An NGO called United for Iran has undertaken a project called IranCubator. The purpose of IranCubator is the development of apps that provide Iranians with relevant information that they may otherwise find hard to get given government censorship.
IranCubator takes the form of an ongoing contest in which app developers consider suggestions for app designs and implement the ones that they like best. The effort has resulted in several recent app releases.
One example is called RadioTo, which means "Radio You" in Farsi. Initially, the app provides access to radio shows from foreign broadcasters such as the BBC, the American-based Radio Farda, and Amsterdam-based Radio Zamaneh. In time, the idea is to expand the list of podcasts to ones created by any Iranians who wish to contribute. Podcasts would be grouped into channels as on YouTube.
The app is specifically designed to work with slow network speeds and tries to avoid government censorship.
Another example is Hamdam, an app that nominally offers women a period-tracking service. However, it is really designed as a "Trojan Horse," that is, it also provides information about contraception, STDs, rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. In Iran's official, male-centric culture, such information is not readily accessible to women. It is hoped that providing this information through an app will circumvent the usual reticence around these subjects, thus empowering Iranian women.
In order to avoid censorship, Hamdam tries to avoid running afoul of laws against sensitive information. Discussion of breast exams, for example, includes detailed descriptions but no pictures in order to avoid being labelled as pornographic.
A final example is Sandoogh96, which means "Vote 2017". This app was designed to provide information about policy positions by various candidates in recent national elections. The idea was to help voters make informed choices about the candidates they would like to support, or not.
The app provides a Tinder-like interface, in which users find a "match" by swiping left or right based on candidates' policies that they can either like or dislike.
The Iranian regime is known for its use of censorship and propaganda to shape the results of elections. It is hoped that the forthright information provided by the app can help electors to make the most appropriate choices for them based on full information.
These apps illustrate the use of designs for purposes of activism. In this case, the activists of United for Iran see censorship as producing an unjust distribution of information and, thus, power in Iran. They mean to create a most just distribution by providing these apps to circumvent governmental censorship.
It will be interesting to see what impact they have with people in Iran.