Open beta for ICLab TagTeam

I’m pleased to announce the open beta test of ICLab’s clearinghouse for data about censored websites, https://iclab-tagteam.cs.umass.edu/ (temporary hostname, will be moved under iclab.org Real Soon Now). This site will aggregate manual and automated test reports, facilitate more efficient use of automated test resources, and help policy analysts draw conclusions about what gets censored in particular countries.

… Well, that’s the aspiration, anyway. Right now what we have is a slightly reskinned instance of the Berkman Center’s TagTeam software, loaded up with a set of sites reported as censored in leaks and so on (mostly about five years old) and the automated topic analysis I described in my PETS paper last year, and taking one ongoing input feed, from Herdict. I said it was a beta test. :-)

If any of the above sounds interesting to you, there are a bunch of ways you can help:

  • The most important thing I need right now is additional inputs:

    • Ongoing, manually curated reports of censored websites in a specific country (e.g. Engelli Web, rublacklist.net).
    • Ongoing crowdsourced reports of inaccessible websites (like Herdict).
    • Recent, credible one-time leaks of the actual blacklist used in some country, or shipped with some specific commercial filtering software.
    • Control groups: relatively low-volume feeds of long-tail material that isn’t particularly likely to get censored. (We already have the tall head.)

    The optimal format for a continuously updated data source is an RSS feed that can be directly added to TagTeam as an input. If that’s not available, the next best thing is a screen-scraper that takes the existing website or whatever and converts it to an RSS feed (we already have infrastructure for this; send a pull request to https://bitbucket.org/elwoz/iclab-topic-pipeline, adding a program to the input-feeds directory, and I’ll take it from there).

    The optimal format for a one-time source is whatever you have, I’m going to have to write a custom import script for it regardless. :-/

  • The second most helpful thing would be manual verification of the topic labels assigned by my old analysis. Simply create an account on the site, and then go through the sites that already have a topic:something tag and add more tags indicating whether that is accurate. Please get in touch with me first so we can coordinate efforts.

    This task does not require a lot of technical skill, but it does need a lot of time and patience, and a strong stomach for the nasty underbelly of the Internet, ranging from garden-variety pornography all the way up to active advocacy for genocide. Fluency in diverse natural languages will also be helpful; the top five after English are Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, and Persian. Finally, many sites have been taken over by spam and/or malware, so you’ll want to use a disposable and locked-down browser instance.

  • General poking at the site, kicking the tires, finding things that don’t work and telling me about them is also very helpful. (I already know about the missing documentation.)

  • If you have any experience hacking Ruby on Rails, I need all the help I can get upstreaming my changes to TagTeam and developing further extensions that we’re going to need.

  • If you have any nonzero level of skill with web, graphic, and/or UI design, I also need help improving the presentation of the site.

  • Anyone who runs ongoing, automated monitoring for censorship, on any scale from one city to the whole world, is invited to get in touch to talk about how my data might help you do it better.

  • If you have ideas for interesting uses for a large collection of possibly-censored websites with extracted text and topic labels, or interesting analyses we could run on it, please also get in touch.

Please note that account creation is manual right now—after filling out the sign-up form, email me at zackw@cmu.edu and tell me the handle you picked plus a little about who you are and what you propose to do with the account.

Reproduction and dissemination of this announcement is encouraged.