Announcing the Access Tech Innovation Prize Finalists

10:15am | 4 December 2012 | by Access Team

On Dec. 10, Access will be livetweeting the award ceremony. Follow us on Twitter @accessnow and follow the hashtag #techprize12

Access is excited to announce the finalists for our Tech Innovation Prize!

Across the five categories, we received over 300 applications from 66 countries, and finalist projects stood out for their impact, likelihood, innovation, and measurability. We were impressed by the quality of the projects submitted and are proud of the finalists chosen by our judges. Thank you to all of our judges!

  • Deanna Zandt - Media Technologist and Author
  • Katrin Verclas - Senior Manager for Innovation at National Democratic Institute, Director/Co-founder at MobileActive
  • James Turnbull - VP of Technology Operations at Puppet Labs
  • Elliot Schrage - VP of Communications, Marketing and Public Policy at Facebook
  • Jay Ridgeway - Co-founder of, and, currently at Betaworks
  • Asha Rao - Associate Professor in Information Security at RMIT University
  • Dan Blah Meredith - Director of freedom2connect fund at Radio Free Asia
  • Moxie Marlinspike - Co-founder and former CTO of Whisper Systems
  • Alex MacGillivray - General Counsel at Twitter
  • John Lilly - Partner at Greylock and former CEO of Mozilla
  • The Grugq - Senior Security Researcher for COSEINC
  • Gustaf Björksten - Technology Director at Access
  • Patrick Ball - Chief Scientist and Vice President of the Human Rights Program at Benetech

Due to a lack of competitive submissions in the Bounty category, the Bounty judges recommended we reconsider the category, so we have used the Bounty prize money to expand the Golden Jellybean category into two awards--the Freedom of Expression Award and the Grassroots Technology Award.

There are a total of 22 finalists across the five categories--Blackout Resilience, Making Crypto Easy, Freedom of Expression, Grassroots Technology, and Facebook Award. The winners for each category will be announced at the Awards Party on December 10th. Please join us in congratulating the finalists for the Access Tech Innovation Prize!

Below is a list of the finalists by category, with further details on each project and links to their project website if available.

Finalist Projects


1. Blackout Resilience Award

$20,000 will go to the best actionable idea to help build an open-sourced, blackout resilient technology for use by activists and human rights workers in conditions where there is a need for alternate communications infrastructure to the one put in place and/or controlled by the authorities.

“The Briar project develops software to enable people in authoritarian societies to build secure communication networks that can function with or without internet access. Their goal is to empower activists, journalists and civil society groups to resist surveillance and censorship, and to stay connected during crisis situations. Anyone can create a Briar network by installing an application on their smartphone or computer and sharing the application with people they know. The software is designed to be distributed offline, so networks can be set up without internet access. Communication can take place across a wide range of channels, including the internet, dialup modems, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and even USB sticks. Members of a network can communicate securely across the internet when it is available and fall back to other channels if an internet blackout occurs, without having to learn new applications or build new trust relationships.”

Linux en Caja + BogotaMesh + RedPaTodos + Hackbo
“This project proposes the development of a wireless router to support communications in different contexts, ranging from emergencies and field deployments of any kind, to grassroots movements and societal meetings. Communication links over WiFi and ISM band will support an ad-hoc grid scheme without single point failure points. This architecture allows the uninterrupted operation without ISP dependence, which is necessary in the context of emergencies or field deployments since an infrastructure cannot be assumed in these scenarios. Their design will be open for the public, including schematics and software applications.”

Project Byzantium
“Project Byzantium have built an intuitive and easy-to-use platform for deploying wireless mesh networks in emergencies using equipment that is readily available. It could be used to help restore communications and potentially Internet access when service is interrupted by a failure of traditional infrastructure. Such disruptions can be caused by natural disasters, failure of local service providers, or the actions of a hostile government. Reliable communication is vital in any emergency situation and we have seen numerous examples in recent years of how cellular and radio networks have helped to coordinate relief efforts and save lives.”

