[tor-talk] Talking to users, six months later

Andrew Lewman andrew at torproject.org
Fri Jan 20 22:08:45 UTC 2012

It's been a while since I relayed phone support experiences. Six months
ago we listed our phone number on the 'contact us' page. See the
experiences of the first month or so at 'talking to users',

There have been a few tweaks and changes to the live/phone support. It
is still free, but it is clear there is a demand for paid support and
consulting. The notable changes are adding jitsi for supporting otr and
zrtp-encrypted voip and video chats. Jitsi also works for anything
xmpp-based, such as google chat and voice. Also, publishing 'office
hours' for the world concentrates the calls to predictable hours.

We also setup a ticketing system to track email support requests.

tl;dr, users call, have questions, some calls are short, some calls are
long. maybe we should offer a paid support option.

First, the phone support FAQ list:

1. What is Aurora?
2. Why is Tor slower than x (vpn, proxy, native internet, psiphon, etc)?
3. Why is running a bridge/relay so complex? I want to help people, not
get a degree in computer science.
4. I want watch videos on the internet, how do I do this?
4a. Ok, not in tbb. How do I configure safari/chrome/ie/opera to use
tor so I can watch videos on the internet?
4b. why is this self-configuration so complex?
5. My anti-virus/anti-malware/spyware-detector tells me tor.exe and
vidalia.exe are unknown and unsafe. what do I do?
6. Can you explain to me online privacy and anonymity and how tor helps
make these happen?

Second, there are three calls that stand out over the past six months.

The first is actually not a single call, but a series of them.

'I'm an (animal rights or religious rights) supporter going to a
repressive Asian country to spread my message and take some actions.
Can you help me be anonymous online while traveling?' 

There are apparently some organized groups going somewhere in Asia
to do something. They eventually find Tor through search engines
and their fellow members and want to learn more. These calls are
generally 30-50 minutes long and generally wind up talking about how
the Internet works more than tor itself. There have been eight of these
calls so far.

The second was a series of calls from one woman. She called out of
desperation. She figured tor is 'technical and computery' and may be
able to help, since the local computer stores and police dept were
useless. She said her computer would randomly do things she didn't tell
it to do, like move the cursor, turn the webcam light on, and one of
her coworkers in another country seemed to know far more about her than
she remembers telling him over the years. 

The local computer stores ran anti-virus/anti-malware and found
nothing. One suggested she see a doctor for dementia (she's
older). The local police told her to take classes to learn how to use
her computer and even if her coworker was stalking her, he's in a
different country and therefore out of their jurisdiction. I was the
first to tell her she's not crazy and yes, infected computers can do
exactly what she's experiencing. After about 5 calls over two weeks, I
eventually handed her off to a local domestic violence organization who
can also help with internet stalking. It's surprisingly hard to find an
anti-abuse org that also knows how to handle the Internet. Comically,
the first two orgs I called pointed me at NNEDV.org, who then point
people at Tor for help with privacy online.

And the final call was my first video support chat. This person is an
adult video performer, and as she put it, 'there are fans, super fans,
creepy fans, and stalkers. I love the first three types of fans.'
The local police detective basically told her that because of what she
does for a living, there is nothing they can do about her stalker and
that she brought this on herself. She found tor through internet
searches. She talked to other companies who just wanted to sell her
software, but not actually answer her questions. She had a lot of

We covered online privacy, how the internet works, how to un-infect
her work computer, and how to keep her personal computer safer than the
work computer. Generally helped her setup tails on a usb drive,
tbb, and what happens when you login to google, twitter, and facebook
over tor (who does that provide privacy from, what does it protect,
etc). She wanted to know how to keep, in her words, 'the public me
separate from the private me' on the Internet and from her non-stalker
fans. In the end, she said the internet was far more complex than she
thought, and wishes she could just buy something that 'just worked'
without her thinking about it. She realized it's unlikely that will
ever happen.

In summary, there are the usual 5-10 minute calls/chats about technical
operations of tor, and then the far longer 'explain to me online
privacy and anonymity' calls. 

And yes, there are still the random crazy people that call and insist
they are being stalked by the Illuminati, The Greys, and other
intergalactic networks asking if tor can provide planetary anonymity or
anonymity on space networks. Thankfully, these are few and far between.

pgp 0x74ED336B

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