Censored Planet Data Analysis

We provide two complementary ways to analyze Censored Planet data. The first is a fully operational data analysis pipeline (open-source) developed in collaboration with Jigsaw which requires a google cloud account and may be more expensive, depending on the amount of data. Additionally, we are also offering Beta access to an open-source dashboard built with the help of the Censored Planet data analysis pipeline, for easy exploration of data. The second is a set of analysis scripts that are more useful with analyzing a single scan, and understand how to work with the data.

Censored Planet Data Analysis Pipeline

The Censored Planet data analysis pipeline, developed in collaboration with Google’s Jigsaw. takes raw data from the Censored Planet Observatory and runs it through a pipeline to create bigquery tables for easier data analysis.

Because of the size of the data involved (many TB) this project requires a devoted Google Cloud project to run in. It is not recommended for end users to run the full pipeline because of cost considerations, but the code is made available for anyone who wants to understand how the data pipeline works. A small portion of the data can be used for development and testing purposes.

Figure - Censored Planet data analysis pipeline workflow

Censored Planet Dashboard

The Censored Planet Dashboard, built in collaboration with Jigsaw Inc. is an exploratory data dashboard that uses data analyzed using the Censored Planet data analysis pipeline, and contains visualizations that allow easy exploration of Censored Planet measurements. The dashboard is currently in beta stage, please reach out to censoredplanet-analysis@umich.edu if you are interested in using the Censored Planet dashboard for your research.

Figure - Censored Planet dashboard Figure - Censored Planet dashboard Figure - Censored Planet dashboard


Q. How do I access the dashboard? A. We are currently in the beta release phase for the dashboard, and we are only providing access for a limited set of users that can use the data and provide feedback. If you are interested in using Censored Planet data for your research, please contact us at censoredplanet-analysis@umich.edu and provide an overview of your research project and how access to the dashboard would be useful to you.

Q. What data is available on the dashboard? A. Currently, the dasboard contains data from Censored Planet’s Hyperquack measurement technique, which measures network interference on the HTTP, HTTPS, Echo and Discard protocols. The measurements on the Echo and Discard protocols also aim to detect HTTP censorship. The two tabs on the top of the dashboard (see figure below) can be used to view the data related to HTTPS and HTTP tests. The DNS data from Satellite will be added to the dashboard soon.

Figure - Censored Planet dashboard method selection

Q. What domains does Censored Planet test and how often are the tests run? A. Every week, Censored Planet runs two identical measurements to each domains from the Citizen Lab Global Test List and a selection of popular domains from the Alexa Top Domains list on each protocol. The dashboard also contains some data from special measurements to other domains (including those in the Citizen Lab regional lists). Only domains are tested during the longitudinal scans, but full URLs can be tested in special scans.

Q. How are site categories calculated? A. Site categories are derived from Citizen Lab, and some websites are categorized manually. The site categorization may contain errors. Please submit a corrected category at https://forms.gle/78krbzEqr7vHYUrT6 if you notice any errors in site categorization.

Q. Can I filter by outcome? A. Yes, please use the outcome filter on the ‘How to use this dashboard’ pane (shown below) to filter certain outcomes. A brief description of outcomes is also provided.

Figure - Censored Planet dashboard outcome filter

Dashboard Walkthrough

We describe a demonstrative walkthough of how to use the Censored Planet dashboard to characterize censorship in a country.

  1. Select country and time range

    • Open the dashboard and select the country of interest.

    • The dashboard will show the data for the last 14 days. Select a different time range if you would like to analyze a specific event. Keep in mind that longer ranges make the dashboard take longer to load.

  2. Clean up the networks

    • Identify the networks of interest. This requires knowledge of the local context. You should remove all networks that do not correspond to local ISPs so they do not interfere with the row order.

      • The Customers per AS table from APNIC may be useful if you are not familiar with the local ISPs.

      • Keep in mind that not all ISPs may be present because of a limitation in the collection methodology.

    • Alternatively, you may select one Network at a time using the filter, but it helps to get a view across Networks first to see if there’s consistency. Consistent blocking across Networks is evidence of a national firewall.

    • Remove CDNs and private companies such as banks from the list of IP organizations. Banks tend to have a lot more censorship than ISPs and may use different methods.

  3. Identify how each ISP blocks sites (see list of outcomes)

    • In the outcomes per network chart, you can click on the “Optional metrics” icon and select “Unexpected count”. That will show what types of unexpected outcomes you get for each network.

    • Keep in mind that not all mechanisms are measurable from outside the network, so the site may look unblocked when in fact it is.

    • Near 100% of the unexpected probe count should be for a single outcome. If you see more than one unexpected outcome for a network, you may need to dig deeper. You can click on the down arrow to see the unexpected outcomes per subneworks. If each subnetwork only has one unexpected outcome, you have characterized the censorship mechanisms for them.

    • If you still see different outcomes in a subnetwork, it may be the case that different domains are blocked by different mechanisms. Reset the “Optional Metrics” to “Probe Count” and click on some of the domains and see if you get consistent results. If you get consistent results, you can drill back up to networks to see if they stay consistent within the network. That will give you a simpler view.

    • If you still see inconsistent results, you should check the Outline Timeline. It may be the case that censorship for a domain changed during the selected time period.

    • If the results are still inconsistent, you may need further investigation beyond the dashboard, and look at the raw data.

  4. Identify the blocked websites and categories

    • Click on the domains to confirm how and where they are blocked. For this it’s better to restore the “Optional metrics” to “Probe Count”. Take note of the site category they are in.

    • You can click on the “+” button over the domains column to see their categories.

    • As you identify blocked categories, you may exclude them from the Site Category filter to clean up the list. Pornogrpahy and gambling wesbites are often blocked and will monopolize the list.

    • You can look for a specific domain using the Domain filter

  5. Analyze both HTTP and HTTPS blocking. DNS and IP-based blocking are not available yet but will be added soon

  6. It’s always helpful to try to confirm your observations with independent corroborating evidence from OONI, or by running your own probes (having access to the IPs and commands would help here). Make sure the other data sources report the same outcome you’ve identified in the Censored Planet data.

Censored Planet Data Analysis Tool

The Censored Planet Github repository provides some sample data analysis scripts that can be used to analyze specific Censored Planet scan data files. Currently, the analysis tool only supports analysis of v1 data. To install and run the analysis tool, please follow the instructions in the readme file. Please keep in mind that the analysis tool is very basic and limited, and cannot be used to do advanced analysis. The tool is more useful for understanding the steps needed to analyze Censored Planet data, and is useful for exploration. We plan to keep improving the analysis tools. Currently, the analysis tool offers three modes of csv output - blocked websites per country (aggregated), blocking per vantage point per country (aggregated), blocking type for website per country (aggregated). The output will show the number of measurements, number of anomalies, and number of confirmed cases of blocking. Anomalies may or may not be censorship, and will need more exploration. An example of how to analyze Censored Planet data to study which websites are blocked in Russia is shown below.

  • Step 1 - Clone the repository

Figure - Step 1 of analysis
  • Step 2 - Build the binary

Figure - Step 2 of analysis Figure - Step 3 of analysis
  • Step 4 - Download the Maxmind database from their website. For v2 data, this is not necessary.

Figure - Step 4 of analysis
  • Step 5 - Run the analysis script

Figure - Step 5 of analysis
  • Step 6 - Extract the data for Russia

Figure - Step 6 of analysis Figure - Step 6 of analysis
  • Step 7 - The processed data is ready. Either parse through the data in spreadsheets or import it into a visualization tool. A visualization of the above example using tableau is show below.

Figure - Step 7 of analysis