zwol: ((mad) science)
[personal profile] zwol

I'm doing a research project related to online censorship, which you can help with, by visiting https://research.owlfolio.org/active-geo/ in any reasonably recent version of Firefox, Chrome, or IE. (You must have JavaScript enabled. It doesn't work in Safari, which unfortunately means you cannot use an iDevice.) Press the Start button on the map, wait for it to finish, and then click the "Tell me more" button (which appears when it's done) and read the text and follow the instructions. It is especially helpful if you do this on a computer physically located somewhere other than Europe and North America.

The experiment is testing "active geolocation", which is when you try to figure out where a computer physically is by measuring how long it takes a packet of information to go round-trip between one computer and other computers in known locations. This has been studied carefully within Europe and the continental USA, but much less so elsewhere.

This is relevant to Internet censorship because, in order to measure Internet censorship, you need access to a computer within the sub-network run by a censorious country or organization. Commercial VPN services are one way to do this. Unfortunately, the countries that are most aggressive about censoring the Internet are also countries where it is difficult and expensive to host servers. I suspect that several commercial VPN providers' claims of widespread server hosting are false: they are placing servers in countries where it is easy to do business, and then adding false entries to commonly-used geolocation databases. If whatsmyip and the like tell their users that the VPN server is in the right country, that's good enough to make a sale...

I have run these measurements myself on many VPN servers, but I don't know how accurate they are, and the accuracy varies depending on the true location. By visiting this page, running all the way through a measurement, and then telling me honestly where your computer really is, you provide me with data that I can use to calibrate the VPN measurements. Again, data from places other than Europe and North America is especially helpful: I particularly want Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and South America.

Once you click "Start" on the map at https://research.owlfolio.org/active-geo/, the page will run a test/demo to see whether you could help. If you can, then you'll see the consent form below to ask for more information about your location and you'll see the CMU’s Office of Research Integrity and Compliance notice.

If you're curious, you can read more about the research questions I'm investigating. If you would like to submit data from a computer that you only have remote shell access to, there is also a command-line tool that you can download and compile.

Spreading the word is also greatly appreciated; you are welcome to reproduce this message, and you can also signal-boost my tweets, fediverse messages, and Facebook post on the subject.

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