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ENCORE: Internet access tool that monitors the accessibility of webpages

  • Dailybhaskar.com
  • Jul 04, 2014, 20:04 PM IST
ENCORE: Internet access tool that monitors the accessibility of webpages, launches news in English

launches news in English

 In 1993 the Time magazine published a quote from John Gilmore defining the nature of Internet, the computer science innovator, and one of the founders of Electronic Frontier Foundation who is a major contributor to the open source GNU project. He said, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” But the increasing surveillance attempts from national governments and blocking of content (webpages, Facebook groups) made us believe that Internet can be blocked/censored. Read here
Thanks to the researches from Georgia Tech, Gilmore’s famous quote could still be relevant.
The researches have created a web access tool, called ENCORE, that monitors the accessibility of webpages around the world that can be installed by adding a single line of code to a web page. The tool runs when a user visits a website where the code is installed and then discreetly collects data from potentially censored sites.

The data collected will allow the team to determine where, when, how and what is blocked. The best thing is it will identify ways to get around restricted access. In case you need to look at Gilmore’s quote again, here is another self-explanatory quote from unconfirmed source of NewsRadio – "You can't take something off the Internet - it's like taking pee out of a pool." (Source: CyberLaw.Harvard.Edu

The new tool very much echoes the Gilmore spirit of keeping the Internet Censor-Free.
“Web censorship is a growing problem affecting users in an increasing number of countries. Collecting accurate data about what sites and services are censored will help educate users about its effects and shape future Internet policy discussions surrounding Internet regulation and control" says Sam Burnett, Tech Ph.D. candidate leading the project.
The idea of the project is not to track the user behavior, but to see and know whether a potentially censored website is reachable from a particular location.
This could be immensely helpful for the Internet activist who work for Internet freedom- as the tool will bring the accurate information of what, how and where, Internet is being censored.
“Encore is the first tool that makes it possible to provide this kind of information continuously, on a global scale,” said Nick Feamster, professor at the Georgia Tech School of Computer Science and advisor of Burnett.

Encore works automatically in the background after you install the code to the website. It does not affect site's performance or user's experience, according to the researchers. “It causes every visitor to your website to attempt to access small pieces of data from other, potentially-censored web sites, and sends information back to the researches about whether or not each visitor could access those censored sites.”
The tool does not measure pornographic sites, explain the researchers. It further mitigates user risk because requests are initiated by the user's browser as cross-origin requests, not as explicit user "clicks". 
The tool provides ways to inform users that their browsers are conducting the measurements. “Although we cannot provide legal advice, we believe that you are not required to inform your site's visitors about Encore or obtain their consent before collecting measurements” insist the Researchers.
Encore code is open source and one can get a source under the MIT license from GitHub
A detailed set of installation instructions are provided here. If you want to install the code, here is a guide bookon how to install.
Encore will be presented at the Internet Measurement Conference in November in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Source:  Georgia Institute of Technology, PHYS.org
Image source: Flickr

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