The European Investigative Journalism Conference

Dataharvest Digital and our search for secure software

By Benedikt Hebeisen

When we decided to turn Dataharvest into an online conference, we had to face a lot of new questions. One of the these questions was which technical tools we would need, and after some time of research and a lot of discussions we decided to use BigBlueButton and edudip.

Many of us deal with sensitive topics, material and sources from day to day. WIth Dataharvest being a conference about investigative journalism it is important to use safe, secure and privacy-friendly tools whenever possible. When we were looking for software for our online conference we made it a priority to use open source software where possible and to have our own infrastructure with full control of the data.

Of course there might have been easier ways such as just putting streams on Youtube – which many of the online conferences do. But Dataharvest has always been a place of networking, discussions, meeting people so we need online formats that allow us to interact with each other.

Others do this by using Zoom. Nearly everyone has used Zoom in the past months, but there have also been also a lot of discussions about the data privacy of the software. In July, Berlin’s commissioner for data protection published an review of video conferencing services which covered the legal and technical aspects – most of the reviewed tools failed to be be GDPR compliant.

We started researching online conference tools, had a lot of discussions, learned from others (thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge!) and tested different tools. In the end, we decided to use the web conferencing system BigBlueButton for Dataharvest Digital. The software is widely used in schools and universities and has many features which meet our needs: It has interactive workshops rooms where we can have presentations and show videos, a digital whiteboard, and the possibility for participants to interact with each other via chat or video. BigBlueButton is open source software which runs on our own encrypted server (kindly hosted by ColloCall).

But BigBlueButton has limitations, sessions with more than 100, 150 participants should be avoided, so we decided to add the commercial tool edudip for the larger sessions. Edudip is run and hosted within the EU and complies with GDPR. The system was also used by Netzwerk Recherche for their annual conference which was also organised a an online conference.

Both, BigBlueButton and edudip run from the browser, it is not necessary to install additional software, and they work also on mobile devices. We’ll add more technical information on how to use the tools and best practices both for speakers and participants in the next days.

If you’re dealing with online conferences and you’re interested in hearing more from our research just drop us a mail – we’re happy to share our experiences.