[tor-talk] A proposal for redesigning Tor-Launcher for better usability

irykoon irykoon at gmail.com
Sun Mar 12 17:52:39 UTC 2017

Hi everyone!

I am Iry. Currently, I have been working on the anon-connection-wizard,
a Python-clone of the Tor Launcher which aims at providing Tor users
with a graphical instruction on configuring the Tor.
During the development process, I realized some problems shared by both
anon-connection-wizard and Tor-Launcher. Therefore, I would like to post
my proposal here, in a hope to let Tor-Launcher developer also realize
the problems.

THe proposal for redesigning anon-connection-wizard which was firstly
posted on Github: https://github.com/Whonix/anon-connection-wizard/pull/3

Could anyone offer me some feedback about it please? Any recommendation,
suggestion and criticism are very welcome!

# Background
Currently, I have been working on the anon-connection-wizard, a
Python-clone of the Tor Launcher which aims at providing Tor users with
a graphical instruction on configuring the Tor. The application is
especially helpful for users who live in Tor-censored area. This is
because those users can only connect to the Tor network with the help of
other censorship circumvention tools which include but are not limited
to Tor bridges, pluggable transports and other third party Internet
censorship circumvention tools like Lantern and VPN.

# Problem Statement
However, the current instruction provided by the anon-connection-wizard
and Tor launcher may not be clear enough. That is to say, users are very
likely to not be able to correctly connect to the Tor network even with
the help of their instruction.

# Related Research
A detailed and published
conducted in 2015 also addressed the problem [1]. In that research, the
researchers firstly did a small-scale user behavior experiment on the
Tor Launcher for Tor Browser Bundle 5.0.3. And then, they redesigned the
user interface of it basing on their observation on users’ behaviors and
the direct feedback from the users. After finishing the redesign of the
Tor launcher, they conducted a 124-participant experiment which aimed at
examining the effectiveness of their redesign. The result showed an
approximately 10 percentages of improvement in success rate  and a 100
percentages of reducing on the time to success when comparing their
redesign of Tor Launcher with the original one. For reasons I do not
know, their [redesigned Tor
Launcher](https://github.com/nmalkin/tor-launcher) [2] has not been
adopted by the Tor project. However, since anon-connection-wizard is a
clone of the Tor Launcher, it may be able to benefit from the
recommendations and suggestions offered by that research.

# Other Improvement
If you believe the redesign of the anon-connection-wizard is a good
idea, I also have some other recommendations. The current Tor Launcher
mainly focuses on helping users circumvent the Internet censorship by
Tor-supported methods like bridges and obfuscation technology. However,
in areas under strict censorship, those methods may not be sufficient to
help users to circumvent the Internet censorship. For example, in
countries like China, the
[only](https://www.torproject.org/docs/pluggable-transports) usable
Tor-supported censorship circumvention method is “meek-amazon” [3],
which also does not grantee working all the time. Besides, meek has not
been [supported](https://phabricator.whonix.org/T386 ) by Whonix yet
[4], making people in China or other heavily-censored area hard to
connect to Tor only with the help of those Tor-supported censorship
circumvention methods. In fact, people in those area usually use some
third-party censorship circumvention tools to connect to the Tor
network. Two main options are Virtual Private Network and proxy-based
censorship circumvention tools like Psiphon3 and Lantern.
Unfortunately, the Tor Launcher and the current anon-connection-wizard
have not provided users using those third-party censorship circumvention
tools with sufficient instructions. To clarify the problem, the
following two examples simulate those users’ experience:
1. Alice uses a VPN to bypass the Internet censorship. One day she wants
to try using the Tor. The first question asked by anon-connection-wizard
is to describe her situation. Although knowledgeable users know she can
connect to the Tor network “directly” using that VPN, Alice, as a
first-time user may find “This computer’s Internet connection is
censored” described her situation better.
2. Similarly, Bob uses the Lantern software to connect to the free
Internet. One day he wants to try using the Tor. After choosing the
configure option, Bob is asked if he’s connection to the Tor-network is
censored. Naturally, Bob answers yes to that question and then he is
asked to configure bridges in order to connect to the Tor network. After
finishing that step, he is asked if he needs a proxy to connect to the
Internet. Of course Bob does not think he needs one because he just
checked the weather on the Internet without even knowing what proxy is.
However, we know that the bridges will not be very helpful for Bob and
all he has to do is to set proxy to use Lantern. What’s even worse? Even
if Bob knows he does not need a bridge but a proxy setting to connect to
the Tor network, the next step is still not easy for him. Since every
time the proxy setting is auto-configured by Lantern client, Bob even
does not know which port Lantern is listening on. Bob also does not know
what is the proxy IP of Lantern. Bob does not know what or
local-host means. Bob is not sure if he needs an username and a password
for his proxy. All the confusing questions make Bob frustrated. With the
last hope, Bob tries to visit the URL provided by the
anon-connection-wizard for help. But this does not work neither because
the Tor website is also blocked.

# Alternative Choice
The two examples above illustrates how confusing the current
instructions in anon-connection-wizard is. However, one may argue that
we can use an online documents to instruct users how to configure it
correctly instead of redesigning the anon-connection-wizard. Although I
agree that an online documentation can be helpful to users, I do not
think it can replace the redesign of the anon-connection-wizard because
it makes anon-connection-wizard meaningless. Beside the potential
connection issue to the online documents, if a large amount of users
have to see online documents to configure anon-connection-wizard, they
can see an online guideline on how to configure the torrc file manually

# My Position
According to the argument above, I would like to propose a redesign of
the current anon-connection-wizard which aims at improving its
usability. I hope that my work will help more people to connect to the
Tor network efficiently and successfully.

# Research Schedule
My planning research schedule is as follows:
1. Generate ideas on redesigning the anon-continence-wizard users
interface, basing on the recommendations from outside sources, problems
discussed above and suggestions from other people
2. Present the planning redesign to public to receive feedback
3. Implement the redesign (12/March/2017-17/March/2017);
4. Prepare for the user behavior experiment, including recruitment and
setting up environment  (18/March/2017-20/March/2017);
5. Conduct the experiment (21/March/2017);
6. Process and analysis the experiment data (22/March/2017-24/March/2017);
7. Write the research report (25/March/2017-29/March/2017).

# References
[1] Fifield, David et al. "Tor’S Usability For Censorship
Circumvention". N.p., 2017. Web. 11 Mar. 2017.
[2] "Nmalkin/Tor-Launcher". GitHub. N.p., 2017. Web. 11 Mar. 2017.
[3] The Tor Project, Inc. "Tor Project: Pluggable Transports".
Torproject.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 11 Mar. 2017.
[4]  “T386 Meek Pluggable Transport". Phabricator.whonix.org. N.p.,
2017. Web. 11 Mar. 2017.
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