Austin app creator targeted by Venezuelan government

Austin app creator targeted by Venezuelan government

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An Austin-based app-company is being used to help protestors organize across the globe. Last week, the Venezuelan government actually blocked it.

Walter Cafaro says he feels helpless and worried carrying on his daily life as a UT student as his friends and family in his home country of Venezuela stand against what he calls a corrupt government.

"They're actually just openly shooting at people," said Cafaro.

A dozen are reported dead, more than 100 injured. Leading the uprising are students who are Cafaro's age. Cafaro read us a note from his friend.

"The national [police] yesterday got really crazy and started shooting tear gas at us until they ran out of ammo," read Cafaro. "It's worse than ever."

Cafaro says the Venezuelan government is doing its best to shut down popular sites like Twitter and silence the media. Last week the Venezuelan government attempted to block an Austin-based app called Zello.

"It's the number one app in Venezuela and the Ukraine and it has been for the past week," said Zello CEO Bill Moore.

Zello CEO Bill Moore describes his creation as a walkie-talkie on your phone. Up to 600 people can be active on a channel at one time. It's become a critical tool of organizers in countries of unrest.

"Last Thursday use dropped and we started seeing from our Twitter feed people complaining they couldn't use Zello and very quickly the help of the community we discovered largest ISP owned by the government, CANTV, in Venezuela had blocked access to Zello," said Moore.

Within 24 hours Zello staff was able to create a new version allowing users to get around the block. Moore says it was a satisfying moment.

"We're proud it matters. It's the main tool they use so it's an accomplishment," said Moore. "Tech and social media is changing the world, the old play book governments use doesn't work anymore the ability for individuals to come together and organize and communicate and change things wasn't possible long ago, but tools like Twitter and Zello make it possible now."

For Cafaro social media is everything these days.

"My phone, even during this interview that we're doing now, my phone is vibrating and I know I have to check it and see what's going on," he said.

And just as he gets updates from inside Venezuela, his student group at UT sends encouraging pictures and notes to keep the momentum going.

The Zello app is free. There is another version called Zello@Work. Companies pay for the service for private channels.

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