Google outlines Outline SDK: Censorship, geo-block-beating tool to drop into apps

Well, when it's finished, anyway

Google has begun breaking out its Outline proxy client-server code into an SDK so developers can eventually bake the censorship-evading tech into their apps.

First, for those who don't know: Google's Jigsaw internet freedom unit offers an open source project called Outline that consists of a client and a manager.

You use the manager to start up a personal Outline proxy server, which could be on your own hardware or in a virtual machine in the cloud, and generate access keys that are used by clients to connect to this server node. You can set up an Outline server just for yourself or share access to it with friends, family, and colleagues. Clients that successfully connect to it route their device's internet traffic securely through the Outline proxy server.

Thus if you're unable to access certain online services from wherever you are, you can instead connect via your server, which could be placed in a country or network that has more freedom. This, of course, relies on wherever you are not blocking connections that use the Outline protocol.

Outline is sometimes described as a VPN, but it's really a Shadowsocks-compatible proxy, and uses standard algorithms for encryption and authentication: AES and ChaCha20-Poly1305.

One of the main things about Outline is that you don't use a public VPN provider: you use your own private infrastructure. The other main thing is that it's supposed to be relatively easy to set up and use, with clients available ready to go for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Chrome, and Linux.

Now Google has started work on making that client code available as a software development kit, or SDK, so that it can be embedded into third-party apps, allowing those applications to provide baked-in circumvention of censorship, geo-locked content, and other restrictions to users.

"In times of crisis, internet connectivity is a lifeline, but authoritarian regimes are sophisticated at blocking access. That's why VPNs are vital to keep people online when they need it most," the Jigsaw team xeeted on Wednesday.

"Enter Outline SDK: our team created this toolkit for developers. It empowers them to embed circumvention tech directly into their apps. Outline SDK simplifies the process, allowing apps to continue delivering crucial content even when faced with censorship, all without the need for a VPN."

Right now this particular part of the project is in an alpha stage, with various libraries to integrate into applications. Jigsaw warns the software, written in Go, "is in early stages and is not guaranteed to be stable."

There are some other limitations. One being that it's client focused at the moment, so if you do want to use Outline in your app, you need to help the user through setting up a proxy server and importing an access key. Server-side libraries are yet to come as well as documentation and other resources.

Also, Outline is not alone. There are some other efforts like it, and off the top of this vulture's head, there is the Tor-like Veilid from Cult of the Dead Cow, which is also an open source SDK for apps to integrate. Unlike Outline, though, Veilid isn't really aimed at proxy or VPN services, and instead is geared toward private, secure networking between clients.

If you want to set up your own VPN, you could check out Algo from Trail of Bits, which makes configuring a WireGuard server – another cool project – easy.

In any case, with Outline, it appears developers have another possible option if they want to add censorship or geo-blocking circumvention to their applications. ®

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