[tor-project] The Tor Project Social Contract

Kate ailanthus at riseup.net
Tue Aug 2 18:26:00 UTC 2016

Nathan Freitas:
> On Tue, Aug 2, 2016, at 07:59 AM, Lunar wrote:
>> Hi!
>> Mike Perry:
>>> I hate to be late to the party, and I hate to start a libre/free/open
>>> flamewar, but I am concerned about the specific language "free of cost"
>>> with respect to our tools in Point #3.
>>> […]
>>> I see nothing wrong with paid versions of Tor tools, paid hardware, or
>>> paid access, so long as the implementations of security-critical
>>> components are open source and auditable. Maybe others disagree?
>> I disagree. :)
>> Wealth is already an important factor in one's ability to enjoy freedoms
>> of opinion, expression, and association. If we agree that you can't
>> really exercise these freedoms in the digital world without tools like
>> Tor, I think such access to these tools should not be restricted by
>> how much money you can spend on it.
>> While I agree that we should find ways to cover costs of production,
>> or that I think it's ok to sell hardware with Tor preinstalled,
>> I believe we should try to find business models that aim to balance the
>> wealth disparities of this world, because I want our work to help
>> balance power.
> I agree with both of you in different ways. Requiring a user to be able
> to compile to get something free is not good enough. 
> Some longer thoughts below, but I think the spirit of what we say should
> be "Always Free, but Pay What You Can". 
> Using Onion Browser as an example, it is great that Mike Tigas has been
> able to independently support his work on that project by charging a
> small fee for the open-source software he builds. However, it has also
> severely limited adoption, and pushed users to less trustworthy apps,
> because there are many people who don't have the ability to purchase
> apps on iOS due to not having a credit card or being in a country where
> paid apps are not supported (like Iran, I believe). With iOS, there is
> no way to sideload from a free app store without making your device
> insecure, so the only "free as in beer" and secure way to get Onion
> Browser is to know someone who has a Mac, is an iOS developer, and who
> is willing to link your device to their IDE setup.
> What I would like to see from Onion Browser, and from all Tor-related
> apps/projects/community members that choose to support this contract, is
> to offer a free version always, and then a pro/premium pay version, or a
> "pay what you can" option, that is functionality equivalent. That way,
> novice users will always have access without any impediments due to
> their economic situation. This is also a model that I would like to
> adopt for Orbot and Orfox, and any app store that offers a built-in,
> easy payment system. Again, users would not be required to use this, but
> for people who already opt-in and are comfortable providing their
> payment information, then it is an easy way for Tor projects to gain
> sustainable grassroots support.
> On the hardware front, we are already working with Copperhead to sell
> premium-priced Nexus phones flashed with their open-source OS, that may
> someday have Orbot built into it. Copperhead offers their ROM free of
> charge for anyone to flash to a Nexus device, but again, that is a very
> serious impediment for non-technical users. What I am trying to setup
> there is a "buy one, give one" program, or again, a "pay what you can"
> system, that is backed by those who can afford to donate money along
> with their purchases.
>>> Here's an attempt to reword to capture my thinking:
>>>   3. Our tools are universally available to access, use, adapt, and distribute
>> Ok with the rewording here.
> Perhaps we could define "universally available" a bit more to ensure
> that in includes non-technical end-users? This means that we are talking
> about more than just "we publish the source code".
> Best,
>   Nathan

Available is not the same as accessible. Available can mean "available
for sale." "Available," "accessible," and "affordable" are terms that
have specific meanings when it comes to access for low-income people.
Human rights activists, for instance, are often people with very limited
resources--and for whom free of cost and easily accessed software is

When we look at tiny school fees [0] charged to children in developing
countries, these tiny fees often constitute huge barriers to education
and there is a successful movement to abolish them. The same is true for
discounted costs that people pay in African countries for life-saving
medications and the barriers those pose to patient survival.

Health and education are human rights. At Tor we would argue that
privacy is a right, too--it's also a right enshrined in European law.

I believe that our tools should remain free to users and we should
strategize other ways to make money. "Pay what you can" software is an
idea widely understood in the global north; is it also in the global
south? Pay with what? Bitcoin? Credit cards? If you get the software
installed at your local roadside store, who do you pay? These are all
barriers to using Tor.

Moxie Marlinspike has gotten around this by licensing his software to
big companies so that they are the ones that pay, while users get the
software for free. He also gets grants. Not only WhatsApp users but also
Signal users benefit from this strategy.

If you are a huge company, perhaps we can offer to incorporate
Tor-licensed software into your product for a big fee (and in some of
the ways that Nathan is discussing). And we are soliciting grants from
charitable foundations. There are lots of ways to figure this out, but
already the countries with the most people on the Internet are China and
India respectively [1], and most are accessing it via phones, and more
and more are very poor.

Which is great--they can access the Internet now! Let's make sure they
can download free Tor software, too so that they can access all of it.

Is our user a poor US highschool student who can pay what he will? Or is
our user a Chinese farmer with a $60 smart phone and no bank account?

Do we need an advisory board of users from developing countries?

+1 for free software that is free as in beer
+1 for Robin Hood,


[0] School fees: http://www.unicef.org/education/bege_61665.html
[1] Internet users by country:

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