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A beta version of an app which lets users take images and record video, capturing metadata ranging from location to the movement of the device in use, was showcased this week in a bid to encourage ideas around its possible use.

InformaCam, which is in beta on Android, aims to improve the way content is collected and shared, both to help with verification and security of the content. There is also the option for organisations to create their own version, as the technology has been made open-source.

A beta version has been launched with the aim of encouraging organisations, from human rights bodies to news outlets, to "tinker and play" and consider the ways they can use it to support their work.

When content is captured, so too is a multitude of additional metadata, ranging from movement and speed to air pressure, temperature and light. It can also identify WiFi networks and active Bluetooth in the vicinity.

Users can also add additional text as well as tag the image to identify key characters. Meanwhile, the metadata is "encrypted in a secure location", Nathan Freitas from the Guardian project – which worked with Witness on the app – told Journalism.co.uk.

InformaCam screenshot
Screenshots of the app, including the metadata view on the right

When it comes to then sharing this content, the app currently only links up to a "testbed", which is a publicly accessible site which enables people to view the "place where you can submit stuff, see how the data comes out, tinker and play", Freitas said during the Google Hangout (a video of which is available below).

However, the team stressed that this is "not meant for actual reporting" at this stage. "Please don't send us anything sensitive," Freitas added.

In the future, however, the idea is to establish secure connections with interested organisations, which will enable a user to send the content securely that way.

Once the app has established the recipient organisations, or where outlets create their own versions of the app which link directly to them, content can be received using the Informa Repo and Dashboard platform, and the recipient can then gain access to the metadata to enable them to carry out verification.

"As we recruit more news organisations who want to accept InformaCam media, those organisations can put a simple link or QR code on their site, that will allow the secure configuration data for their submissions site to be added automatically into the app."

He added that in the future, news outlets using the technology could effectively "see who has shared reliable media from a specific region, and reach back out to that person using the email they provided as part of the J3M "gem" metadata in the photo or video".

The app also lets users apply a "key" to the original content, which Freitas said is a way of "future-proofing" the content, should it be "manipulated" further down the line. During the preview of the app, which was carried out on Google Hangout, he explained that its key aim is "changing the whole industry's use of metadata".

But outside of the 'secure share' facility, the app can still be used in the interim to take photos and record video, and share this in other ways, such as to Twitter or via email.

Another feature of the app is a panic-button style facility, which users can set to either "delete my content" or "delete entire app".

There is no specific limit on the size of content which can be processed by the app, but Freitas explained that the knock-on effect of the encryption means it "can take quite a while for a large 1080p HD video say to be stored and processed".

'Citizen media could really make a big difference'

In yesterday's public showcase of the beta app, Yvette Alberdingk Thijm, executive director of Witness – which received $320,000 in funding at the start of the year for this project – explained the demand for such an app.

"Technology has enabled millions of people with video-enabled phones in their hands, to document the abuses that are happening in their communities and to share those," she said. And while this is "an incredible opportunity", she also highlighted the issues it raises.

"One of the key challenges is around authentication and verification. Meaning, if I share this really important story, how can I make sure that that story can be trusted?"

She added that the aim was to "find technology solutions to that challenge with an incredible hope and vision that if many more people could securely and effectively document those videos that citizen media could really make a big difference".

Freitas added that there is a need to strengthen trust in citizen journalism, rather than solely relying on official sources.

"What we don't want to end up is that the only cameras we trust are ones provided by law enforcement, a surveillance camera or a drone, and that's all we trust, and we don't trust what is submitted by citizens and the public," he said.

"I think that is a huge issue we've set out to tackle," he explained, as well as making it easier to send material to news outlets "in a safe, secure, anonymous, verified way".

The app is open source, and the team have provided the "core engine" on Github to enable others to use it to create new apps. "We want other developers to tap into this", Freitas said.

And the team is keen to find out about what others may consider good implementations of this technology.

"In the next six months we will be able to talk a lot more publicly about who has adopted the tool," Freitas added.

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