RePress - Greenhost
“More and more governments are trying to censor the Internet, seeking ways to block websites and limit free speech. This WordPress plug-in enables users to get those websites online again for you, your friends and the rest of the world without any hassle. Websites will become a proxy for the blocked website, rerouting any traffic from a user, through your website to the blocked site. Any WordPress powered website with this plug-in will immediately start functioning as a proxy for the censored websites. Thus opening them again for a larger audience.”


2. Making Crypto Easy Award

$20,000 will go to the best actionable idea to properly integrate encryption into an existing product/system, educate users as to how to use encryption and/or build a community who use encryption by default.

“Enigmail is a free open source add-on to the Mozilla Thunderbird mail client and its derivatives (SeaMonkey, Eudora, PostBox) that adds OpenPGP-based mail encryption and authentication. The main goal of Enigmail is to hide the complexity of OpenPGP authentication and encryption behind an easy-to-use user interface while providing powerful features that satisfy a large number of users. It has been translated into more than 30 languages.”

GPG Clipboard - Open Technology Institute
“Encrypted email only works if people can use it. The technologies that power email encryption may be mature and robust, but even the best technologies can prove ineffective if they present too high a barrier of adoption to potential users. There is simply no easy way to send or receive end-to-end encrypted messages via webmail - and as a result very few people do, leaving themselves fully exposed to surveillance and censorship. This project proposes one approach to solving this long-standing problem: a GPG clipboard. This utility will seamlessly integrate into any environment that supports copying and pasting, allowing users of any technical skill-level to encrypt and decrypt with only a couple of keystrokes or mouse clicks. The application will be highly configurable, but will also use defaults intended to conflict as little as possible with users' existing knowledge and practices.”

HTTPS Everywhere - Electronic Frontier Foundation
“HTTPS Everywhere is a free Firefox and Chrome browser extension that encrypts user communications with many major websites, making Internet use dramatically more secure, private, and resistant to content-specific censorship. Ordinarily a user's web browser will communicate with a chosen website using default settings—usually the non-secure, HTTP version. Installing the HTTPS Everywhere extension forces the browser to use the secure, private HTTPS version whenever it's available.”

LEAP Encryption Access Project
“The LEAP project aim is to make secure, client-encrypted email as easy to use as possible. Their goal is to transform client-encrypted email from an exercise in frustration to an experience so attractive that it becomes the new default among journalists, health workers, human rights activists, and civil society actors whose work depends upon confidentiality, authenticity, and the protection of their association maps.”


3. Freedom of Expression Award (Golden Jellybean 1)

$20,000 will be given to a project that extends and defends the right to freedom of expression online. Projects in this category focus on anti-censorship technologies or censorship detection infrastructure, protecting information online or securing communications networks to defend privacy.

Free Network Foundation
“We envision a world where communities build, maintain, and own their own share of the global computer network. Free Networks, when properly engineered, offer their users both a greater say in the governance of their network, and more privacy in their communications. Being your own service provider is the only way to make sure that your service provider treats you right. We call this the principle of digital self-determination, and have designed, prototyped and test deployed a suite of network appliances that will facilitate the realization of this principle. Paired with a cooperative network management suite and integrated cryptosystem, our tools will allow for the rapid, simple construction of cooperative autonomous systems, with end-to-end encryption enabled by default. The entire suite is designed to be deployed using the principle of emergence -- meaning that it can be organized in a way that is bottom-up, top-down or middle-out. We call the network appliances FreedomNode, FreedomTower, and FreedomLink. The management suite is called FreedomNOC, and the transparent cryptosystem is FreedomTunnel.”

Initiative for China + Tahrir Project
“Our idea is to create a decentralized, uncontrolled, censorship-free, anonymous twitter-like microblogging platform to ensure internet freedom and free speech by making it difficult to: determine the real identities of publishers, which users are reading which microblogs, and scale up to thousands of published messages per day. Tahrir Project is designed specifically to address the urgent needs of microbloggers living under internet censorship to prevent bloggers from sharing what the government deems to be “sensitive” views and opinions, particularly for human rights and democracy activists, house church members, and other disadvantaged groups that live within the confines of the GFW. Our project’s applicability is not limited to just China, but can also be used by netizens under any regime that restricts and censors internet communication, such as North Korea and Iran.”

