Aurora Suite: An App That Makes a Mockery of Censorship

Cubans connect to the internet on state-owned Wi-Fi networks installed outdoors. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 June 2018 — Aurora Suite is one of the latest applications taking Cuba by storm. Its ease of use and its ability to circumvent censorship of digital sites on national servers have made it an excellent alternative for web browsing.

The application was created to work with the Android operating system, the most popular on the island, and uses the Nauta email service as an intermediary to connect users with the internet. All the architecture on which this ingenious application is based begins and ends in the email inbox.

Its developers take pride in producing “applications that complement the mail services of Nauta de Cuba,” bringing to email a “great added value and enriching its possibilities.”

The first contact with this application makes a good impression. The simple design guides users in the first steps to convert a mobile phone without access to the network into a terminal from which they can access any web address, even those blocked by the Cuban government.

Once the application is installed, — Version 6.1.0 can be downloaded from the developers page, the Google Play store or through any acquaintance who has it on their phone — the user will get a two-day free trial to explore its advantages and disadvantages.

A user uses the Aurora Suite ‘app’ to surf the Internet from his Nauta email. (14ymedio)

The application contains the Mozilla Firefox browser. When the desired URL is entered, in the background, Aurora Suite sends the request to load the page through the Nauta mailbox. Although a bit slower than the direct online experience, the advantage of being able to visit digital sites from a Cuban cellphone makes the delay easily tolerable.

This operation through email is what allows Aurora Suite to be unaffected by blocked sites. Censorship of content, especially news portals unfavorable to the authorities or opponents’ blogs, can be overridden and the pages can be read with this tool.

Once the 48 hours of free use are up, the customer will receive a message advising them that they must switch to a paid subscription to continue. For a price of 5 CUC per month, users receive about 100 megabytes of downloaded content, good within that month.

The use of mobile transfer as a virtual currency or cashless payment is an interesting feature of this Aurora Suite, because it allows users to renew the subscription every month. As of June 5, the government-run Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) — the only one available to Cubans on the island — allows customers to make three daily balance transfers between cell lines instead of the previous limit of one transfer per day.

All the benefits of Aurora Suite, however, are based on a point that many users perceive as a vulnerability: the operation of Nauta mail, managed by Etecsa. With frequent service interruptions, network saturation and other technology glitches, Nauta’s service routinely fails to perform reliably.

Problems with the 3G network signal, which is not yet widespread throughout the country, also limit the reach of the app. Users moving between zones with 2G and 3G will notice data services go in and out, connections drop, and the time to download a page increases.

Another element users must keep in mind is that registering for the service requires entering into the app the access data for one’s Nauta mailbox. For those who prefer to keep a strict control of the personal information that allows them to access to their email, this is a consideration.

Some users of Aurora Suite have also reported that after registering they begin to receive unwanted emails, which apparently are generated automatically. In most cases these are messages with news taken from the Cuban press, both official and independent. Because internet time is so expensive in Cuba — roughly a day’s average pay for one hour of access — users prefer not to receive unwanted content, ads and spam.

Despite these weaknesses and the added annoyances, this application is an alternative for those who do not want to continue waiting for Etecsa to fulfill its announced promise to enable web browsing on mobile phones before the end of this year.


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