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U.S. Govt Acts As VC Arming Social Activists With "Panic Button" App

"To the Middle East, with Love," might be the new ad slogan for an app under development by the U.S. for pro-democracy protesters living in various hot spots of unrest around the world. Yes, in a sense the government is competing with Apple, Google and Facebook to develop its own app for Androids and Nokia phones.

According to a Reuters report, the U.S. State Department has in the pipeline the development of an app that when pro-democracy campaigners have their cellphones confiscated, they will be able to actually hit a "panic button" on their device. In so doing, their smartphones will be triggered to wipe out one's address book of contacts and transmit an emergency alert to other activists at the same time.

In an attempt to equip dissidents with tools to fight not only against oppressive governments such as Egypt and Libya, the app would also be available to those living in China where occurrences are less frequent but have had an historic precedent.

Since Reuters is a major wire service and this story is slowly leaking out to the blogosphere, it was a Michael PosnerMichael Posnerlittle odd to hear that the government wanted to keep this news on the DL? "We've been trying to keep below the radar on this, because a lot of the people we are working with are operating in very sensitive environments," said Michael Posner, assistant U.S. secretary of state for human rights and labor.

Hillary ClintonHillary ClintonHowever, it was also noted that the app was just one of several initiatives being pushed through by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to expand Internet freedoms where they have been thwarted by political regimes.

According to the report, the United States has budgeted $50 million since 2008 to promote new technologies for social activists, focusing on "circumvention" digital equipment to help them slip under government-imposed firewalls that exist in countries such as China.

So in essence the government is acting as a venture capitalist and while Posner wants to keep some of this work under the radar, he was quick to point out that the U.S. is "operating like a venture capitalists (and) we are looking for the most innovative people who are going to tailor their technology and their expertise to the particular community of people we're trying to protect."

Which I guess means, if you're an ex-Googler or ex-Apple developer you might want to submit your resume. And since Twitter just laid the law down about moving the majority of their development in-house - essentially, kicking 3rd party clients to the curb - I suspect a lot of ex-Twitterers will be queuing up to assist in this endeavor - giving a whole need meaning to the term "government handouts."

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Ron Callari
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