Thursday, August 17, 2017

App developer tackles human rights violations

Local Android developer Ko Win Htaik Aung is hoping to make reporting and addressing human rights violations a little easier with a new mobile human rights app.

Local developer Ko Win Htaik Aung built his app in his spare time.( Catherine Trautwein / The Myanmar Times)Local developer Ko Win Htaik Aung built his app in his spare time.( Catherine Trautwein / The Myanmar Times)

The developer, son of prominent lawyer U Robert San Aung, received inspiration for the app during a trip to Switzerland. Following conversations with UN officials and others human rights workers, and given the problems in Myanmar, he had an idea – a platform that would allow victims of human rights violations to communicate with defenders of those rights.

Chatting over coffee at J’Donuts, Ko Win Htaik Aung – wearing a T-shirt that says “Data nerd” – said he built the app in his spare time. He works at digital agency Myanmar Plus, but began working on Android apps back in 2013 and is well aware of mobile technology’s power. After six weeks of work, the former web-developer had his Myanmar Human Rights app.

Social media has long been a tool for reporting human rights abuses, but is rarely secure. During his trip to Switzerland, Ko Win Htaik Aung was in contact with the boyfriend of Ma Chaw Sandi Htun. She was arrested in October last year, after using Facebook to compare Myanmar’s new army uniforms to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s donning of a traditional green sarong.

Ko Win Htaik Aung’s app, however, will allow people to submit information anonymously. But although informal reports can help give ordinary citizens a voice, they can also be tricky to confirm. The app’s weakness, he said, was the uncertainty over whether reports are true or not.

Volunteers could help with finding evidence to back up claims received through the app, he said, although at present Ko Win Htaik Aung is the only person working on the app or able to investigate potential claims. The app has recently gone live, but without much publicity, and no reports have been received yet.

But the app will also work to raise awareness of human rights in general. Ko Win Htaik Aung says the platform will primarily target users in remote areas, where knowledge on human rights may be lacking.

Internet access is still an issue in Myanmar, particularly in remote areas. But millions of people across the country are increasingly gaining access through a combination of cheap SIM cards and broader network coverage. And as internet access rises, apps that source content from the crowd have become more prevalent.

Ko Win Htaik Aung’s Myanmar Human Rights app follows on from the likes of Kyeet, an election monitoring app from Myanmar ICT for Development Organisation, which allowed for people to send incident reports.

Mobile apps are not the solution to Myanmar’s human rights issues, and Ko Win Htaik Aung knows that as a developer the scope of his impact is limited. But he hopes that he can still connect people that may have suffered rights violations with people like his father.

“I won’t solve human rights issues,” he said. “But I will redirect people to those than can help.”