The Knight Foundation has announced the winners of a new round of its News Challenge, which focused on strengthening the Internet. Nineteen innovators will receive a portion of the total award of about $3.46 million.

As online censorship continues to grow, the tools and platforms to help people continue to access the Internet freely and safely become ever more critical. To that end, the winning projects fall within three categories of strengthening the Internet: “access,” or enabling more people to participate and create; “transparency,” or providing a better understanding of who is doing what online; and “safety,” or building more effective tools for engaging with the Internet securely.

The latest round, launched on February 27, is a collaboration between Knight, the Mozilla Foundation and Ford Foundation. Ford Foundation contributed $250,000 to the challenge.

“We are at a pivotal moment for the web. Threats to the web’s openness and accessibility are intensifying,” Dave Steer, director of advocacy at the Mozilla Foundation, noted in a statement. “From governments using the web to engage in mass surveillance to policies that undermine the accessibility of the web, we are faced with unique challenges. Will the web remain a shared, global resource that is accessible to all? How will people throughout the world be able to express themselves safely and securely?”

The heftiest portions of the prize money will go to nine projects. And for the first time, Knight is doling out prototype funding to 10 additional winners. Those projects will receive $35,000, and will get training in human centered-design. A demo day will feature their work early next year.

Here’s what we know about this round’s winners. You’ll be able to read more about some of them here on Idea Lab.

News Challenge Winners

Check Out the Internetnypl
Award: $500,000
Organization: New York Public Library
Project leads: James English, Tony Marx and Jeff Roth

The New York Public Library will lend wireless hotspots to low-income families and will couple this with educational programs designed to increase media and Internet literacy among participants.


Laura Weidman Powers

Laura Weidman Powers

Award: $400,000
Project lead: Laura Weidman Powers

The News Challenge grant will support Code2040’s efforts to diversify the technology workforce by providing professional support for underrepresented minority students, principally through a summer fellows program and professional mentoring.

Getting It Right on Rights

Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen

Award: $300,000
Organization: Digital Public Library of America
Project leads: Dan Cohen and Emily Gore

The grant will enable the Digital Public Library of America to build simplified and more coherent proposals for intellectual property rights to make it easier for libraries and others to share their material online. [Disclosure: Knight’s board chair John Palfrey is president of the Digital Public Library of America and was not involved in the consideration of the proposal.]

Internet to Gochicago-public-library-logo
Award: $400,000
Organization: Chicago Public Library
Project leads: Brian Bannon, Michelle Frisque and Andrea Sáenz

Chicago Public Library aims to increase Internet usage by lending wireless hotspots and coupling them with free digital skills classes. It will test the project in six Chicago neighborhoods that have broadband adoption rates of 50 percent or less. [Disclosure: My wife, Andrea Sáenz, works at Chicago Public Library as first deputy commissioner; I was not part of considering the proposal.]

Transparency. Many of the ideas we received sought to provide Internet users a better understanding of who is doing what online. Four of the winning projects fit within this category.

Measurement Lab
Award: $350,000
Organization: New America Foundation
Project leads: Alan Davidson, Thomas Gideon and Ben Scott

The grant will enable New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute to expand Measurement Lab, a suite of tools for assessing the openness of the Internet through metrics such as connection speed and blocked sites.

Award: $250,000
Organization: Electronic Frontier Foundation
Project leads: Jillian York and Sherri Steele

The Electronic Frontier Foundation will build out, to collect data about incidents of censorship on online platforms with the aim of helping society to better understand and manage censorship and free expression issues.

Ranking Digital Rights

Rebecca MacKinnon

Rebecca MacKinnon

Award: $300,000
Organization: New America Foundation
Project lead: Rebecca MacKinnon

The grant will enable MacKinnon and her team to rank Internet companies on how well they protect the privacy of their users, and publish a global ranking to help encourage companies to improve their practices.

Who Are the Gatekeepers?
Award: $200,000
Organization: Journalism Development Network
Project leads: Paul Radu and Manuela Preoteasa

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project conducts journalism on corruption in Europe. Their News Challenge project examines Internet, cable and satellite providers in Europe and experiments with new ways for raising public awareness of ownership.

Security. We saw many ideas on building privacy and security tools that are easier to use.

Award: $416,000
Organization: Open Whisper Systems
Project lead: Moxie Marlinspike

text secure

TextSecure has built a mobile secure messaging application for Android with hundreds of thousands of users. Our grant will enable them to expand their work, and make it available for iOS and other mobile systems.

prototype winners

Anti-censorship Alert System
Organization: Center for Rights
Project Lead: Tiffiny Cheng
A series of tools that enable the distribution and decentralization needed to provide local access to proxies and mirrored versions of the sites.

Project lead: Phillip Holmes
A mobile app that helps parents work together to navigate the technology and online content available for their kids.

Project lead: Michael Williams
A seamless, secure method for authenticating information and data sources online while maintaining the privacy of the identity of sender and receiver.

Organization: Meedan
Project lead: Tom Trewinnard
A tool that helps journalists quickly verify the accuracy of online media in deadline situations.

Project leads: Seth Kaufman and Maria Passarotti
A tool that helps groups collaborate together digitally on complex research projects.

Poking the Bear
Project lead: Bart Stidham
A set of tools for measuring censorship and surveillance by mobile network operators.

Organization: Hollaback
Project lead: Emily May
A platform where victims can safely report online harassment and volunteers can respond.

Safe Travels Online
Project lead: Nathan Freitas
Tools that help people avoid cyberattacks, malicious software and digital surveillance.

Project lead: Matt McAlister
A tool that helps journalists conduct research with the help of readers.

Threshold Future
Project leads: Elizabeth Stark and Mike Sofaer
A virtual currency that makes it easier for open Internet projects to find funding.

Desiree Everts is the associate editor for Idea Lab and PBS MediaShift. She’s dabbled in digital media for the past decade including stints at CNET News and Wired magazine.