Our vision for Tella

It’s been just over six months since we released Tella, our app for journalists, activists, and human rights defenders. As a non-profit, community-oriented project, we thought we’d start sharing updates on the latest developments and the issues we’re grappling with.

Here, we’ll talk about the vision for Tella and the long-term direction that we’re taking. This developed out of conversations with many of you, out of trainings with activists and journalists, and out of events like the Internet Freedom Festival and RightsCon. Those conversations showed the limitations of current documentation solutions and the critical needs that remain unfulfilled, particularly for a human rights community that is often underfunded and lacking in technical capacity.

While one obvious need was that of a comprehensive, secure data collection system that would accommodate the collection of data for criminal prosecution, Horizontal’s current capacity is too limited to develop such a solution. We’ve instead decided to focus on a different aspect of the documentation process, one that was within reach for our small team: a mobile client for those individuals doing the documentation work on the ground, often in very difficult environments.

Our objectives for this mobile client are threefold: 

  1. Protecting users who engage in documentation from physical and digital repression
  2. Protecting the data they collect from censorship, tampering, interception, and destruction
  3. Empowering individuals and groups to easily, quickly, and effectively collect data and produce high quality documentation that can be used for research, advocacy, or transitional justice

You can see the result in this short video: encryption, quick delete button, camouflage, and easy data collection, including offline. We work hard on making Tella as usable as possible, even to those with limited tech capabilities. Our thinking is: “if you can use WhatsApp, you should be able to use Tella”. All of the hard security and privacy stuff takes place in the background so that users don’t have to worry about it, or even understand it. Security and privacy are the default. 
Tella is already being used in some of the world’s most repressive places. Our partners are currently deploying it for a wide variety of purposes: from documenting human rights violations to monitoring elections and collecting data on gender-based violence.

In the coming months, we’ll continue making Tella more usable and more secure. In order to bring our protection features to as wide of an audience as possible, we’ll also be working on making the app interoperable with more systems. At the moment, groups working with any software based on the ODK standard can use Tella as their mobile client. That’s a wide ecosystem available to create, deploy, and manage the forms that data-collectors fill within Tella. 

But some groups, while facing similar threats of physical and digital repression, have different documentation needs–needs that aren’t quite fulfilled by linear forms like those we currently support. In the long-term, we will be looking to expand the type of tools that Tella can connect and send data to; whether it centers on mapping, media files, simple backup, or case-based documentation, we’d like to eventually support it! The goal is to accommodate a broader range of needs and expand the pool of potential users without compromising on the app’s security.

So this is where we’re going: a tool centered on security, usability, and modularity

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this strategic vision or some of the needs Tella might not yet fulfill, so please get in touch!

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