Open Observatory for Network Interference (OONI)
“OONI is a project for creating an international distributed observatory of Internet censorship and surveillance. It aims at collecting high quality data from all over the world on what is being censored and how. All the data will be released fully allowing journalists, policy makers, hackers, data visualizations gurus or just citizens to better understand the complex issue of internet surveillance. In particular we would like to do more research on what new techniques we can use to detect censorship in an automated way and maximize the amount of data we collect with our measurement tool.”

Project Gulliver - Greenhost
“Project Gulliver is a software project and a documentation hub about DDoS mitigation.

One of the bigger problems facing civil society, human rights defenders and independent media sites are DDoS attacks. Small scale operations, NGO's and individuals often lack the resources to defend themselves against a DDoS attack. In case of an attack, sites are often taken down by the admins to protect the network and other sites on it. This renders all information inaccessible. This can severely limit access to information during events like elections. Our aim is to develop a Open Source framework for DDoS mitigation with as little as possible impact for legitimate visitors.”

Storymaker - Small World News and Guardian Project
“StoryMaker is a new tool for mobile multimedia reporting. Professional and citizen journalists, as well as activists will be able to use StoryMaker to tell their own stories in video, photo, and audio. Smartphones are increasingly ubiquitous and becoming a primary tool for reporting in conflict areas and crisis zones. They are also being used to report human rights issues and violence from inside repressive states. StoryMaker plans to solve two primary problems. The app will ensure users remain safe by working within a threat model that accepts the user’s device is compromised and will be used by authorities to monitor them and prevent their reporting from reaching the world. The app will also assist citizen journalists to produce better quality content and assemble complete stories, increasing the impact and reach of their content. Images or groups of images that tell a story have more impact and greater reach than single images or shaky videos of violence in far-off war zones.”


4. Grassroots Technology Award (Golden Jellybean 2)

$20,000 will be granted to a project that uses innovative information technology at a grassroots level. Projects in this category engender grassroots or local action to deal with issues such as access to information and freedom of association and opinion.

Flashproxy - Open Technology Institute
“The Open Technology Institute’s Facebook application will allow Facebook users to easily and consistently contribute the resources of their Internet connection to support international online freedom efforts. Repressive governments employ a range of blocking technologies in an effort to control their citizens' actions online. Activists in these nations often must use circumvention technologies in order to access anonymizing networks, such as Tor. OTI's Facebook app has the dual goals of raising the profile of online freedom issues while also making it simple for Facebook users to contribute technical resources to support citizens who must use Tor via Flashproxy in order to access the Internet safely and securely.”

Haroon Rashid Shah
“Conflict and the operations by military and paramilitary forces between 1989 and 2009 have resulted in more than 8,000 enforced and involuntary disappearances in the Indian administrated Kashmir (IAK), located in the northwestern part of South Asia. There is a fear and hope in those 8,000 families of missing persons that some of these 6,500 unknown graves might contains the remains of their loved. Searching them is time consuming, resource intensive, and often dangerous task for these families. Our project is meant to use information technology to help facilitate their identification that will set course for next line of action. The output of the project would be a database driven website that would provide the data of unidentified killed people buried in these unmarked graves across IAK. If there is the sufficient evidence that disappeared people were killed and buried in those graves, the project would act as a line of intervention and help the relatives of the disappeared people, civil society organizations such as the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, and other Indian rights groups or state police authority to take the issues forward, investigate and demand a fair trial against the perpetrators.”

Interactive Voice Response-Based Market Information System - Marye Mengistu Miskir
“In the rural areas of Ethiopia, the farmers are getting only a small amount of the profit by selling their agricultural products to the merchant from the cities at a very low price due to lack of up-to-date market information. In addition to this, the majority of the population in the rural areas of Ethiopia is not educated enough to use modern communication technologies like surfing internet and even reading and writing SMS in English language on their mobile phones. So, to alleviate the above problems and to fill the market information gap, we develop an application known by "Interactive Voice Response Based Market Information System” which provides the daily market information to the farmers via voice with a menu option using their own local languages.”

