The Challenge


How can technology help people working to uphold human rights in the face of unlawful detention? read the brief


Amnesty Observer App

Around the world, from the Arab Spring to Chinese Anti-Corruption Campaigns to African Crisis Mapping to Occupy Wall Street, people are using mobile phones & online social networks/media to become activists & communicate important information.
One of the most powerful forms of information being shared is video. As the human rights organization Witness explains, "You can say a story is fabricated...You can say a person is lying. You can say you don't trust newspapers. But you can't say what you just saw never happened." How can technology tools be further developed to support this, particularly where such actions are being suppressed? Below is an example of how an "Amnesty Observer App" (available & applicable around the world) could help support activist behaviors already occurring in China.

Imagine you are a student waiting for the bus in Shanghai, China, excited to be going home to see your parents for the Spring Festival (most important family holiday, like Christmas for China). You see some chengguan (local street police) surround an unlicensed migrant street vendor, demand his cigarette inventory as a bribe, and then begin beating him mercilessly when he refuses & tries to flee. Eventually they haul him away to be charged.

You want to do something about this corruption & excessive aggression, but are afraid of the ramifications for you & your family (you were refused admittance to your desired academic department, due to your lack of participation in the school's Communist Youth League division; your parents were recently interrogated due to their resemblance to organizers of a hospital protest that occurred several weeks ago, and you've heard about people trying to film chengguan excessiveness that were then beaten to death themselves). You feel helpless.

Now, what if you had the Amnesty Observer App (available for all commonly used video-enabled mobiles, both smart & basic feature phones), empowering you to quickly, easily, & safely record & share video.
  • When you see the start of the corruption, you press 1-button to open the app which immediately begins recording (or perhaps auto-streaming). You feel empowered knowing that just a 2nd press of any button will immediately finish the recording, anonymously upload the video with an automatic time & location stamp to a secure publicly accessible location (perhaps searchable & with visualizations by place, time, etc.), and then delete the video from the device.
  • Unfortunately a supervising officer spots your phone and grabs it before you have a chance to press a 2nd button. He looks at the screen (which displays a mock Angry Birds game screen, estimated 100 million downloads in China this year, with a local unlicensed Angry Birds Theme Park already open). He presses the exit button to inspect your home screen for suspicious activity (which automatically uploads, then deletes the video), but all he sees checks out (including the mock Angry Birds Game, which actually contains the Amnesty Observer App)
  • A week later, your video compiled with other local Chengguan Bribe & Beating videos has been spread all over weibo, youku, kaixin, etc. (China's version of twitter, youtube, facebook). Of course, the government quickly moved to shut this content down, but not before the Renrou Sousuo (literally Human Flesh Search Engine, i.e. internet crowd) identified an important un-uniformed public security official nearby in some of the videos. And the content continues to bubble up through different channels, renamed & remixed to avoid automated censors. What you see with your own eyes is stronger than government denials or media spin. What you see with your own eyes cannot be denied.
  • A month later, the offenders are fired, and the identified official resigns after apologizing to the released street vendor. The security department promises anti-corruption & violence reforms.

