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This article was published on June 2, 2011

A Basic Mobile Apps Arsenal for Activists

A Basic Mobile Apps Arsenal for Activists
Nancy Messieh
Story by

Nancy Messieh

Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh, The Next Web's Middle East Editor, is an Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Fol Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh, The Next Web's Middle East Editor, is an Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Follow her on Twitter, her site or Google+ or get in touch at [email protected]

Activists in Nigeria have shown us how it’s possible to use mobile technology to prevent electoral fraud, while activists in the Middle East, have been making use of various mobile applications to broadcast images, videos and more from the protests that have swept the region.

While there is no hard and fast rule on which apps to use, we’ve done our research and put together a list of the most useful tools available. They’re in no order but each are important in their own right.

It goes without saying that having a good Twitter app is essential. Using the official Twitter apps for iPhone and Android users will put all of the main Twitter features in an activist’s hands.

Share Images

For sharing images, if you want to reach as wide a network as possible, and not limit yourself to just one social network, we’d recommend using PicPlz. The app available for free for both iPhone and Android users can be linked to your Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Tumblr accounts, amongst others.

Record and Share Video Clips

If you want to live stream video from your phone, Bambuser is a popular app already used by many Middle Eastern activists.

The sheer power of Bambuser came to light when Egyptian activist Tarek Shalaby was arrested during a protest outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo. In the harrowing recording, which streamed live at the time of his arrest, you can clearly hear Egyptian security forces attacking protesters.

In addition to live streaming video, you can automatically connect the service to your social networks, sending a notification to Facebook, Twitter and 10 other sites, that you’re video is live.

Bambuser is available as a free download and is compatible with over 260 phone models, including all iPhone models, Nokia phones and a wide variety of Android phones.

Record and Share Audio Clips

If you’d rather save on bandwidth and use an audio recording instead of a video recording, SoundCloud is one of the best options available. When first signing up for an account, under Settings, you can connect SoundCloud to your Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts, so that your recordings are instantly shared with your followers, although unlike Bambuser, the recording is not live-streamed.

SoundCloud is available as a free download for the iPhone and for Android phones.

Another solid option for recording audio on the go is AudioBoo, available as a free download for iPhone and Android users.

Locate or Wipe Your Phone

Activists in the Middle East face a serious risk of being arrested by governmental security forces. Their smartphones, while an essential weapon in protests, can easily become a weapon used against them when detained. One way in which activists can protect themselves, and their contacts’ identities, is by wiping their phones and restoring them to factory settings.

AndroidLost is available as a free download from the Android Market. After you’ve installed and activated the app on your phone, you can log into the web interface where you can remotely control your phone.

You can share your log-in information with a trusted friend, or under Security you can add their phone number so they can SMS commands to your phone, which will come in handy if WiFi or data has been disabled. You can also enter a passcode to lock your phone, and most importantly if you have sensitive data on your phone, you can wipe the SD card or reset the phone to factory settings.

Under Location you can send the phone’s location to your email account, a fast and easy way to track down your lost phone. You can also have the location sent to you at fixed intervals of 5 minutes anywhere from 3 to 30 times, although as stated on the site, the feature is still buggy.

Another option for Android users is to use Google’s own remote wipe feature, but the app can only be used by Google Apps Premier and Education Edition customers.

iPhone users also have a quick and easy way of remotely wiping their phones using Apple’s free Find My iPhone app. After installing and configuring the app on your iPhone,

You can also take measures to make sure that the app is not disabled on your phone before a friend is able to locate it or wipe its contents.

Protect Yourself with a VPN App

iPhone and iPad users can use the free app VPN Express for a quick and easy way get a secure connection to the net. While the app is free, there is a limit on your data transfer, but in-app purchases of extra data are relatively cheap.

Android users have the much more complex option of using Tor, one of the best options for encrypting Internet traffic and protecting your identity. To use Tor on an Android phone, however, your phone must be rooted.

What to Do if Your Internet is Disconnected

If we’ve learned anything from the past few months, it’s that some leaders will stop at nothing to suppress a movement – even if it means cutting off the Internet and costing themselves inordinate amounts of money. There are certain ways you can still have your voice heard as long.

Rather than go online to tweet what’s happening, you can send updates using SMS, with the service supported in several Middle Eastern countries, including Yemen, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The drawback to the SMS service is that it is only available on certain telecom providers.

In Egypt, during the Internet blackout, volunteers took it upon themselves to set up phone lines for activists to call and relay their message. If you don’t have access to one of those lines, an alternative is to use a service like iPadio. You can phone in your updates, using the numbers listed on their site, but you will incur the cost of an international phone call. Once you’ve phoned in your update, it will be available on the iPadio website, and you can also link your account to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and more, to make sure it reaches the widest possible audience.

iPadio also provides mobile apps for iPhone and Android users, but they of course require a data plan to work.

Being prepared with an arsenal of reliable and easy-to-use apps is an essential part of getting your story out if you plan to participate in a protest, as well as being completely familiar with your phone. Do you have any tips or tricks for activists to use when they take to the streets? Let us know in the comments.