Max Schuchard

Max Schuchard, Assistant Professor in UT’s department of electrical engineering and computer science, spoke on the topic of social media in repressive countries on April 20, 2018.

Assistant professor of computer science Max Schuchard gave a lecture about defeating internet censorship Friday afternoon during the UT Science Forum

Schuchard opened his lecture discussing the trivial uses for the internet such as watching humorous videos yet also the critical role it plays in sharing important information about other countries and providing people with the access to knowledge.

Schuchard compared the internet to a tool that sparks changes and revolutions in different ways to more violent measures such as a weapon that incites change

Schuchard focused on the censorship of the internet in other countries, territories and regions to control the influx of information to populations. To emphasize his point, Schuchard presented a map of the world displaying regions that have limited access to the internet because of either control by a governing people or destruction of resources to access internet such as the natural disaster in Puerto Rico.

“This is not a limited problem ... only somewhere in the ballpark of sixteen of those countries (on the map) were truly free, what we consider free,” Schuchard said. “Every other country had some degree of technological censorship.” 

Schuchard broke down the many ways to share technology to the countries with limited access to the internet and its information, and the downsides to each method.

In Cuba, the public is receiving information from the smuggling of USB drives into the country loaded with information the population many want to know. Travelers will cross to areas close to Cuba such as Miami, Florida and download large amounts of data to bring back.

This process is slow and can only move a certain amount of data at a time, Schuchard said. Other steps have been taken to share information through the internet through hidden databases in China. This method works until the government adds new restrictions on the internet that block what is being used to access forbidden sites.

Schuchard’s research is looking for a way to better reach others with information. The research focuses on creating a system that allows phones to automatically share data to each other when many cell phone signals are present so that those looking to ban certain knowledge through the internet would not know who is sending or receiving information. The method was tested through research and proved to actually be effective at sharing content that users wanted.

“We do a whole bunch simulations with this involving networks of about 10,000 people using these over a various collection of countries where it may be applicable ... and we look at how well the system actually distributes content,” Schuchard said.

Though this is system does share information while keeping those accessing and providing the internet secret, there is still a lag time of between a few hours to a few days to gain the content a user is looking for.

“This is an imperfect solution. It is never going to be as good as the wired internet,” Schuchard said. “You just can’t do that. You can’t bridge that gap, but if your choice is you have a 90% probability of getting your content or a zero percent probability.”

Despite this method of sharing information being not as effective as having open access to the internet, it is a step forward to providing equal opportunities to information for oppressed people all over the world.

Community attendee Lisa Oliver said she originally attended the lecture because she is interested in censorship. After talking with Schuchard, Oliver said she learned about the uses for grants that Schuchard received for his research, and how the research findings will be used to benefit people in other countries without equal access to the internet.

“I learned that people in other countries who are trying to circumvent censorship actually have a lot more resources at their disposal than I expected,” Oliver said. “I actually thought it would be harder for them, but it doesn't seem to be as difficult as you would be led to believe by the popular media.”

UT Sponsored Content