The people will be watching to ensure the police deliver on their responsibility.
What kind of resources are needed to get this idea off the ground and/or support it over time?
Various video recording apps/technology already exist ( ; note: image is from them). They need to be enhanced with the privacy, security, & distribution needed to more safely record in repressive regimes.
My Virtual Team
(ADDED on Nov 15th, LAST UPDATED on Nov 21st) Here's an overview of the great builds/updates made & inspired by y'all. Please see the comments at the bottom for the full lively discussion! *VALIDATION THIS WOULD WORK AROUND THE WORLD: whether in Stockholm, or Mumbai; Tehran, Nairobi, or Shanghai -Team: Lei Niu ( ) , Wilfred Lim ( ), Johan Löfström ( ), Sargam Gera ( ), Amin Tadj ( ), Festus Mbuimwe ( ) *CUSTOMIZABLE MOCK SCREENSHOTS / APP NAMES / ICONS: ensures localization for different contexts (what works in Bogota is likely different from what works in Oakland), and prevents a particular screenshot/name/icon from being used to accurately identify someone as using the Amnesty Observer App. Hypothetically, one could even choose a pre-existing app to imitate (e.g. copying of menu/desktop icon and screenshot of internal app page), or even have the app automatically load/boat when a pre-set genuine app (such as a scientific calculator app you don't use) is opened. -Team: Meena Kadri ( ), Tayfun Uslu ( ), Thorkild Kusnitzoff ( ) *EXPANDING BEYOND VIDEO TO PHOTOS / SKETCHES / AUDIO / SMS: facilitates witnessing for users of feature phones lacking video support -Team: Sarah Fathallah ( ), Anne Pizarro ( ), Emily Goligoski ( ) *SUPPORT PRE-RECORDED VIDEO UPLOADING FROM WEB: supports people who may not have the app, or record the video using a non-cellphone video recording device, and then want to securely/anonymously upload the video (no record of you uploading either on the web, or, if possible, your computer) later once they are in a safer area. -Team: Steve Hays ( ), Jacqueline L. Chavez ( ) *MAXIMIZING DISTRIBUTION BY LEVERAGING EXISTING CHANNELS: Bundling as an additional feature in Amnesty International's Candle App could jumpstart distribution, though the availability of a standalone observer app is very important for ease-of-use & security/privacy reasons. Perhaps the Amnesty Observer App & Amnesty International Candle App can cross-promote each other as sister apps. Also, as phones tend to come preloaded with certain applications, there's also the possibility of partnering with carriers/manufacturers to have phones come with the Amnesty Observer App preloaded. In general, human rights organizations/websites, app stores, phone shops, street vendors,and other existing channels can be leveraged for increasing distribution. -Team: Amin Tadj ( ) , Anne Pizarro ( ), Arjan Tupan ( ), Jamie Holzhuter ( ) *INTEGRATING WITH/LEVERAGING EMERGING ONLINE DISTRIBUTION: such as (secure anonymous whistleblowing uploads & distribution to established supporting institutions like NGOs, media outlets, & activist groups) & Diaspora . Both established institutions like Amnesty & Witness and the broader community play key roles in identifying, verifying, and surfacing important content. For example, imagine if videos could be browseable, aggregated, and sortable by time, place, shares, votes, etc. Different organizations or individual activists/causes (like Occupy Wall Street) could set up their channels/collections of videos to be shared (think Youtube channels & social network sharing tools). In some cases, perhaps a trusted party (like Amnesty!) could administrate the site. However, in other cases involving repressive Internet-censoring regimes, some kind of more distributed, peer-to-peer system like Diaspora that's harder to takedown/block may make more sense, perhaps in parallel. -Team: OpenIDEO, Amnesty International, Lei Niu ( ), Ana Cecilia Santos ( ), Marnie Landon ( ) *HANDLING PRIVACY CONCERNS: Photos/Videos taken in public places generally do not require consent, as there's no legally recognized expectation of privacy in most jurisdictions (as Google Street View, as well as security surveillance cameras, has made us more aware of). However, it's important to protect privacy in various scenarios such as protecting innocent bystanders whose revealed presence, affiliations, etc. might cause them harm. In the case of an type setup, where vetted partners or a single trusted party (like Amnesty) are responsible for initial distribution, the call to anonymously blur content or not even distribute inappropriate content can be made here. Features can be integrated to support this such as easy administrator tagging/tracking of items to automatically blur in final distributed videos, and reporting functions that allow anyone to make a content blur/removal request (both of these are done by Google Street View). Of course, though the tools are computer automated, the decision of what to blur/remove is ultimately a human driven decision made on a case-by-case basis. Amnesty International would be well suited for this role, which it's already performing in its current operations. -Team: OpenIDEO, Amnesty International, Owen Pringle ( ), Sara Mac Neice ( ) *FREE/DONATE WHAT YOU CAN PRICING MODEL: app is available for free (to maximize distribution & accessibility for everyone), but people (say a tourist downloading the app as a precautionary measure before traveling abroad) could be prompted to "donate what it's worth to you" or "donate what you can" to support Amnesty's human rights work. -Team: everyone who's posted to this human rights challenge! This idea hit me right before bed. I was browsing through Amnesty challenge concepts earlier, so I'm sure all of your great posts mixing around in my mind had something to do with it ;) *INCREASING STEALTH: Hidden/disguised background processes should be used for the uploading of media, particularly important in the case of slow upload speeds. Also, given that people already use accessories for their phones (plugin headphones, bluetooth headsets, even projectors) there may be future possibilities to record video/photos/audio through more discreet devices (camera on earplug, pinhole pen camera in pocket, video recording sunglasses, etc.). -Team: Tayfun Uslu ( ) , Arjan Tupan ( ) *OPEN MESH NETWORKS: for cases when the government shuts down the Internet & Phone networks -Team: Amin Tadj ( ) , Paul Reader ( ) *PHYSICAL "PHONEBOOTH" VERSION: for those without access to cellphones -Team: Rathin Deshpande ( ) *OFFERS TO HELP REALIZE THIS CONCEPT -Team: Rich Neal ( )
How could this idea also be adapted to work in low-tech situations?
By making versions of this app compatible with as broad a range of phones (any feature or smartphone with video support) as possible, not just IPhones! Can also expand beyond video to support photos / audio / sms, thus facilitating witnessing for users of feature phones lacking video support. Finally, there's the possibility for a standalone "phone booth" version of this for those without access to cellphones (search "phone booth" in comments to see discussion).


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Vincent Cheng

March 16, 2012, 14:44PM
Now mobile phone video has even been used to make an undercover half hour documentary (aired on TV news networks) of the situation in Syria, providing coverage despite the Syrian government's active targeting of journalists:

Haiyan Zhang

February 21, 2012, 19:24PM
Hi Vincent, congrats on having this concept developed as part of our IDEO Make-a-thon this weekend. The team created an iPhone prototype, Activate, which accesses photo and video functions on the phone to record and send footage to a secure server.

Scroll down to see a shot of the phone app.

