Despite some early fanfare regarding Cell 411, an app for mobile platforms designed to issue alerts directly to communities in order to develop self reliance, we at the Twin Cities Industrial Workers of the World General Defense Committee Local 14 must revoke all endorsements of this application after learning of some of the highly troubling aspects of its design, use, and intentions of its creator.

For the long story, see this blog post:

In short: the application itself is not in fact decentralized, despite all claims to the contrary by the developer and company backing him. Cell411 is controlled by a private company that all user data passes through, and explicitly states that it includes a kill switch for accounts that it intends to use at will. This company even refuses to allow audits of its code or even discuss aspects of its internal design.

These policies are completely inappropriate for this type of system and a huge red flag, as these issues combined implies the monitoring and capture of content that could be sold or leaked without user knowledge. If that wasn’t frightening enough, the developer himself has a very long history of racist, misogynist, and celebratory statements of killings and other disgusting remarks to whomever he determines to be “feminists” or “communists”.

Given the complete lack of transparency for Cell411, the politics of its developer, and the common machinations of capitalist software models surrounding user data, we have come to the conclusion that Cell411 is inappropriate for serious use at best, and in all likelihood, dangerous for its users in reality.

Development of a truly decentralized and safe application for community response is currently ongoing. One promising project is known as Buoy, and you can find instructions for how to get it up and running here. We intend to get an instance of this running soon, and welcome further commentary.

5 thoughts on “Tech Alert for Activists Regarding Cell411

  1. Hi,

    I am the lead developer of Buoy and while I’ve made it available for public inspection, it is still very early in the design and development phase. We believe in free and open source collaboration, not in building a successful company that makes a “product.” With that in mind, I would love feedback from the community about any and all aspects of Buoy design’s and implementation. I apologize in advance for its unpolished look-and-feel at this stage of development if you do in fact try to get an instance up and running.

    However, as you know, there are many well-funded projects that are running 1,000 mph in the wrong direction. I feel it’s more important to go in the right direction, no matter how slowly. And on top of that, we’re going in the right direction it with a budget of $0 at the moment, yet we still have a functional prototype available in less than six months of coding work. 🙂

    We believe that this kind of free software openness and keeping development strictly independent of any capitalist (and financial) interest is the right way to ensure a project of this kind actually becomes useful for activists and others facing police violence and State repression.

    The current public distribution of Buoy is not as easy to use as I would like it to be. If you have any problems, please don’t hesitate to post on the support forum at WordPress.org or to open a ticket in our public issue tracker on GitHub. I would be very happy to assist you in getting things working.

    Also, be on the lookout for a version 0.2.0 release of Buoy before the end of April. This release already dramatically improves the performance of the built-in incident chat room and also (I hope!) will move away from using Google Maps for the real-time map location tracking so as to further protect users from proprietary applications (like Google Maps, which is also what Cell 411 uses).

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    1. Hey Maymay,

      Thanks for the reply, and no apologies needed! As an anti-capitalist organization, the Industrial Workers of the World philosophy definitely sees eye to eye on the capitalist profit motive aspect. Additionally on a personal level, as a (currently inactive) dev myself, I totally understand software in progress, am a huge fan of the “measure twice, cut once” philosophy for development, and support and promote anti-capitalist and free/libre software whenever possible.

      After our last tech committee meeting the other night however, we determined it may be until at least the end of the month before we can attempt to get this running. We have a lot on our plate right now, particularly in regards to rebuilding a training for both tech security and security culture in general. It’s the least flashy work on our to-do list, but it desperately needs to be done to build stronger resistance, particularly when coupled with our mass movement orientation in the GDC.

      We do intend to attempt this install in a few weeks though (maybe we’ll try after 0.2.0), and perhaps in a few months if the Twin Cities scene cools off a bit, I may be able to contribute more directly as a developer.

      We’ll be in touch, and thanks for all of the work done by you and the rest of the contributors in both building this and exposing that ancap shit.

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      1. Totally understand the choice priorities you outlined, and I think that’s wise. The 0.2.0 release smooths out a couple of things anyway, and I’m on track to get that done myself, so perhaps waiting until the end of April and the 0.2.0 release is a good move, anyway.

        It would be totally rad to have more free software devs who have strong anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-fascist, pro-feminist philosophies join me in this effort, so whenever you can do that, in whatever capacity you can do that, know that it will be appreciated. 🙂

        You have my personal email now, so please stay in touch. For privacy, use my PGP key, published at the footer my homepage: https://maymay.net/ (currently key ID 0x0900E4EB4DB88B59 but I’ll be re-keying with a new R4096 key soon).

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  2. Hello again. 🙂 Just a note to say Buoy’s v0.2.0 is out and it has a load of usability improvements, particularly for site admins.

    Also, we were interviewed by FLOSS Weekly earlier today about the tool. If you’re interested, you can download (and share) the interview from here: https://twit.tv/floss385

    I hope your tech committee meetings have continue to prove productive and that we get a chance to collaborate more directly in the future. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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