September 21, 2020

Routing Around Damage: Censored Reporting Hosted In Custom-Built Minecraft ‘Library’

As it has always been, the internet sees censorship as damage and routes around it. Reporters Without Borders is ensuring forbidden information is getting into the hands of whoever wants it, no matter what their government feels they should or shouldn’t read.

The nexus point isn’t a website tucked away on the dark web, only accessible via VPN and a Tor connection. It’s right there out in the open, delivered via a platform very few governments have bothered to censor. Here’s Reporters Without Borders’ understated announcement of its damage-dodging info dump:

In many countries, websites, social media and blogs are controlled by oppressive leaders. Young people, in particular, are forced to grow up in systems where their opinion is heavily manipulated by governmental disinformation campaigns.

But even where almost all media is blocked or controlled, the world’s most successful computer game is still accessible. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) uses this loophole to bypass internet censorship to bring back the truth – within Minecraft.

The Minecraft map — designed by Blockworks — provides users in the more than 180 countries where negative information about local governments is being suppressed with access to reporting and other information that may have been buried by those in power.

But it’s not without its risks, as Devin Coldewey reports for TechCrunch:

Of course, this is not secure and private like an end-to-end encrypted chat group. A user accessing the library map might have their nickname, tied to a Minecraft account, be visible to other users, and their logs would reflect the visit. It seems unlikely Microsoft would give up that information to a curious government, but there is a certain risk involved.

The upside is this surreptitious library is being duplicated and local copies being downloaded, mitigating some of the risk and allowing those in repressive countries to engage with the materials offline from the relative safety of their own devices.

Will this library survive and remain a source of otherwise-suppressed info? It’s hard to say. Regimes that want to keep this information out of their citizens’ hands are likely to react badly now that this library’s existence is no longer a secret. But if it’s already being downloaded for offline access and mirrored in places governments won’t think of looking, chances are it will remain viable until a better option presents itself. And it will make authoritarian regimes realize someone will always find an edge not covered by their opacity blanket, and get information that these governments don’t want distributed to the citizens they’re trying to keep in the dark.
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