Vincent Cheng

February 21, 2012, 21:50PM
Awesome and thanks Haiyan, IDEO London, OpenIDEO, Amnesty, and of course, the Make-a-thon team @iliasbartolini, @gridinoc, Ralf Rebmann, @tristamsparks . Great to hear that this & other promising concepts are moving closer to real world impact.

Would love to check out the prototype in more depth. Is the app or source code available?


February 14, 2012, 21:49PM
Hi Vincent - did you hear the news? Your concept is being developed and prototyped as part of this week’s Make-a-thon at IDEO London! Check this out for more info and be sure to weigh in over at our User Forums to help your idea take one step closer to reality.


February 14, 2012, 21:55PM
And hint: be sure to check out Brief #1!

Nathan Freitas

December 03, 2011, 15:51PM
Vincent - Congratulations on having the opportunity to take this concept to the next phase. I want to invite your team to collaborate with the SecureSmartCam project which been underway for a year as a joint effort between WITNESS Labs and the Guardian Project (an open source mobile security group). We share many of your goals, and have made progress in some significant areas. Our next milestone is in two weeks, with our first alpha of our video camera app and tor-based uploader.

This is a big problem set to tackle so the more the merrier, and look forward to having your creative thinking in the mix.

You can learn more at:

Amanda Drescher

December 03, 2011, 22:55PM
Hi Nathan. Granted, I'm not really part of this conversation, but what a great offer. The idea of a collaboration between this virtual team, Amnesty International, and WITNESS Labs is inspirational...

Vincent Cheng

December 03, 2011, 23:12PM
Awesome Nathan!

From what I can gather, the Guardian Project is focused on creating a privacy/security layer & apps (protecting communications, data, etc.) that can customize Android smart phones.

And the Guardian Project's partnership with Witness on an ObscuraCam app provides the anonymous obscuring of faces (as well as identifying media file metadata) that Amnesty recognizes as an important feature for processing these types of videos. Also, see there are aims to support other use cases in the future.

Certainly looks like it'd be worthwhile for the Amnesty/OpenIDEO team (who are pursuing realization) to communicate with the SecureSmartCam project (Guardian Project & Witness) to determine collaboration opportunities.

Thanks so much for reaching out and sharing the great open source work you & your team are doing Nathan!

Very valuable for Witness, Amnesty, other humanitarian organizations, activists, & even people just looking to ensure their privacy.

Shawn Parkinson

December 02, 2011, 17:55PM
Great work! Great concept, addressing comments, refinement, and collaboration!


December 02, 2011, 12:31PM
Vincent! Thank you for your huge effort on this challenge (and others)! We really appreciate all of your hard work and collaboration. Congratulations on designing a winning concept. The Amnesty team particularly liked your simple but effective use of mobile technology. We're hoping to prototype the idea at a hack event. Thank you again!

Anne-Laure Fayard

December 02, 2011, 12:51PM
Congratulations Vincent! Looking forward to seeing a prototype soon. al

Paul Reader

December 02, 2011, 13:01PM
Very worthy concept Vincent! Will be most interested to follow the realisation and see the end result.

Vincent Cheng

December 02, 2011, 15:20PM
Thanks everyone! Great to see so many promising ideas emerge to further human rights, and grateful for everyone's collaborative discussion to make all these concepts even stronger.

Excited to see what emerges from the Random Hacks of Kindness Global Event, where Amnesty & OpenIDEO hope to take selections for prototyping!

Amanda Drescher

December 02, 2011, 16:52PM
Congrats on your winning concept Vincent!! I can't wait to see what happens with this at Random Hacks of Kindness :-) Onward prototyping.

Amy Bonsall

December 03, 2011, 11:42AM
Congrats Vincent. Like the others, curious to see it prototyped soon. :)

Tom Hulme

December 02, 2011, 09:27AM
Vincent - your contributions across multiple challenges are all amazing. We discussed this concept with Amnesty yesterday and all love it. I wonder if this is something that could be prototyped fairly quickly at a Hackathon?

Vincent Cheng

December 02, 2011, 15:23PM
Thanks really means a lot coming from you, the creative & entrepreneurial visionary who makes this all possible!

And I'm excited that Amnesty loves this, giving it a good shot at being realized & supported!

Yes, core elements of this concept can certainly be prototyped quickly at a Hackathon. Hopefully anticipating what emerges from the Random Hacks of Kindness Global Event!

Marnie Landon

November 28, 2011, 19:11PM
Vincent, you have a lot of rich content here. sorry I have not gone through it all.

I wonder if you know about Peter Gabriel's - a human rights organization that has travelled deep into the jungles of Burma?

A potential source of inspiration and knowledge. They have their own interactive community platform called HUB, for Human Rights activists to upload photos and videos and document Human Rights abuses.

Marnie Landon

November 28, 2011, 19:19PM
WITNESS MISSION. - "SEE IT. FILM IT. CHANGE IT. WITNESS uses video to open the eyes of the world to HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS"
"WITNESS empowers people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change."

Vincent Cheng

November 28, 2011, 20:21PM
Hi Marnie. I actually quoted from Witness near the top of the concept, as I believe one of their videos actually helped inspire this.

Thanks for nudging me on Witnesses's HUB, which I definitely had overlooked mentioning! Have now incorporated them directly into the "Integrating with/Leveraging Online Distribution" section, as well as attributing you for your build there ;).

