Benetech Receives Knight Foundation Prototype Fund Award for Data Privacy Project

By Benetech, posted on

Benetech is pleased to announce that it has received funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Prototype Fund, which helps people explore early-stage media and information ideas with $35,000 in funding. Developed by Benetech’s Human Rights Program (HRP) and led by Collin Sullivan, HRP Outreach Associate, the project supports data privacy by making it easier to verify a person’s cryptographic or secure online identity.

AuthentIcon aims to convert a group of letters and numbers called a fingerprint into a set of symbols that are easier to recognize and validate during online communication. (See the example below using Pidgin with an OTR plugin on Windows.) As you can see, the symbols are less cumbersome to verify than a long, random string of letters and numbers. The objective is to encourage users to complete the fingerprint verification process by making it simpler and less prone to human error, and, therefore, more likely to be secure.

“The project has the potential to provide people with a secure, easy-to-use communication tool, supporting data protection and ensuring that journalists and others have the resources they need to better inform communities,” said Chris Barr, Knight Foundation director for media innovation who leads the Prototype Fund.

During the design phase, the team will select icons that are universally recognized and can be identified by users in diverse environments and cultures. The goal is to guard against impersonation using a fake key.

AuthentIcon is one of eleven ideas that received support through the Knight Prototype Fund in March 2016, with awards totaling $385,000. Many of the projects focus on unlocking the power of data and making content – from podcasts to legislation – easier to discover, explore and visualize. Some focus on data privacy, helping people protect their personal data and encouraging the organizations that collect it to better inform their audiences. One offers a virtual research assistant for writers and journalists; another lets anyone convert data into animated videos.

Winners of the Knight Foundation support recently started their Prototype Fund journey with human-centered design training at the LUMA Institute and will build on these ideas over the next six months. Later this year they will gather for a demo day to share their discoveries and prototypes.


About the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit