The Licensing and Compliance Lab interviews Rainey Reitman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
What inspired EFF to create EFF Alerts?
Part of our advocacy efforts includes helping people who care passionately about civil liberties to influence decision makers. We might target a company like Apple, or President Obama, or the U.S. Congress when it's considering proposals that would undermine liberty. We promote these campaigns through social media and our blog, as well as through our mailing list.
One problem we're facing is that people are becoming less receptive to email communications. Part of that is simply email overload (the number one reason people give us for choosing to unsubscribe), as well as email providers trying to block or hide "mass" mailings.
But when Congress is about to act on a bad bill, we may have only days -- or in some cases only hours -- to rally a response. So we need a reliable non-email way for people to connect with us.
That's why we came up with EFF Alerts -- a fast, simple way to get notified on your mobile device whenever digital rights need your help. The EFF Alerts community is basically a fast-response emergency service for speaking out against imminent threats to our freedom.
Do you have to be in the United States to use the app?
Not all all; people all over the world should download the app. Many of our actions are international. However, sometimes we'll be organizing an action specifically targeting the United States Congress (because it is taking up a bill, for example). In those cases, it might not be possible for people outside the United States to complete the action, but there will be future actions they can take.
How can people use it?
Currently, people who want to install the app will get notified about breaking issues and actions through a push notification. People can click on the notification to load a mobile version of the EFF action center. Then they can take action -- often emailing Congress, signing a petition, sending a tweet, etc. To make this easy, you can set up a login and password on the EFF action center. That will retain your information and make it easier to speak out in the future.
Where can people get EFF Alerts?
People can download EFF Alerts from the Play Store. We're working on getting EFF Alerts onto F-Droid, but there are a few technical hurdles we have to jump through. We also have a version we put on our blog that you can download if you don't want to use the store, but the Play Store ensures you get automatic updates with new versions, bug fixes, and new features.
Why isn't EFF Alerts in the Apple App Store?
We thought a long time about putting the app in the Apple store. We'd really like everybody to be able to download our app, regardless of what operating system they choose for their mobile device. But after carefully reviewing Apple's Developer Terms (which we've been criticizing for years), we decided we couldn't sign them. The Apple terms prohibit developers from making any "public statements" about the agreement they sign. It also has a ban on reverse engineering, and gives Apple the right to remotely disable your app at any time, or delay important security updates. Not to mention all Apple apps come wrapped in freedom-hampering digital restrictions management.
Given all of this, we decided we couldn't sign the agreement, even if it meant fewer people getting our app.
Why did you choose the GNU Affero General Public License, version 3 (AGPLv3) as EFF Alert's license?
We used AGPLv3 for both the mobile app and the push server (which pushes notifications to the phones) so that if anyone makes improvements to the software and makes those improvements accessible over the network, the users get to benefit from their improvements and contributions. This helps ensure a robust free software community of developers working together to build the best app, rather than balkanizing their code in ways that lack community input.
How can users (technical or otherwise) help contribute to EFF Alerts?
One easy way to contribute is to download the app and tell your friends about it, either through social media or through other mechanisms.
Also, EFF is currently hiring folks to help us out, with both policy positions and technical positions. If you care about these issues, please consider making a career of defending digital rights.
What's the next big thing for EFF Alerts?
We've gotten a bunch of user feedback, so look for a new version in the coming months with a much-improved user interface.
Enjoyed this interview? Check out our previous entry in this series, featuring Aaron Wolf of Snowdrift.coop.