Marnie Landon

November 28, 2011, 20:43PM
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a video worth?
- priceless
I really love the video concept (and your eye-con), as you can tell by my mock-up.
I think it is an essential component to the solution set in this challenge, but with human rights there are some serious considerations in any implementation, as you have noted.

I'm sure the experience of the WITNESS team would prove invaluable to Amnesty.

Glad you found it useful.

Paul Reader

November 27, 2011, 23:28PM
Vincent I have evaluated this as quite technically dependent because I see it as a very important component in the integrated system..
Extending your 'privacy' filtering argument I see filtering first by 'Amnesty' to extract any useful information (who, what, when, where) important This would help initiate contingency plans (PACT and Detainee Support Network)), inform families, update incident reporting (Take Action on Google) and add to repository of stories and images. After that a considered decision could be made about putting the footage into the public domain. The other system elements give added purpose to the App and your 'camouflage' aspects provide important safety for the observer.

Vincent Cheng

November 28, 2011, 00:02AM
Thanks Paul! Appreciating how your comments on various concepts really illustrate how they can work synergistically as part of a broader system.

Emily Goligoski

November 27, 2011, 23:05PM
It's good to see the pricing options you're considering to be able to offer the observer app to a wider range of users.

I wonder if it might be feasible to add photos or sketches of people who other users have seen committing corruption? It seems that it could be useful to use geolocation to know who's nearby and worth keeping an eye out for (of course this could also raise serious privacy concerns but could be something worth exploring).

Vincent Cheng

November 27, 2011, 23:20PM
Thanks Emily!

The intent is to make the app freely available/accessible to everyone (in order to reach those in need and at risk), but to solicit voluntarily donations(from say a tourist downloading the app as a precautionary measure before traveling abroad, i.e. "donate what it's worth to you" or "donate what you can") to support Amnesty's human rights works.

And absolutely, about allowing the upload/sharing of other media beyond video, as well as having location tagging for these.

Have added you this concept's virtual team.

Thorkild Kusnitzoff

November 15, 2011, 10:37AM
Hi Vincent. This seems to me to be a great idea, to enable reporting to a wider community, thus minimizing the local authorities influence of the message to get through. The idea of disguising the app as another app is very important I think, and also the idea about hiding all actions of the app, upload, running program (if visible as in some android phones), further communication to other devices, etc. I was thinking if it could be possible to make an app that can imitate or install under another existing app, to make the cover of the Observer app as local and undetectable as possible? I was thinking something in the line of when installing the app, choosing which existing app in the phone it should imitate or install under, either grabbing icons and if possible some functionalities, or installing an "invisible" app to boot when activating a given app, creating a bootable app, started when starting eg Angry birds, a camera app, the existing calculator, or whatever is the most obvious choice for the individual.

Vincent Cheng

November 15, 2011, 15:57PM
Thanks Thorkild for your idea about how to further customize the app to be as covert as possible! You're definitely taking the implementation to a deeper, but potentially fruitful, level. Have integrated your builds & attributed you in the "Customizable Mock Screenshots / App Names / Icons" part of this concept's "My Virtual Team" section.

Vincent Cheng

November 15, 2011, 08:56AM
Thanks everyone for your support & many great builds!

Have filled in "My Virtual Team" section to update the "Amnesty Observer App" with your brilliant insights & ideas, and to attribute your contributions =)

As always, your feedback/builds are very welcome.

festus mbuimwe

November 12, 2011, 15:37PM
Habari (Swahili for hi) Vincent.
Great app idea and especially for remembering that for the app to be effective and widespread, it has to be donwloadable on basic phones too.

Vincent Cheng

November 15, 2011, 06:25AM
Habari & Asante Festus!

Kei H

November 11, 2011, 23:23PM
Awesome idea, like how you have accounted for the case where the officer finds you recording the scene.


November 11, 2011, 17:59PM
Vincent, congratulations on being shortlisted! We loved your idea of anonymously crowdsourcing evidence of human rights violations. We would challenge you to refine the concept in terms of how might this service verify the footage and overcome consent issues.

For inspiration, check out the project which is aiming to make whistleblowing safer for individuals.

Vincent Cheng

November 15, 2011, 08:37AM
Thanks OpenIDEO and Amnesty International for the shortlisting, refinement guidance, and OpenLeaks reference!

Have updated the concept to incorporate OpenLeaks, address some of your issues raised, and to gather and attribute the great builds from OpenIDEO community members. Continuing to think about further refinements.

In the meantime, would really appreciate it if y'all could elaborate a bit more on what you see as the consent issues, as well as your thoughts on potential/related solutions.

Owen Pringle

November 21, 2011, 14:38PM
Hi Vincent, great to see so much progress from you and the virtual team on this concept. The consent issues are, as you might expect, complex. As such there is no silver bullet, but they should be fed into the process to allow you and team to consider the implications and possible solutions.

Imagine a situation where a human rights violation is unfolding before someone with the Observer App, resulting in the user recording and uploading the events for further scrutiny. Although not central to the events being recorded, there may well be individuals in the background whose whereabouts, actions and affiliations may inadvertently have been captured and distributed as part of the recording, without their express consent.

