Tor's Innovative Metrics Program Receives Award from Mozilla
Good news for data enthusiasts who trust numbers more than words: The Tor Project has just received an award from Mozilla's Open Source Support program to improve Tor metrics over the next 12 months.
While some analytics programs collect data in ways that violate the privacy of users, Tor's metrics program seeks to keep users safe as we collect and analyze data. We use the data to develop ways to allow more people to access the free Internet via Tor, and we make all data available to the world, so that Tor users, developers, journalists, and funders can see and understand the ways that people use Tor worldwide.
Mozilla's mission is to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all. Mozilla Open Source Support (MOSS) is an awards program specifically focused on supporting the Open Source and Free Software movement. Their Mission Partners track is open to any open source/free software project undertaking an activity which significantly furthers Mozilla's mission.
Over the coming year, our main goals for this project will be:
1. To make CollecTor (our primary data collection service) more resilient to single-point failures, by enabling multiple CollecTor instances to gather data independently and exchange it in an automated fashion. Doing this will reduce the number of gaps in our data, and make it less likely that an error at one server will make the data invalid.
2. To create an easy-to-use observation kit containing DescripTor (our library for parsing and analyzing Tor servers' descriptions of themselves) together with user-friendly tutorials for evaluating Tor network data. This will make it easier for programmers to write tools that examine historical and current data about the servers that make up the Tor network.
4. To further reduce the amount of sensitive usage data (such as bandwidth totals and connections-per-country) stored on Tor relays and reported to the Tor directory authorities. While we believe that this data is safe the way we handle it today, we believe that improved cryptographic and statistical techniques would allow us to store and share even less data.
5. To improve the accuracy of performance measurements by developing better methods and tools to analyze and simulate average user behavior;
6. To make the Tor Metrics website more usable, so that users, developers, and researchers can more easily find, compare, and interpret information about Tor's usage and performance.
We're excited about this news for a great many reasons.
First, it is one more important step in diversifying Tor's funding.
Second, while the project focuses on improving six important aspects of Tor metrics, it also aims at more general improvements to make Tor metrics software more stable, scalable, maintainable, and usable. These improvements are typically harder to "sell" in funding proposals because their results are less visible to funders. It's reassuring that Mozilla understands that these improvements are important, too.
Third, this award is the first one awarded to Tor's young metrics team, only established 12 months ago in June, 2015. It's an appreciation of the initial work done by the metrics team and a very good basis for the upcoming 12 months.
Writing the award proposal was a successful cooperation of a number of Tor people: it would simply not have happened without Isabela, who made contact with Mozilla people; it would not have been readable without Cass's remarkable ability to translate from tech to English; it would not have contained as many good reasons for getting accepted without iwakeh's invaluable input; and it would not have been accepted without Shari's efforts in asking a leading security expert to write an endorsement of our award request. Finally, this blog post would certainly not have been as readable without Kate's and Nick's editorial capabilities. And now let's go write some code.