[tbb-dev] Feedback on design decision for Tor Launcher

Mike Perry mikeperry at torproject.org
Tue Feb 21 22:02:05 UTC 2017

Linda Naeun Lee:
> On 2017-02-21 06:30, isabela at riseup.net wrote:
> >Hello TBB team! and Linda ;)
> >
> >I would like to ask your feedback on some feature decisions we have to
> >make for Tor Launcher.
> >
> >We got fund to work on improving Tor Launcher user experience.
> Yay!
> >We are going to use Linda's paper as our reference on how we will go
> >about that. We might add some new things on the top of the suggestions
> >she makes on her paper, I know Linda herself has some stuff she wants to
> >consider that is not there.
> :)
> >But! This email is a question on a more specific thing, a question that
> >comes out whenever one talks about Tor Launcher is 'why not automate it?'.
> The quick answer is, "we might be able to do just as well without
> automation, and if we can, we should!" And that they should let us try.
> >And our sponsors are asking us that exactly question. I am in favor of
> >making it easier for the user that will prefer not to deal with
> >settings, but I am also a big fan on making sure our users are safe. As
> >I believe you all are!
> >
> >Our sponsors are asking for the PT selection part of the launcher to be
> >automated. For us to test the user network and figure out the best
> >solution to get the user connected to the Tor network - we could leave
> >an option for those users who would prefer to go through settings and
> >configure it as they will.
> >
> >That said, Linda has specific design considerations that lead her to
> >decide against that because of user security.
> >
> >https://trac.torproject.org/projects/tor/wiki/doc/TorLauncherUX2016#Designconsiderations
> >
> >Another thing to consider is that we this will already obtain enormous
> >gains with the improvements we will be doing at the Tor Launcher step,
> >even without this automation piece.
> >
> >Linda's paper shows that.
> >
> >So, I would prefer we don't base this decision on 'gains' for Tor (of
> >course automation will increase metrics is the easiest growth hack
> >trick) but to base it on the user and their security.
> >
> >What we are looking for here is feedback on those points on 'design
> >considerations' to make sure we are not missing anything here.
> >
> >Does the threats there has enough weight for us to not consider
> >automation? Does anyone think different or has other points we are not
> >considering?
> I'm certainly discouraging moving it from what it is now straight to an
> automated thing, because I think that's going to take time to implement such
> a thing and we can help people a LOT just by making design changes. I think
> this is what you should emphasize.
> I think we can have WAYYYY better design than what I have in my paper, too.
> If I could redesign it now, I'd try to: 1) put everything on one screen
> (like how it is in the browser, if you go to connection settings), 2)
> simplify even more, 3) give advice that doesn't require inputs (i.e. "try
> using X if you are in countries a,b,c").
> Something that also isn't automated is asking something like "you are about
> to make a connection to Tor. is this okay?" or give options like "connect"
> and "connect with extra caution (this may be slower)"--and this can be the
> difference between a direct connection or use an unlisted bridge running
> some obfuscation protocol.
> I think that the threats there are not necessarily enough to deter us from
> automation. My point in the paper is that automation is not as simple as
> people think, and that this needs to be done carefully. With proper tone,
> consent, and miscellaneous things (user education, SEO-ing official tor
> mirrors, etc.), automation can be done.
> I think we can get it to be ALMOST as easy as automation if we design it
> right, though. And if we can, then we should do that instead. I have no
> evidence to support that case, but that's my two cents. We can even test the
> new design against automation (i.e. just compare it to a 100% success rate
> and how many seconds it would take to connect with an automated process).

First off, I agree with everything you said above, Linda. And your
Design Considerations page captures the current set of concerns well.

For brief historical context: The Tor Launcher configuration UI is the
way it is because it was designed before Tor Browser had an updater.
This meant that any automation would be done *every* time the user got a
new copy of TBB. This was clearly unsafe and completely unacceptable, so
we had to make everything an explicit choice.

Now that we do have an updater, I actually think that an optional "Try
Everything!" button that tests all PTs (and fetches new PT bridges from
a BridgeDB API via domain fronting) will definitely be safer than what
we have now, and I think it is also likely that some form of optional
automation (after a proper user warning) is likely to beat out anything
that requires more decision points or interactions.

One hard part will be figuring out how to best provide the choice of
using automated PT testing to the user, and describe the risks.

Another hard part will be deciding which things to include in the
automated testing: the public tor network, provided bridges, bridges
from BridgeDB, or some subset/combination. Which of these things we
include in the test will change the user's risk profile with respect to
the categories you mentioned at

I do think these problems are solvable, but the reality of the situation
might be that the user has to do a couple of interactions before the
automation starts. (Like being asked where they are or what they want to
test, being warned about the risks of each test, etc). It will be some
work to design UX experiments to figure out which UX actually
communicates this information to users without confusing them or scaring
them off, but I know you're quite capable of that :).

If we get painted into a corner where we don't get to do any of our own
UX experiments for this, I think we should be prepared to resign
ourselves to only automating the safest possible thing, and only after a
scary warning box :/.

Mike Perry
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