Thursday, April 10, 2008
Coming soon: Florida
By Sylvie Barak: Thursday, 03 April 2008, 5:12 PM
A SMALL ISRAELI STARTUP has found itself embroiled in the political storm surrounding the recent Zimbabwean elections, with accusations that the ruthless dictator of 28 years, Robert Mugabe, has tried to use its software to rig the recent vote.
Cogniview, a data conversion software startup based in Israel, was accused by the newspaper “Zimbabwe Online” of providing software, able to alter PDF files, to Mugabe’s ZANU party, to change voter registration lists and rig the vote in their favour. They also accuse the company of working with the Israeli secret service, Mossad, to keep the dictator in power. Cogniview CEO, Yoav Ezer, told the Inquirer in a phone interview that he had been “completely surprised” by the allegations, adding, “they are science fiction to us”.
There is currently major tension in the African nation as election results trickle in at snail’s pace, increasing the suspicion by most of the country’s opposition and observing foreigners that Mugabe and his cronies are desperately trying to make last ditch attempts to falsify votes and keep themselves in power.
Ezer explained what he thought had led to the confusion about his company being spread through the Zimbabwean press. He claims that open source PDF converting software developed by his company a year ago, CC PDF converter (available for free online), which allows anything printable to be converted into PDF, was used by officials to compile voter data. The program adds a Creative Commons license to the last page of its documents, including a link to Cogniview’s website. The voter-roles provided to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) by Zimbabwean officials were in PDF format and had this very link attached, on the final page. This led the MDC to jump to the angry conclusion that it was all an Israeli concocted Mossad plot, to fiddle with their democracy.
The accusations started coming in thick and fast, flooding the tiny ten employee company with accusations of selling “the Zimbabwean people for 20 pieces of silver” (or $3 million dollars as the rumours have it) by working for Mugabe. Eventually, Ezer realized that the accusations could seriously damage his company’s reputation, and went online to blog his refutation of them. The post, entitles “codswallop” says “here’s my official response … this story is NOT TRUE. In fact it could have only been more fictional if we were accused of using alien technology."
He also told the Inquirer that not only did Cogniview not have any connection to the Zimbabwean elections, they also had no prior connection to Zimbabwe whatsoever. Ezer added that he was happy that people in Zimbabwe appreciated his company’s software, but that it was free and available to anyone, anywhere.
Ezer also said that he had been in contact with an exiled MDC activist by the name of Phil Matibe, who currently resides in the US, and that Mr Matibe had promised to discuss the matter with party leadership in order to secure a retraction of the accusations.
To prove that his company had nothing to do with either Robert Mugabe or the Israeli Mossad, Ezer said that any “respectable party” (by which he means the UN, US, or European Union) who want to investigate the matter would get Cogniview’s full cooperation. He said that they would be given unlimited access to the company’s legal and financial records, and that they could feel free to interview any company employee. He added, “Heck, they can strap us all to lie-detectors - we have nothing to hide”. µ