Maletsabisa Molapo
“My idea is to use mobile phone videos to train, educate and empower low-literate inhabitants of rural communities in Lesotho in areas such as health, agriculture, environmental sustainability, and entrepreneurship. I have developed an application that allows the trainers (e.g health trainers, farmer trainers, activists,etc.) to put together a series of images and record over the images a descriptive voice in the preferred local language. The application can broadcast video files to numerous phones in the area using Bluetooth, e.g during a training meeting, the trainer can broadcast a file to over thirty phones in one click. In this way, people can now take the training/awareness information home to watch or listen, as well as share with other members of the community. By providing easy-to-use technology for health/agriculture/environmental trainers who work in rural areas, we can give them a platform to educate the rural population beyond the limitations of literacy.”

Reticle - Malice Afterthought
“The idea is Reticle, a self-directed network of disposable computers designed to be as powerful as possible, while making sure that no entity can trace their origin or purpose, that can provide communication, encryption, and data storage to people in need without making the users understand more about cryptography than someone who throws a smoke bomb knows about volatile chemistry.”


5. Facebook Award

$20,000 will go to the best actionable ideas of how to use the Facebook platform to deliver a human rights, human development or social good outcome.

Map Kibera Trust
“My idea is using Facebook as a tool to advocate for change through information sharing in informal settlements and slums of Kibera and Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya. These informal settlements have been ignored by the central government for long and most development projects never come down to them. Since the communities living in these regions are not on the government map, the government perceives these regions to be forests therefore the settlements are always subjected to demolitions without compensation every time there is a government initiative like the bypass road currently being built through Kibera slums. Most young people in these regions, despite their large use of Facebook, have not been trained on how to use the technology and social media to air their views and grievances and this idea offers a platform to equip and empower them with ideas worth bringing a change in their community. These slums were worst hit by the last post-election violence and such an idea will promote peace since the government is known to block main communication channels when violence erupts. The young people who belong to these communities within the given slums will be able to get trainings on how to put Facebook and video sharing sites to advocate for peace and change in their communities.”

“In June 2012, an ultraconservative congressman in Costa Rica became president of an internal entity created to defend Human Rights. His votes subsequently vetoed draft bills that were key for the establishment of civil rights. At BigWebNoise, a digital advertising agency, we developed an online Facebook-integrated app- in order to channel the population´s widespread backlash against the congressman. In only two weeks, fifteen thousand people “put their faces” to demand his resignation... nearly the same amount of votes that put him in Congress in the first place. We intend to turn into an easily customizable and intuitive open-source application; one that can be replicated, used freely and for free by organizations and social movements in support of causes that require mobilization, peaceful protesting and visibility anywhere in the world.”

Seven Sisters
“The idea behind the Seven Sisters Social project is to enable reporters in North-East India to tell their stories to the world via a deep integration of mobile phone and Facebook. India has over 900 million mobile connections, which gives us an advantage and a ready network to tap into and leverage on the accessibility of the same. The technology would simply combine an Interactive voice response system and Facebook application to create a mobile reporting network for North-East India, with the aim of spreading news through Facebook to users in different parts of the country. This platform will be deployed in North East India where reach of traditional news media is non-existent to a large extent. While high tech infrastructure remains underdeveloped, the usability of new media platforms such as Facebook are on an all time high. The Seven Sisters Social platform would not only fill this vacuum but also create a much needed replicable model to reach different parts of North East.”

Social Media for Democracy
“Social Media for Democracy aims at filling the gap between elected representatives and constituents by training Moroccan women Members of Parliament (MPs) on how to use Social Media, beginning with Facebook. This project will improve the MPs’ communication with the public through daily postings on a Facebook page (a public profile) as well as answering people's comments and posts on their page. This project has a double outcome: on one side it empowers women in politics; it highlights their everyday work and shows that they are responsible and engaged in important policy making. It also encourages representative to be accountable to the people (particularly to the youth) and interact with them on a platform where they are already engaged.”

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