Whilst a significantly different product, it's a problem that Google's Street View had to grapple with. Are there ways in which the team feel this can be addressed?

Sara Mac Neice

November 21, 2011, 17:25PM
Hi Vincent, agreed with Owen, maybe the issue goes a little further than consent in the sense that whilst consent, depending on the context may not be strictly necessary, we always need to be asking the questions about what indirect negative impact might there be on a person as a result of our campaigning, and how might that play out, it's a delicate balance without any one size fits all solution and in an ideal sitiation we could analyse on a case by case basis.

Vincent Cheng

November 21, 2011, 19:19PM
Hi Owen & Sara. Thanks so much for your thoughtful replies to help us understand this important consent/privacy issue! Really helped clarify things for me. Agreed we need to carefully consider how to avoid inadvertent negative impacts while we try to make a positive difference.

It's a tough one, especially in scenarios like the one given in the concept, where a seemingly innocent bystander may not be so innocent.

From my understanding of Google Street View, it's approach to privacy is 2-fold: 1) photos taken in public places generally do not require consent, as there's no legally recognized expectation of privacy; 2) however, Google provides a "report for removal/blurring function" that allows people to report inappropriate, privacy infringing, & security compromising content (bottom left of each image). Of course, there are variations in different areas such as allowing households to put their houses on a do not show list, respecting government requests to not photograph military bases as a general rule, and banning/exit of Google Street View from areas with more stringent privacy regulations.

For the "Amnesty Observer App", the anonymous blurring of content could primarily occur at the distribution partner stage (see INTEGRATING WITH/LEVERAGING EMERGING ONLINE DISTRIBUTION subheader of "My Virtual Team" updates section). Thus, after a video is uploaded, distribution partners/administrators (such as Amnesty International) can make the call about what's appropriate to show publicly, and what might need to be blurred or even never distributed at all.

I have added a new subheader to the "My Virtual Team' updates section called HANDLING PRIVACY CONCERNS to take a 1st cut at addressing this issue in more detail.

As always, would appreciate your, and the broader OpenIDEO community's, continued feedback & ideas on how to best handle this.

Sargam Gera

November 08, 2011, 11:15AM
Awesome idea Vincent. I think nowadays people don't help each other in such situations because they don't want to get themselves involved in any kind of issues. I think this idea will really motivate people to help each other.

John Anthony Sahs

November 03, 2011, 23:20PM
I really like this concept. I think the more we can educate ourselves from the experiences, we can share this to others, so that prevention can be a very helpful start

Johan Löfström

November 01, 2011, 07:53AM
Hello. I need to tell a short story to perhaps give you further ideas to, and perhaps simplify the programming of this great Application.

In the stockholm (sweden) subway, a young dude saw some security guards beat up an innocent man and dragging him into a room. The dude picked up his phone and started filming. Of course another guard approached him and dragged him towards the same room. He was shouted at, and ordered to delete the film. The dude had to show the phone screen to the guards while he deleted the film. And they checked that there were no films left on his phone and memory card. He was released. (There is no knowledge what happened to the innocent man that got beat up.)

But the dude walked directly to a friend, and they together used some software to rescue all deleted files on the phone. And they emailed the film to a tv reporter, and everything became public on national TV.

Vincent Cheng

November 01, 2011, 14:40PM
Thanks Johan! This is a great example of where this app would be useful. Seems like it has applications everywhere from Shanghai to Stockholm.

Any chance you have a link to the news about this?

Steve Hays

November 01, 2011, 00:39AM
It occurs to me that there should be a web version of this app as well. Yes, being able to upload it in the moment, and delete it in the moment is powerful, but why not enable videos to be uploaded regardless of where - or how - they were recorded? I can see capturing a video and then waiting until I was miles away from the incident to upload it. The compiling process that you mentioned would be facilitated with a complimenting web component, in addition to facebook and facebook equivalents.

Someone could navigate to the web page on their smart phone and upload from there if they did not have the app.

What whatever form this solution takes, part of its design must be how it will coordinate with other inputs - such as the SOS button, or the witness box. (With all the comments this is getting, I'm sure it will).

The impetus for this comment comes from my experience with the "spare the air" app for the iPhone, which provides a quicker way to report polluting cars in the SF Bay Area (in app text or single button call). But you can also call in such info later (when you are not driving!), or write it down on paper to call in later (they provide printed forms).

That app could learn from your idea too! Namely I wish I could just zip them a photo / video of the license plate from my phone. Ironically I just scanned their web site, and they don't have an obvious entry method there...

Vincent Cheng

November 01, 2011, 02:05AM
Good point Steve! This should definitely be web (not just mobile) accessible: the upload process, as well as the post-upload compiling/distribution/etc.

If you have further thoughts on coordinating with other inputs, I'm all ears =)

Jacqueline L. Chavez

November 18, 2011, 22:37PM
Awesome concept Vincent.
I agree with Steve on the need for a web version. In the case of Cuba (where these detentions have been occurring regularly for over 50 years) there are very few people who have cell phones and the ones that do can't use them to access the web or email thanks to the government restrictions.

Jacqueline L. Chavez

November 18, 2011, 22:51PM
Also, it would be great if the web version had a similar "stealth" component to it. In the event that your computer gets confiscated there will be no record of you visiting the site or of the uploaded video/pics.

Vincent Cheng

November 19, 2011, 05:13AM
Absolutely. Thanks Jacqueline for helping make this concept work for as many people in as many places as possible! Already updated the concept with a web upload component, but have now also clarified that this should be secure/anonymous, and have attributed you, in the Virtual Team section of this concept.

Emily Mulkerne

October 31, 2011, 02:51AM
I like the idea that you can disguise the film on your phone if someone tries to look at your screen. How can a person activate that when their phone is being searched?

I think this concept of getting information out there with video footage is very important. I think this can allow people to gain access to that information as soon as possible. Great thinking!

Vincent Cheng

November 15, 2011, 06:18AM
Thanks Emily. In the case of a person's phone being searched, the action of the searcher would actually automatically activate the online upload & local deletion process.

Rich Neal

October 28, 2011, 14:37PM
Vincent -
I believe I own an answer to your envisioned concept. You require a collective intelligence of a crowd (at the very least, one astute witness with a phone and connectivity) acknowledging corruption and human rights violations are taking place. You also require a means for monitoring the multiple, concurrent channels of social media for posting, spread and strength of message (amongst other variables). Finally, you require a means for managing the project to ensure proper attention is given the crime worldwide. This program exists within my company, I'd be glad to offer its utility for free to meet the needs of your envisioned concept.

Vincent Cheng

October 28, 2011, 22:12PM
Hi Rich,

thanks for your comment & offer to help!

In this human rights challenge, I believe selected concepts will be moved forward by Amnesty International & OpenIDEO, who also hope to take these to RHOK (Random Hacks of Kindness) to develop.

If this idea is selected, you might want to contact them directly about how to contribute to its realization.

Also, it sounds like some of your thoughts may not only build on this concept, but also extend beyond video in broader ways. Perhaps you'd consider posting another concept to more fully explain the potential for social media monitoring/management to uphold human rights?

Wilfred Lim

October 26, 2011, 10:00AM
Man...I was thought its an already done app and was thinking about downloading it!! LOL...but good idea...

Vincent Cheng

November 15, 2011, 05:42AM's good to know that this app concept is appealing, understandable, & believable enough that you want to download it right away! We just need to make it a reality, and the downloading & positive impact can begin =)

Rathin Deshpande

October 25, 2011, 22:03PM
Great concept Vincent. I was thinking on similar lines for the past few days. A feeling of empathy for the detained (or the person in trouble) is very common among the ones who are the witnesses to the scene. Most of the times the witnesses are not able to help just because of the fact that they are scared to 'raise a voice against it' or that they dont want to risk in their freedom too. So providing a tool or a process through which they can contribute to the issue without getting noticed is an excellent way to get people involved for the cause. The concept addresses the perception that 'technology can be a double-edged sword' in a decent and less risky manner.
A similar tool can be a discrete SOS button accessible to public at public places (airports, public hubs, etc.) may be in the form of a local phone booth or something similar which can just send a discrete message letting the right people know that something is going wrong at a paeticular location, without revealing the identity of the person who triggered the signal.

Meena Kadri

October 25, 2011, 22:25PM
Great thoughts, Rathin. Feel free to have a go at building off Vincent's concept to create a new one if you like. You can credit him via the Build Upon feature.

Vincent Cheng

October 25, 2011, 22:33PM
Hi Rathin, great minds think alike =) Glad that our lines of thinking are resonating well.

I like your springboarding to the idea of a discrete SOS button & definitely second Meena's encouragement post as it as a concept. I'm interested to see how you develop this further ;)

Anne-Laure Fayard

October 25, 2011, 22:43PM
Just joining the discussion to say that it'll indeed be nice to see how there could be an SOS button in public places. I agree with you Rathin that a great strength of Vincent's concept is in offering a very simple way (not requiring a lot of action) and quite safe way of (re-)acting.

Ana Cecilia Santos

October 25, 2011, 23:04PM
I 'third' that too... Regarding Rathin's idea of an SOS button!
Because many people who may witness a distressed situation in an airport for instance, may not have access to their phones to document a situation or call someone... so if they could signal this problem discretely like you say, this could be a further way to fight a crime, using less technological means. Or we could possible integrate this into the Amnesty Observer App with the same symbol, e.g. I love the logo of this app resembling an iris, so maybe something like that? Or bringing in Anne's 'Shift Freedom' keyboard key!

The issue with educating and informing people about this button creeps up again, but I'm sure this concept could develop further with your great idea Rathin!

Rathin Deshpande

October 25, 2011, 23:42PM
Thank you everyone for the valuable inputs and thank you Vincent for this great concept. Helped a lot in directing me towards a new concept. I agree Anne Laure that its very interesting to think how an SOS button can be implemented in a public space and moreover the challenge lies in making the whole process work. It can be a design based issue too which I have started thinking upon.

