[tor-dev] First-time tails/tor user feedback

Andrew Lewman andrew at torproject.is
Sat Apr 21 14:42:54 UTC 2012

I spent the past week in Sweden, attending the Stockholm Internet
Forum, http://www.stockholminternetforum.se/, for part of it. I made a
number of tails 0.10.2 usb sticks for people on request. I also asked a
lot of people their impressions of Tor and Tails. I received a plethora
of feedback. All 8 people are involved in the Internet Freedom policy,
technology, or freedom of speech communities. They had very different
levels of self-assessed technical skill. The 8 people represented 6

tldr; 8 people were tested, 8 people had trouble doing simple things
with tor browser in Tails. Issues 4-6 are directly related to Tor.

And by asked, I mean, I stuck them in front of my laptop, put the usb
stick in the computer, and asked them to browse to their favorite site.
No one wanted to be video recorded, even if I offered to only record
the screen and not audio.

Everyone managed to power on the laptop and wait for Tails to boot.

# First issue: Language selection

The first issue was on the language selection screen. 4 of 8
people were confused why it was called "Debian Live System" and not
"Tails Live System". 8 of 8 knew what language selection meant, but
weren't sure how this mapped to Tails.

# Second issue: wifi and tor browser

The tor browser starts up before the wireless is configured. The tor
browser then reports a proxy error. With some prompting, all 8 figured
out the wifi and then didn't know what to do. Tor does keep trying to
load, and takes forever because it needs to download the entire
directory. Users have no feedback as to what's going on behind the
scenes because vidalia is hidden.

8 of 8 waited patiently for something to happen on the screen.

# Third issue: green onion

3 of 8 people saw the green onion appear in the menu bar up top. These
three people hovered over it and saw the 'Connected to the Tor Network'
message. No one knew to double-click on it to get a menu of other things
to do. No one knew to right-click on it to get the drop-down menu. They
were presented with the default check.torproject.org 'congratulations'
page and then sat there.

# Fourth issue: check.tpo is not helpful

8 of 8 people saw the default check.torproject.org site telling them
'congratulations. Your browser is configured to use tor.' 7 of 8 people
asked 'where is my browser?' The one who didn't ask this question was
already a firefox user and recognized the interface. 0 of 8 understood
what the IP address message meant. Comments ranged from 'is that
different than my current IP address?' to 'what's an ip address?'

As an aside, when showing someone TBB on their own laptop, they saw the
check.tpo site, and then went to Safari and started it up. When asked
why they did this, the answer was 'safari is my browser. this says your
browser is configured to use tor.'

No one used the language selections at the bottom of check.tpo, nor even
understood why they were there.

# Fifth issue: exit relay congestion/failures

8 of 8 people tried to get to their own sites. 'I wonder what my site
looks like when I'm anonymous' was the most common comment (5 of 8).
For 6 of 8 people, their site didn't load at all, and tor browser
reported their site was unreachable. All 6 then tried to go to
google search in their own language; meaning google.es, google.se, etc.
For 3 of those 6, this didn't work either. They gave up and assumed tor
was broken or was censoring their destinations.

I intervened, opened the vidalia network map, closed the circuit in
question, and asked them to repeat their browsing. 

5 of 6 were able to get to their sites now. The one that was not able
to had the same exit relay as last time, Amunet1, in a new circuit and
just couldn't get anywhere through it. After yet another new circuit,
they could get through to everything.

The user has no feedback as to why their site didn't work. And tor
assumes everything is working fine.

When asked "please find a video you like", they all went to youtube.
Most of the videos they wanted to see resulted in 'This video is
currently unavailable.' 8 of 8 assumed it was because youtube was
blocking tor, not because the video is flash-required. 2 of 8 started
randomly clicking videos suggested by youtube to see if any of them
worked. Eventually, 2 of 8 got videos to work with youtube and were
amazed it worked at all.

# Sixth issue: no flash, no warning

2 of 8 people had flash apps on their website. 4 of 8 had ad banners
that used flash. All were surprised at the red outline with a snake in
it appearing instead of their flash apps. None understood what

After an explanation, one person suggested changing the red outline
with snake to an actual message written inside, along the lines of
'this app blocked for your protection. click here to unblock it.' I
explained why that wouldn't work (because there is no flash, java,
silverlight plugins installed) and their answer was 'then do not show
it at all'. Inside noscript, I unchecked the 'show placeholder..'
option and had them browse again. they were happy. It seems if the user
cannot do anything about the blocked apps, not showing them may be

# Seventh issue: shutdown

I asked all 8 to shutdown tails and let me know when they thought their
data was safely no longer on the system. 1 of 8 figured out how to
shutdown tails by clicking the big red button in the upper right
corner. The rest hit the power button on the laptop.

After rebooting, i showed them all they could just pull the usb drive
to do it as well. As soon as tails started shutting down, they all
assumed everything was safe and tried to power off the laptop. 

pgp 0x6B4D6475

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