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A cyclist passes Google headquarters in 2011. Photo: Nehring via Getty

Jigsaw, a humanitarian technology incubator sharing a parent company with Google, released a new app Wednesday granting old phones Android's current defenses against a favorite trick of authoritarian governments, tampering with traffic to the internet's phonebook-like DNS servers.

  • "It's important to spread freedom to legacy devices," said Jigsaw software engineer Ben Schwartz.

Why it matters: DNS translates text-based web addresses (like "axios.com") to machine readable internet addresses. Intercepting that traffic, regimes are able to reroute citizens trying to visit unflattering news websites or dissident groups to any other website. Criminals could use the same tactic to send victims to malicious websites.

Details: Newer Android phones encrypt traffic to secure DNS servers, making it impossible to tell what site a user is trying to go to.

  • Intra brings that security to any device released in the past 7 years, reaching 99% of devices in use worldwide.
  • Intra is open source, in case a country blocks the app store app from reaching potential users.

What they're saying: "Part of Jigsaw's methodology is to talk to people in the world to see what issues we could tackle. We noticed people in Venezuela were particularly at risk of DNS manipulation, which was being used to block access to journalism," said product manager Justin Henck.

The bottom line: Jigsaw opened a low-key test of Intra in Venezuela. Without Jigsaw promoting the trial, the software was downloaded worldwide, spread entirely by word of mouth.

Go deeper

Biden plans to ask public to wear masks for first 100 days in office

Joe Biden. Photo: Mark Makela/Gettu Images

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris sat down with CNN on Thursday for their first joint interview since the election.

The big picture: In the hour-long segment, the twosome laid out plans for responding to the pandemic, jump-starting the economy and managing the transition of power, among other priorities.

The quick FCC fix that would get more students online

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the pandemic forces students out of school, broadband deployment programs aren't going to move fast enough to help families in immediate need of better internet access. But Democrats at the Federal Communications Commission say the incoming Biden administration could put a dent in that digital divide with one fast policy change.

State of play: An existing FCC program known as E-rate provides up to $4 billion for broadband at schools, but Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai has resisted modifying the program during the pandemic to provide help connecting students at home.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

America's hidden depression

Biden introduces his pick for Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, on Dec. 1. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Biden faces a fragile recovery that could easily fall apart, as the economy remains in worse shape than most people think.

Why it matters: There is a recovery happening. But it's helping some people immensely and others not at all. And it's that second part that poses a massive risk to the Biden-Harris administration's chance of success.