Mapeo updates: Strengthening security & map management

Ximena Becerra
March 14, 2023

Hello everyone,

We are excited to share Mapeo’s latest mobile update (#5.6.1) courtesy of our tech team. Check out what they’ve been up to these last few months!

New Feature

Strengthening Mapeo’s security to guard against physical device seizure and surveillance.

Over the years, we've received numerous requests for Mapeo from human rights defenders and activists around the world, as these groups are often working in oppressive contexts where they are under threat. To respond to these requests, we need to ensure that Mapeo meets the security needs of these communities, notably by providing users with a way to secure devices and back up data online in case devices are lost or stolen.

Firstly, we conducted workshops with users and trainers from various countries to gather more feedback on design for controlling device access. We had originally planned to do these workshops in-person with local partners from around the world, but the Covid-19 pandemic made this unfeasible. Instead we partnered with Superbloom, previously known as Simply Secure, and drew upon the extensive experience of the Digital Democracy team of working in the field and training partners.

Simply Secure / Digital Democracy scenario-based workshop

Once the workshops were finalized, we realized the primary threat that users identified was in-person device seizure and forced access to the app, rather than more technical attackers trying to hack a phone or decrypt data. Our UX research and design focussed on developing 3 solutions: 

1- An App Passcode to restrict access to the app;

2- An Obscure mode that opens the phone with sensitive data hidden (accessed if the “App Passcode” is activated);

3- Paper-key backup of device identity in case the device is lost or stolen.

The App Passcode allows a user to protect Mapeo from casual prying eyes (e.g. somebody picking up someone's phone and browsing the app). However, feedback from users highlighted the risk that when faced with a physical threat, a user could just be forced to enter their password. In an attempt to mitigate this, Obscure Mode would hide the actual data and would display an empty version of Mapeo.

Activating App Passcode

The App Passcode feature can be activated via the app settings in the Security screen, and if activated, Obscure mode can be activated and a special passcode can be used instead of the regular passcode.

Activating Obscure Mode

In an upcoming release we will add an additional layer of security by addressing the challenge of how a user can recover their identity in the case of a lost or stolen device. Stay tuned to hear more about our Paper-key backup feature in 2023.

Experimental Feature

Easier custom map management 

One of the major features of Mapeo is that it can load offline maps that are stored directly on your device. This is an important feature for remote communities, or for field expeditions where internet access will not be available. However, until now, the workflow to get offline maps onto a device has required several steps that might be too complicated for many users. Hence, we are delighted to announce a forthcoming user interface on mobile for managing background maps! The new UI makes it easy to manage a number of both online and offline maps on your devices.

Activating the Map Manager

The new map manager feature can be activated in the Background Maps section in the Experiments screen. If activated, the new map manager UI will show up on the map interface. Additionally, a new map server will replace the old one, which means that your old offline maps may no longer work. To learn how to convert your old map tiles for the new map server, or generate new map tiles, see this guide.

Map Manager / Selecting a map

Once activated, you can add a number of offline maps to Mapeo Mobile, and toggle between them. This can be useful if you would like to have different background maps to make sense of your data. For example, one map can be composed of satellite imagery, another of topographical information, and yet another of land use data and place names. In an upcoming release of Mapeo Desktop we will add a complementary UI for creating and managing map tiles for Mapeo, as well as to load multiple background maps in Mapeo Desktop itself.

As we continue to co-design technology with our partners, we are excited to finally launch these features that we hope will help users easily document, monitor and map many types of data with the use of Mapeo. Since Mapeo is an open source software that benefits from continued feedback from our users across the world, we welcome your suggestions and we would love to hear from you! 

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Published by
Ximena Becerra
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