The Best Apps for Safer Protesting
We’ve talked about the settings you need to know to keep your phone, your data and yourself safe and secure when protesting. If you do choose to use your device during a protest, there are a few safety and messaging apps you’re going to want to install on your phone before you head out.
For recording and reporting rights violations: Mobile Justice
The American Civil Liberties Union has launched state-specific versions of its Mobile Justice app, which you can use to quickly and easily take a video recording of your surroundings and send it in to the ACLU as an official “report” of some wrongdoing you were subjected to.
Even cooler, you can enable a “witness” mode in the app that will alert you if someone nearby is also using Mobile Justice to make a recording/report. You’ll be directed to their location on a map so you can go serve as a witness to whatever’s going on.
For all your messaging: Signal
This one’s simple. You should use an app that protects your communications with end-to-end encryption (so whatever you’re saying can’t be intercepted in any meaningful way), offers disappearing-message functionality for organizing and allows you to set a separate authentication mechanism for even accessing the app to begin with—that way if someone gets their hands on your phone and manages to log in as you, they still can’t access your messages.
Oh, and having a service that doesn’t log messages—and can’t unscramble encrypted versions of them, anyway—means that subpoenas to access whatever you, your friends or fellow organizers have sent to one another are effectively worthless.
For evaluating a situation: Scanner Radio (Android) or Broadcastify (Android / iOS)
You probably have better things to do than listen to a police scanner all day, and odds are good that you’ll get as much information about a situation that’s transpiring via Twitter, Signal or any other communication apps you’re using. Still, if you want to hear the official word on what’s happening in an area, it never hurts to tune in. If you’re staying at home instead of protesting, perhaps you can “participate” from afar by following along and relaying key information to your friends and loved ones. One of these apps can help with that.
For recording without being seen: Private Video Recorder (Android)
Unfortunately, there’s no app you can use to make a video recording with the screen turned off on iOS—a useful technique to record your surroundings surreptitiously without provoking a heated response. On Android, however, Gizmodo commenter Babylon System recommends “Private Video Recorder,” which allows you to do just that. Fire it up, stick your phone in your shirt pocket (or tape it to your backpack, or whatever) and record away.
Yes, your typical Nextdoor poster is garbage. And the Citizen app, formerly “Vigilante,” has had all sorts of issues that run afoul of various app store guidelines (it remains missing from the Google Play Store as of this writing). I’m not a huge fan of “report on your neighbors” apps—nor should anyone, be, really—but they’re a potentially useful tool if you need crowdsourced information about what’s happening around your area right now. Yes, your neighborhood posts will probably be full of misinformed, quasi-racist people, and make you think twice about where you go trick-or-treating this year (assuming you can go at all). But at least you might get an early warning about what’s happening in an unfamiliar area when you’re out protesting.
For removing metadata from your photos: The Photo Investigator (iOS) or Photo Exif Editor (Android)
Various social media sites will remove the EXIF data from photos you post, but if you want to be sure, use an app like The Photo Investigator or Photo Exif Editor to do this yourself. Stripping out any and all identifying characteristics from your photos before you post them elsewhere lends you that much more privacy (and anonymity) when you’re out protesting.
(I’m also a fan of ViewExif for iOS, which can strip metadata as an app extension rather than a standalone app. When sharing photos, simply tap on this app your iOS Share Sheet, and you’ll be able to send your picture to a friend with or without the metadata included—your choice!)
For encrypting your internet: A good VPN (especially on Android)
So, here’s the deal. If you’re on iOS, then there’s no way you’re going to be able to set up an “always-on” mode for your VPN that’ll protect you at all times while you’re on wifi, cellular data, or bouncing between the two. This feature is present on Android, however, and I recommend enabling it once you’ve picked out a perfect VPN to meet your needs. Spoiler: That’s not a “free VPN” app that you downloaded from any app store. Please do not use one of those. Please.
Obviously, calling 911 is your best option if you suffer or witness a serious injury while you’re protesting. However, the middle of a protest is probably the last place where you’re likely to be able to get quick, effective treatment for an issue. The Red Cross’ First Aid apps (iOS, Android) aren’t amazing, but they at least give you basic know-how for a wide range of scenarios, as well as a quick way to look up nearby hospitals—though I’d suggest looking up this information beforehand, so you can be prepared for any situations you encounter while you’re out.
While password managers and two-factor authentication apps are more useful for hacking attempts than anything else, they are are still an important part of your personal security setup and always worth talking about. A dedicated password manager app like 1Password gives you an extra incentive to use unique passwords for all of your various accounts and services, and allows you to hide your critical information behind another another login mechanism—separate, say, from the face ID you use to get into your phone. In other words, someone getting their hands on your device will still need to pry a secondary password out of you to access your master list of passwords,
As for Authy—or a different two-factor authentication app, if you don’t like Authy’s cloud-based approach—it’s a lot better to use rotating numbers tied to your device as a secondary authentication method for when you’re signing into accounts and services. If you elect to receive your authentication codes via text messages, anyone with access to your device (or SIM) will be able to see them. Authy, like 1Password, allows you to hide your 2FA tokens behind a secondary login method, so even someone who has your phone will have to jump through yet another hoop to see the special codes they’d need to log into your other services.
(Of course, there are plenty of apps you use—Facebook, for example—that keep you logged in each time you load the app after the first time, so all a person would need to do to see your digital life would be to authenticate into your phone. A great password manager and 2FA app won’t help much if you’re still logged into an app or service, but they’re better than nothing.)
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