[tor-project] August 2019 vision update

isabela isabela at torproject.org
Wed Aug 21 19:55:27 UTC 2019

Hello Tor!

The context for our vision

There is a unique opportunity ahead for Tor. Today, the world-wide
debate about privacy and the collection and use of behavioral data has
reached a new frenzy. On a societal level, we are starting to feel the
chilling effects of data collection and its abuse.

Less than a decade ago, conversations about preserving privacy often
lead to the rebuttal, 'I have nothing to hide, why do I need privacy?'
Today, this is changing. People are beginning to understand that privacy
isn't about hiding bad things--but it’s about what defines us as human
beings, who we are. Our day-to-day behavior, our personality, our fears,
our relationships, and our vulnerabilities.

We’re watching the tide of public awareness turn. The demand for privacy
isn’t going away, and the industry can’t hide from it. We are also
hearing that during discussions inside of the big tech companies in
Silicon Valley, Tor comes up quite often, as we offer a holistic
solution to meet these demands.

Our standards are higher. We offer privacy by design—and we’ve been
doing so for more than a decade. We are known for building transparent,
ethical, reliable privacy technology.

Leaders in the tech industry have started to look at Tor to meet their
user’s expressed needs for these exact reasons. Cloudflare and Brave's
integration of Tor technology, Facebook's onion service, file sharing
tools like OnionShare and SecureDrop (and their adoption by some of the
most important newsrooms in the world[1]), and our ongoing conversations
with Mozilla about a possible Tor integration in Firefox, are all
examples of how Tor can be the underlying technology for a diverse set
of solutions with privacy by design.

Where Tor is right now

When I wrote my first email to tor-project as ED nine months ago[2], we
were finalizing a long phase of work to bring a new user experience to
Tor users. We put together an ambitious project to meet our users where
they are to learn how to improve Tor for them. Every team inside of Tor
did something to improve their users’ experience; the Metrics team
redesigned their site and merged services like Atlas into the data to
make it easier for the user to get what they want. The OONI team went
mobile to reach more users and start to improve their end-to-end user
experience. The Network team improved the experience of connecting to
Tor for users on mobile devices. And of course, changes to Tor Browser,
made by the Browser and UX teams, are quite visible, and so are the
ongoing improvements to our website. And we created the Anti-Censorship
team to make it easier for users who are under censorship to route
around that censorship.

Making Tor easier to use for our dedicated user base was a big step for
us, because it required the creation of an iterative feedback loop that
centers the user at every step of our development process. This has
fundamentally changed how we work with one another as a team and
community, improved usability for our core users, and set us up to
prepare Tor for mainstream adoption.

User experience improvements will make Tor more understandable for more
people, and they further our goal of getting Tor into the hands of
everybody who choose privacy tools. But it’s not the end of our work.

Preparing Tor for mainstream use also means that we must be able to
handle more users and meet speed and usability standards they expect.
This is not an easy task; we have a lot of challenges ahead of us. Each
team has their own challenges, and all require laying groundwork before
we can start building and rolling out improvements. Adequate preparation
is necessary to successfully ensure that Tor can meet these new standards.

*That said, we do have an opportunity ahead of us to show the world that
our vision of real privacy online is possible, and that is extremely
exciting.* I believe that in about two years, we will have successfully
laid the groundwork for us to release improvements that will show the
impact of this work—more people will have easier, faster access to
privacy tools.

Realizing Tor’s Vision

How are we going to get there? The same way we worked as a team to shift
our development processes to incorporate user feedback into it. Each
team will look at what they can do to drive their area of work towards
this unified vision.

For instance, we are all following the Network team efforts to scale the
network and improve its performance metrics. This is not an easy task,
we had to bring in the Metrics team, researchers, and other stakeholders
to build a strategy, broken into phases, to get there. For the next year
or so we will be focused on phase 0 and 1 of this strategy, which means
we will have a pipeline to drive ideas/research questions into
experimentation and validation, so we can release changes that will
bring impact to the metrics we have selected to measure this project.

The Anti-Censorship team is working on circumvention solutions that are
difficult and expensive for censors to block but relatively easy and
inexpensive for us to deploy and to scale, like Snowflake. Beyond that,
the team is creating user-friendly experiences to make it easier for
censored users to discover their circumvention solutions. Another
challenge we face is building more reliable reachability checks in
regions where it is quite risky for us to collect these measurements.

On the Browser side, the team wants to shift away from ESR releases, so
our users can benefit from getting the latest features, web platform
improvements, and security updates sooner. The team is also planning on
making browser performance improvements (one of the main pain points for
users) and to start experimenting with new ideas :) For instance the
idea of offering some add-ons or utilities within Tor Browser, like
OnionShare. Another direction we are going with Tor Browser’s UI is
continuing to blend our features with the normal mainstream browser
experience. This includes things like placing configuration options
where the user expects them, like the security options inside of browser
preference configurations just like Firefox does.

A lot of this work is directly connected with the Community and UX
teams. Right now, the Community team is a one person team, so we must
build a strategy to make things work with such limited resources. The
main focus will be to build collaboration with volunteers to “help us
help others.” And on that point, one of the goals of the team over the
next year is to organize user support. Improved user support is an
important part of scaling our user base, and it’s work that’s in need of
some love. This team will continue to organize security trainings in the
Global South and with our UX team to collect user feedback on all the
changes made by other teams.

None of this work will be easy, in part because some of our teams are
small. Capacity is one of Tor's main challenges right now--and we have
to work hard to increase it.

And is why it's very important that we also are dedicating time and
energy to our fiscal growth. As Roger says, “Tor does the work of a
$100M organization with $4M budget.” That's why we have a team at Tor
focused on growing our base of support. The ‘Money Machine’ team just
participated in a great training that helped us build tools to organize
and manage our strategies. This team has already been kicking ass since
its formation around nine months ago, and now has a new boost to be even
more efficient at building and executing fundraising strategies.

I am glossing over many other things that folks at Tor know are
important too. I am not even getting into the need for collaboration and
support between sister projects like the Guardian Project, Tails, and
Freedom of the Press Foundation, to name a few. This letter is just to
give context to where we are, and why we are moving in a certain
direction. But none of this came from my head alone. It came from you.
All I am doing is organizing some collective thoughts. Let's enjoy this
opportunity we have ahead of us and make the best of it.

Like I said before, these are exciting times for Tor. We can have a big
influence on the privacy debate and show that our vision is possible. It
will take a lot of work and we have a lot of challenges ahead of us. But
it will be worth it. Not for us, but for what we believe the internet
should be.


[1] https://securedrop.org/directory/

More information about the tor-project mailing list