The beauty of Vincent's concept indeed lies in the simplicity of it and the fact that it reduces risk for the one taking an action about it. It is a known fact that any process that demands 'too much' out of people is seldom a success.

Thanks Ana and Meena for the inspiration and I hope to come up with a concept built upon this soon.

Rathin Deshpande

October 29, 2011, 17:37PM
Hello Everyone,
Inspired by your support, I went ahead and came up with the Amnesty Observer's Witness Box. Here is the link :

Please go and check it whenever possible. Looking forward to your thoughts and comments.

Arjan Tupan

October 25, 2011, 16:27PM
Amazing concept, Vincent. I do think that we have to come up with solutions to some of the questions in the comments, like how to give the right people access to the tool and how to avoid the upload speed problem. As for the latter, a hidden background process, named after some innocent other app, could do the trick. Maybe combined with some p2p tech.

Vincent Cheng

October 25, 2011, 22:45PM
Thanks for the support Arjan, and agreed that these are important implementation issues.

And great idea to use hidden background processes in the case of slow upload speeds!

In terms of right people, it probably comes down to chosen distribution channels, awareness generating approach, and finding ways to naturally surface the most important content (all 3 of which Amnesty can be very helpful for).

Anna Pizarro

October 25, 2011, 15:53PM
As smart phone adoption increases, this app could really be instrumental in spreading the word. I think that perhaps an SMS /MMS "hotline" could also work for people with feature phones, whereby users could just upload photos and reports via SMS.

I think it would also be important for everything to be anonymized...

There may be ways to work with manufacturers so that the app comes pre-bundled...

Vincent Cheng

October 25, 2011, 22:51PM
Great thoughts Anna! Will definitely be incorporating into the "How could this idea also be adapted to work in low-tech situations?" section of the concept and attributing to you during the refinement stage.


October 24, 2011, 20:38PM
Congrats on this post being today's onsite Featured Concept!

Amin Tadj

October 22, 2011, 16:43PM
Dear Vincent

I supposed it could help as well:
This is Amnesty current App to take part in international campaigns, appeals for action and petitions to:

1- act for the release of prisoners of conscience
2- commute death sentences
3- bring torturers to justice
4- stop forced evictions
5- hold corporations accountable
6- protect women’s rights
7- persuade governments to change their laws and practices
I didn't work with that app but do you think your app could be an extra function added to current app or completely a new app

Vincent Cheng

October 22, 2011, 18:22PM
Hi Amin. Thanks for pointing out this Amnesty Candle App!

Indeed I think easy video recording would be a valuable functionality addition for this bundle.

At the same time, I think the availability of a simple standalone Observer App is important for ease of use & security/privacy reasons, especially in repressive regimes.

Amin Tadj

October 21, 2011, 04:29AM
Dear Vincent I really like your concept, Here I want share a probable situation that may happen in countries like Iran, Syria and so on. During after election demonstration in Iran in 2009, almost 20,000 from people were arrested in only first month of demonstration, some of them never came back and you can say almost all of them had cell phone. The initial strategy of government, to repress people, was based on interfering their means of communication as far as they could. SMS was off for months. Internet on mobiles as well, but they couldn’t turn off the whole internet network because many of infrastructures, such as banking, transportation and almost all official carrier have been installed on the internet platform but they reduced the speed to the extent that uploading 1 minutes video took almost 30 minute. So I suppose that would be the probable scenario for next time as well.

Vincent Cheng

October 21, 2011, 12:53PM
Internet & Mobile Network shutdown is indeed a possible situation & valid point Amin. Thanks for raising. I see you've posted a related concept around this concern, so posting the link to it for you here:

Paul Reader

November 12, 2011, 05:10AM
Circumstances will differ from place to place: as a universal app for 'everyday' situations the likelyhood of internet and mobile network shutdowns is minimal. For other situations like general uprisings or regime 'crackdowns' the likelihood increases substantially. That's why I built a concept from Amin's for developing 'strategic' mesh networks using simple solar driven lighting as a 'cover' for installations: - although I didn't do much of a job in describing it.

Jason George

October 20, 2011, 22:39PM
Really great idea Vincent. The scenario was spot on and definitely illustrated the power of this app. I also like that it's technically the officer who is uploading the information!

Ana Cecilia Santos

October 20, 2011, 13:42PM
Hi Vincent!
Great concept, and what I especially like is the possibility to protect the witness, the user of the Amnesty Observer App, as many others have already mentioned. This makes me immediately feel safer.

On the other hand it also makes me think who is on the other side, looking at the content and analyzing it so that actions can be taken accordingly to stop the problem. So I guess this is also a very important point, to make the 'trust circle' is complete for the user of this App to feel empowered.

It also reminds me of CNN's iReporter. I have the CNN App on my iPod which includes the iReporter function too, but I have never found an opportunity to use it yet, but I love the pioneering idea behind it: Crowd sourcing the news! :

I look forward to see how this idea could be turned into reality!

Vincent Cheng

October 20, 2011, 16:08PM
Thanks Ana!

Agreed that the storage/distribution/sharing system/actors on the other side is extremely important. Videos can be browseable, aggregated, and sortable by time, place, shares, votes, etc. Different organizations or individual activists/causes (like Occupy Wall Street) could set up their channels/collections of videos to be shared (think Youtube).

