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Abayima Makes SIM Cards Into E-Readers to Combat Information Blackouts

BY Julia Wetherell | Tuesday, January 22 2013

Over the past decade, mobile tech has grown into a dominant force in journalism, activism, and revolution across the globe. Yet one organization is going lo-tech to get information in the hands of the people – by transforming basic cellular phones into e-readers loaded with news that might be otherwise censored by the government.

Abayima is a non-profit that aims to “to support citizens when their voices are threatened in the form of attacks on communications infrastructure.” The organization was founded in response to incidences like countrywide Internet blackouts in Egypt, Syria, and Libya in 2012 and government-ordered SMS censorship that was carried out by mobile providers in Uganda in advance of the 2011 elections, where authorities have used a population’s dependence on online media to prevent the spread of information.

Abayima’s flagship initiative is a coding toolkit that allows users to modify the contents of their SIM cards to store text files, turning even a basic keypad phone into a space akin to a miniature Kindle reader, capable of storing news and other longform stories. The idea is to enable the offline, peer-to-peer flow of sensitive information, though Co.Exist reports that Abayima hopes to eventually partner directly with news organizations:

In order to monetize the platform, they’re working on a closed-sourced version of the Abayima SIM Kit for publishers who want to reach audiences in developing countries. Instead of going out and buying a newspaper, people could just pass around their SIM cards, which will have news that the government doesn’t want you to get.

Activists, citizens, and journalists stand to benefit from the successful implementation of the Open SIM Kit; it has already won Abayima support from the Knight Foundation as the 2012 victor of the organization’s News Challenge. At a time when more and more countries are pushing for greater state control of the Internet, a handy lo-tech solution to fight censorship could have a great impact.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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