[tor-project] Tor Browser Vision Brainstorm

Arthur D. Edelstein arthuredelstein at gmail.com
Wed Feb 27 09:03:14 UTC 2019

Hi Everyone,

Related to this thread: Georg asked what changes I think might be
necessary for Tor Browser to become a "First Class Browser". FWIW I
came up with some suggestions for Tor Browser strategy that I think
would help with this goal:
   (1) Make increasing the number of users a top priority.
   (2) Continuously get feedback from users and non-users on Tor
Browser's usability shortcomings.
   (3) Make usability improvements iteratively, based on that feedback.

Here is a link to my brief writeup:

Interested to hear what you all think! :)


On Tue, Feb 26, 2019 at 1:11 PM Georg Koppen <gk at torproject.org> wrote:
> isabela:
> [snip]
> > At the discussion I saw folks had questions regarding the direction we
> > should be thinking, becoming a full browser or keeping doing what we are
> > doing. And to do what we are doing might not include things that are on
> > Arthur's doc. Also, how we deal with other browsers trying to provide a
> > private experience with Tor network, like we do.
> >
> > This is how I see it. First, I don't think we (the Tor Project) are in
> > the business of competing in the Browser market. We are in the business
> > of providing anonymity and privacy technologies, and that is what we are
> > doing.
> >
> > We should own this, use our Tor Browser to show how the experience can
> > be for all different types of use cases with anonymity and privacy as
> > the main drivers for this experience.
> >
> > I know there has been (and will always be) discussions on how we should
> > build a feature, stuff like what settings should be pre-configured or
> > not. And that is normal, we are building experience for a diverse user
> > base. Some people will need all security features we can provide, and
> > some will want a subset of it. At the end of the day, our mission should
> > be to provide users choices for customizing their experience. Retention
> > comes from one being able to control their experience.
> >
> > We should allow this control to our users. And of course, should make
> > sure we are providing education for them to make such decisions.
> Okay, so let's translate this a bit and get some points from a
> developer perspective into focus.
> Let's ignore "browser vendor", "full-fledged" and "primary browser" etc.
> for a while. If I understand this correctly then the goal here is to
> provide the best anonymity/privacy tool for basically any use case we
> can find: the casual user that just wants to have some privacy to do X
> before switching back to Google's Chrome to do non-X-y things, the
> powser user that wants to only use Tor Browser in safest default
> settings with the best fingerprinting/tracking resistance they can get,
> and all sorts of use cases that lie within those two poles. And that
> basically on all platforms available (i.e. those a Firefox is running
> on) with as little breakage as possible.
> This vision is interesting and definitely ambitious. :) There are some
> consequences of that which might be worth pondering:
> 1) It would mean we are de facto committing ourselves to delivering a
> browser as good as we can (no shortcuts when technically possible, no
> usecase reduction etc.), with a focus on anonymity/privacy protections
> for the years to come: not just 2, not even just 5 but very likely for a
> much longer period. That's because there will essentially always be
> (a) things we can fix to improve the protections Tor Browser can
> provide, yet that other browsers can't enable because they are not
> focused on anonymity/privacy protections and have to balance a bunch of
> other goals we might not care about as much. For example, they might
> need to take performance and memory restrictions into acconut which are
> not so important for us compared to the protections we want to provide
> to our users. Part of those improved protections could probably be made
> available by prefs. However, I think it's not unreasonable to assume
> that a part of them will need to get compiled in, though.
> (b) unsolved or not good-enough-solved possible fingerprinting and
> tracking issues which we need to take care.
> (c) user experiences/websites that are broken due to our patches and the
> ways the web works which in turn requires workarounds and fixes on our
> side or evangelism to solve the problems on the server side.
> 2) While not really a paradigm change the proposal above considerably
> changes the *scope* of our work in the sense that we so far limited the
> browser functionality we actively supported, as Tor Browser was meant to
> be a reference implementation of a portable browser, focusing on a
> proper Private Browser Browsing mode (Note: that does *not* mean we
> did/do not try to do the User First thing. We actually did/do that as
> one can see in Tor Browser 8 UX improvements and in the more and more
> platforms we support etc.).
> 3) Even though we have 2), which means we are focusing on the browser as
> a whole now, and are providing a privacy/anonymity-enhanced alternative
> to everything on the browser market, I think there is no change in our
> relationship to Mozilla or the patch upstreaming we have done for a
> while now. It's still worthwhile to get our patches into Firefox for
> (a) making it easier for us to maintain our patch set and
> (b) giving something back to Mozilla e.g. for Firefox users that would
> like to have Tor Browser's privacy protections but are not using Tor
> (but some other proxy solution etc.).
> 4) The widened scope due to 2) will make it necessary to think even more
> about our specific priorities in a particular situation, given that we
> are a pretty small team compared to the huge browser code we need to
> maintain and enhance.
> All in all, it's not anything we can't manage but I think it's worth
> having the grander vision broken down a bit (as I hopefully did) as this
> helps thinking about all the various aspects that make up day-to-day
> browser work.
> Georg
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