.
TextSecure by Open Whisper Systems (San Francisco; project lead: Moxie Marlinspike): Safeguarding mobile text communication though a simple, secure messaging application that requires no special knowledge from the user.
CODE2040 (San Francisco; project lead: Laura Weidman Powers): Ensuring the future of the Internet as a diverse, inclusive public resource by opening more pathways for underrepresented minorities to top jobs in technology and bolstering professional support networks to sustain their success.
Internet to Go by the Chicago Public Library via Chicago Public Library Foundation (Chicago; project leads: Brian Bannon, Michelle Frisque and Andrew Medlar): Offering Chicago residents Wi-Fi hotspots for up to three weeks at a time, in addition to one-on-one digital literacy and skills coaching and access to online tutorials.
Global Censorship Measurement by the Open Technology Institute at New America (Washington, D.C.; project leads: Ben Scott, Thomas Gideon and Alan Davidson): Working in support of Measurement Lab, a collaboration and research platform that hosts a suite of tools for assessing the openness of the Internet.
Getting It Right on Rights: Simplifying, Harmonizing and Maximizing the Openness of Rights in Digital Libraries Around the World by the Digital Public Library of America (Boston; project leads: Dan Cohen and Emily Gore): Creating a simplified and more coherent rights structure for content collections from libraries, museums, archives and other sources, along with best practices that institutions can use to safely make more content available to the public.
Ranking Digital Rights by the New America Foundation (Washington, D.C.; project lead: Rebecca MacKinnon): Developing a system for benchmarking and ranking the world’s most powerful tech companies on how well they protect the free expression and privacy of users.
OnlineCensorship.org by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (San Francisco; project lead: Jillian York): Collecting information about online censorship incidents to explore concerns about censorship and preserve freedom of expression.
Who Are the Gatekeepers? by the Asociatia Actori Europeni (Bucharest, Romania; project leads: Paul Radu and Manuela Preoteasa): Examining the gatekeepers of Eastern Europe’s digital infrastructure, by analyzing the ownership and connections of Internet service providers and cable and satellite operators.