Ramallah start-up uses algorithms to predict Mideast conflict
Ramallah-based RedCrow doesn’t have a crystal ball. But for the last three years the start-up has proven its effectiveness in predicting conflict in the Middle East using its proprietary algorithms. That data has been invaluable to private sector companies, government agencies and individuals keen to plan in the region’s unstable political environment, and stay out of harm’s way.
Established in August 2014 by Palestinian entrepreneurs Hussein Nasser Elden and Laila Akel, RedCrow was conceived as an online platform providing real time intelligence about politically hot zones in the Middle East. Having started with the West Bank, the privately-owned company today also covers developments in Jordan and Egypt. End users receive instantaneous security information on their mobile phones, using RedCrow’s app. The data enables them to make split second decisions, based on the immediate security situation. For instance, is it safe to drive from one location to another on a certain road? RedCrow’s app provides a detailed map showing the location of security incidents; clashes and political marches. The app even reports on details like a mentally-disturbed individual seen running on a road.
“Our systems are built on a set of algorithms to make sure the information provided is accurate,” Elden, RedCrow’s 31-year-old CEO, told The Media Line. The algorithms monitor and collect the information and news from open sources, including social media and rich site summary (RSS) – a format for delivering regularly changing web content, he explains.
Constantly collecting raw data, the system automatically converts news and information into ever-updated maps. Similar to the hugely popular app Waze, RedCrow shows the location for each incident, as well as statistics and text alerts, allowing drivers to detour around problems such as security roadblocks or traffic jams.
RedCrow has both local and international clients including Amideast, Care and Hemaya.
“Over time, the accuracy of the information that Redcrow offers its clients has become more transparent. For example, the application shows how many sources confirmed every piece of information sent to me,” Ziad Abu Zayyad, a current client at RedCrow told The Media Line. “I am aware almost immediately of every incident taking place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The service puts all information in a single place for you rather than me searching for it.”
While social media is full of fake news, RedCrow filters it out, depending on reliable sources such as official Facebook or Twitter accounts, and trusted political activists. Similarly, the company only reports on developments which numerous individuals witnessed at the same time and place. “In addition to providing immediate security information, RedCrow provides long-term security informative maps. For certain areas, that helps business owners make strategic decisions,” said Elden.
Typically, these reports include under-reported news of a non-politcal nature, and public opinion surveys.
“When the Arab Spring took place, I was certain that there was a need for security information. We needed a platform to provide security facts and news,” Elden stated. “The media is biased. It shows and hides stories based on agendas.”
RedCrow’s Mass Media feature aggregates news from national, regional and international news channels. Among the scores of websites, news agencies and blogs it constantly monitors are Haaretz, Ma’an, Alray and the Israel Defense Forces. “Mass Media filters news in different areas, and provides only security related news based on the end-user’s location” Laila Akel, co-founder of RedCrow told The Media Line.
The company has a track record in improving the virtual presence of “Palestine”. For example, in the past, activists accused Google of deleting “Palestine” from Google Maps. That sparked a #PalestineIsHere hashtag. But apparently, “Palestine” was never marked in the first place.
“There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps. However we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip’. We’re working quickly to bring these labels back to the area,” a Google spokesperson once posted. Using Google map’s layers for the West Bank as a base, RedCrow added landmarks and important places to create a secure and informative map.
RedCrow’s team, which started with three, has grown to 13 staff. “Our plan is to cover the Middle East in the coming two years,” Akel stated.
RedCrow received an investment from Ibtikar Fund – a venture capital company which invests in Palestinian start-ups.
“Ibtikar Fund invested in RedCrow for its valuable and much needed product, and its experienced team,” a spokesman for the Ibtikar Fund told The Media Line. “Ibtikar will continue to work with the RedCrow team as it develops further products and services, and expands to cover the region.”