Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him a Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him at [email protected].
On the heels of reports that the US government tried to create a social network in Cuba to destabilize the government, USAID has published an article attempting to set the record straight on its secretive ZunZuneo project.
The post details eight points, which we’ll summarize below, that the Associated Press apparently got wrong in its original report. According to USAID, the ZunZuneo was designed to help Cubans communicate, rather than to overthrow Cuba’s leadership.
- The program was legal. While it operated discreetly, it wasn’t “covert.”
- ZunZuneo sent news, sports scores, weather, and trivia information, not political content designed to create “Smart Mobs,” a phrase in the AP’s documents that USAID claims was unrelated to the project.
- No shell company in Spain was created for the project. The idea was floated as a means of working with private investors once government funding ended, but it was never put into action.
- Executives interviewed to work on the project were notified of the government’s involvement with ZunZuneo.
- ZunZuneo did not use the personal information it collected. Few users chose to submit information anyway.
- Funding was properly designated for democracy programs in Cuba, not “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan” as the AP claimed.
- The ZunZuneo user base peaked at 68,000 Cubans, more than the 40,000 figure that had been reported.
- The government of Costa Rica had been appropriately informed of the ZunZuneo base of operations operating within the country.
USAID’s explanation certainly makes the program seem a lot less nefarious than originally reported. However, it’s natural to be skeptical of government technology programs these days, so we’ll leave it up to you whether you believe the government’s response.
➤ Eight Facts About ZunZuneo [USAID]
Image credit: STR / AFP / Getty Images
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