In some cases, perhaps a trusted party (like Amnesty!) could administrate the site.

However, in other cases, some kind of more distributed, peer-to-peer system that's harder to takedown/block may make more sense, perhaps in parallel. For example, in China, domestically operating social media sites must be compliant with government censorship & generally have their own internal censorship division as well. Meanwhile, prohibited foreign media sites are blocked by a countrywide firewall (though there are ways around this).

Jamie Holzhuter

October 21, 2011, 18:00PM
Along with Ana's question: how would the app be distributed so that the people in need of it can actually use it?

Great idea, Vincent!

Vincent Cheng

October 22, 2011, 14:15PM
Hmm...good question Jamie. Thanks! I'd think mainly through pre-existing official (Amnesty & other human rights websites, app stores, phone preloads) & unofficial channels (software, movies, music, tech hardware, etc. often of uncertain IP are available both through various online channels & sold by street vendors in China).

Would appreciate other's thoughts on how best to distribute such an app in different areas around the world.

Paul Reader

November 12, 2011, 04:25AM
I think this app is a great idea especially with the added 'cover' of a game screen - I dont know much about games these days but there used to be limited functionality demo versions available which might be adapted to the purpose.
Following up with Jamie's question I had similar thoughts about how you get the app into the 'right' hands and keep it out of the 'wrong' hands. Perhaps a range of possible cover games together with a 4 key pin known to the owner to initiate it. If its too widely available and too easy to initiate then ultimately its too easy to discover too.

Tayfun Uslu

October 20, 2011, 09:20AM
This is really nice as the number of smart phones are increasing and within few years, all the phones (i.e. everyone) could accomplish such task.

I will just add on two things:

1) A camera on the ear plug will be even greater, in that case, it won't look like at all that you are filming.

2) The covert application should be any of the applications within the smartphone, therefore the officers will even suspect less (they may start seeing too many angry birds to form a pattern)

Vincent Cheng

October 20, 2011, 12:52PM
Thanks Tayfun. Agreed with you that, especially as video recording devices continue to decrease in cost & size, there will be more discreet ways to wear a video camera. And absolutely: about being being able to choose/customize different wallpaper/screenshots for the covert app in phones that can support!

Sarah Fathallah

October 20, 2011, 07:51AM
Brilliant idea, Vincent (and nice storytelling skills :) ). I wonder whether there could be a non-smartphone version (working with regular phones, SMS-based).

Vincent Cheng

October 20, 2011, 12:48PM
Thanks Sarah. Yes, I think I mentioned feature phones too (or at least video-enabled ones) in the concept. Are you envisioning non-video, SMS-based too? If so, how do you see this working?

Oh, also, great comments on everyone's concepts in general! You're really bringing new angles to the discussion =)

Anne-Laure Fayard

October 19, 2011, 23:14PM

I love the scenario which allows us to understand the local context. Thanks a lot for thinking of us. It also allows you to take us through all the steps and possible scenarios showing us the potential of your idea.
It makes it very easy (nearly no effort - 2 clicks with a device that she or he will have easily access to) for the user (and with very low, even null thanks to angry birds :-)) to report a situation.
The low involvement of the user in the action of reporting is also in the medium - a video, not writing up something or filling in a form. To this, it adds the power of the images and their "objectivity" (we will leave aside the discussion of how objective images really are :-) )...
thanks for another great concept!

Vincent Cheng

October 22, 2011, 18:18PM
Thanks Anne-Laure! Easy access is key in these situations.

Meena Kadri

October 19, 2011, 20:27PM
Really loving how you've painted a scenario where this Concept may be used Vincent – really helps others engage with your great idea. Wonder if the folks over at Angry Birds will see it as a form of free advertising or suit-worthy? ;^)) But seriously – lots to love on this one... looking forward to discussion & builds!

Vincent Cheng

October 19, 2011, 21:15PM
Thanks Meena! Angry Birds *should* see it as free advertising =). Anyways, I was more using that as an illustrative example that the OpenIDEO community might be able to relate to. So, any graphic/screenshot of other popular programs, such as mobile MMORPG games or text messaging, would also work fine for this purpose.

Continuing on that vein, an interesting side note: Steve Jobs was also a top trending topic on Chinese Weibos, just as it was on Twitter. The world is truly becoming more global every day!

Lei Niu

October 19, 2011, 20:06PM
Another brilliant idea, Vincent. The great thing about this idea is that it does not require any advanced technology or tools, all you need is a smart phone with the app installed.
And anothing I really like about your proposal is that you also designed this app to protect the witness who's using it. Such protection will encourage people to take more actions without concerning the safty of himself or the family members.
Greate concept, thank you!

Vincent Cheng

October 19, 2011, 21:06PM
Thanks Lei. The family/personal safety issue is a huge concern for many.

Sargam Gera

November 08, 2011, 11:10AM
Awesome idea Vincent. I think nowadays people don't help each other in such situations because they don't want to get themselves involved in any kind of issues. I think this idea will really motivate people to help each other.
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