October 28 2021 GM

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Glitter Meetups


Glitter Meetup is the weekly town hall of the Internet Freedom community at the IFF Square on the IFF Mattermost, at 9am EDT / 1pm UTC. Do you need an invite? Learn how to get one here.

Date: October 28th, Thursday

Time: 9am EST / 1:00 PM UTC

Where: IFF Square on IFF Mattermost

In this session, we will be sharing with the IFF Community our more recent work focused on providing digital services to people with little or no access to the Internet due to a natural disaster, a humanitarian crisis, a lack of infrastructure or the high cost of Internet service. From user research based on these scenarios, we created "Butter App" - a suite of offline services in a portable format that can be hared peer to peer or installed on a hotspot (Butter Box) to share via WiFi.

Butter App is a collection of open source apps that work without access to the Internet, and can provide assistance during blackouts, in isolated areas and in everyday life when there is no access to the Internet. Among them, offline navigation apps, health trackers, survival manuals and games.

Featured Guest David Oliver, Co-Founder & Fabiola Maurice, Community Manager of The Guardian Project


Topic of Discussion: Butter App & Butter Box

Guardian Project is a global collective of software developers, designers, advocates, activists and trainers who develop open-source mobile security software and operating system enhancements. We focus our efforts on users facing challenging Internet access situations and those who live or work in high-risk situations, often facing constant surveillance and intrusion attempts into their mobile devices and communication streams. You can find David and Fabiola as @dav1d and @fabby on the IFF Mattermost.

Could you share about ButterApp? Is a project by the Guardian Project isn't it?

  • "ButterApp" is a way to give apps out to people under circumstances where connectivity is poor or non-existent, and have those apps work with little or no connectivity.
  • The term butter comes from the Latin American slang term for "easy" or "smooth": "like butter" == "que mantequilla". We love the name because it makes it fun and easy to understand the purpose of the app. we are trying to make your life easier when you do not have access to the internet.
  • The idea got started with Hurricane Maria and the huge negative fallout from that in Puerto Rico: nothing worked, no one could communicate, etc. People needed things like offline maps (which designated service locations and such)
  • We curated a collection of apps that could be useful in those scenarios. App free, open source apps, that are not going to take a lot of space from your memory, or use a lot of battery.

So your work is mostly curation then?

  • Yes,first we conducted research to learn what people could use in the case of a natural disaster, a humanitarian crisis, or isolated areas with no connectivity
  • The idea was to make it easy to get such apps, even when mostly offline. As we know, App Stores have to be ONline, not OFFline. Well, not so with ButterApp.
  • ButterApp works in both hotspot and bluetooth modes for both one-to-several and one-to-many transfer of apps.
  • The work here is both "making it easy" and then also understanding which apps are going to work (and which are going to be useful).

Fantastic! Could you give some examples of what types of apps?

  • ButterApp is not for "end users", it's for the people who have, and keep, relationships with end users who are in difficult circumstances.
  • On the website and the app store Guardian Project is not mentioned because we do not want to raise any red flags in countries like Cuba or Venezuela
  • In the USA we have a famous story about a man called "Johnny Appleseed" who wandered the countryside planting apple trees (actually setting up apple nurseries). ButterApp is for people like that. people who are working in communities where the Internet is difficult.
  • There were also offline maps of the area included in the repo, and navigation tools that could work with those maps. We also included health tracking apps, survival manuals
  • This is useful for digital rights defenders, since we also included apps to collect evidence, remove metadata, and digital and physical safety manuals.
  • For those familiar with the technology, ButterApp is built on F-Droid, the App Store for open source software. F-Droid has a "storefront" on the Internet and in its own app BUT you can build your own app repositories with the same technology, and we've done that with ButterApp - also adding the features that make it useful for distributing apps "offline" (bluetooth, eg).

So by downloading the app it includes a curated suite of other apps that can be accessed offline?

  • Yes, when you download ButterApp you are downloading a repository of applications that work offline. you can then share those with people physically nearby you or via that "central point" idea (like a community center). The community members ("end users") just get the apps that will help them, not ButterApp itself.

How do you make sure the ButterApp porter is not introducing sneaky code on the updates?

  • F-Droid has a layer of technology to assure that apps in the repository have a traceable developer history and required "fingerprints", similar to the big app stores.

You did user research in order to develop ButterApp, which groups did you interview? What were your main findings?

  • There have been interactions with our target audience since the beginning of the original project (Viento, 2016) for which we created Persona Profiles to help us understand the Latin American context (how people use their phones to get and share information).
  • We also conducted a series of workshops in different regions of Colombia, some in isolated areas with no access to the internet, in which we worked with different human right defenders and activists who learned and tested the localized apps included in Butter App.
  • Finally, we are currently working with some partners in Venezuela to curate and localize “Mantequilla”, the Butter App version for users in Venezuela.
  • We are currently working with the Localization Lab to make sure all the apps are translated to Spanish for the "Mantequilla App" version.
  • We are also working on an independent Mantequilla repo for Digital Security training materials, video tutorials and content in Spanish that could be useful for activists, journalist, Human Rights Defenders and other actors at high risk.
  • We are gathering some resources here that you may find interesting.
  • This work in Latin America really does highlight that ButterApp contains not only apps to help community members survive under difficult/expensive conditions, but also supports the people distributing the apps. We have many geographies where that's essential.
  • We will be sending some "butter app" hotspot prototypes to people willing to test them and share the feedback with us. * These prototypes are modified Raspberry Pi devices that once on will function as a hotspot users can access and see the Butter App repository.

Which type of support from our community do you think might be useful? testing? Promotion?

  • There are many ways you guys can help us, the easiest is to download the app from the Website
  • You can also run one of or prototype Hotspots in a community with little or no access to the internet and give us feedback on the performance of the system, and the compatibility with local devices.
  • We would love for people to test that and let us know if is not clear enough and all other findings.
  • it would be cool to have some folks here with capable mobile devices get ButterApp and try distributing some apps to friends.