Tor Browser Downloads Are Up in 2017
The Tor Metrics website provides all sorts of information about the Tor Network, including how fast the network is, or how many daily users it has. The Metrics team recently expanded the Metrics page with a Mozilla grant, strengthening the infrastructure used to collect data.
One of the things Tor Metrics measures is how many times Tor Browser has been downloaded, and we decided to investigate how the first six months of 2017 measures up to the same time last year. Data from Tor Metrics tells us there was a 1.4 million increase in the number of Tor Browser downloads in the first six months of this year, compared to the same period last year. In all, download numbers increased from 16.1 million to 17.5 million.
The more Tor, the better
More Tor is good for lots of reasons: it means that journalists, activists, and other privacy-conscious individuals are taking steps to evade internet censorship or stop websites from tracking them as they browse the web. An increase in the number of Tor Browser downloads could also be evidence of some new censorship event, when users circumvent internet censors to access online resources and communities.
Privacy protections rolled back by the US government in March gave ISPs free reign to collect and sell your private information. We’re delighted that more people are realizing that there’s an alternative to the pervasive tracking and surveillance that many websites, ISPs, and agencies carry out.
Tor makes every user look the same, and the diversity of our user base is part of what makes Tor strong. The more people who use the network, the better Tor’s anonymity.
Browser download numbers don’t tell us everything -- we have no way of knowing many of those downloads are repeat downloaders, or for how long they stay using Tor. Those would be privacy-invasive metrics, and we don’t gather such information. But we still think that this number is meaningful, and we’re glad to see it increasing.
I have to admit I never actually downloaded Tor before two days ago. I downloaded it to read the Daily Stormer, not because I believe that codswallop they're selling (I'm actually somewhere down their list of people up against the wall after the revolution comes...) but because I believe in their right to say it.
The banning of the Stormer marks a sea change in who uses the "dark web". Before it was a handful of idealists, plus clients who were doing or saying things that were actually illegal. I might believe unabashedly in unrestricted freedom of speech but that doesn't mean I want to go to a kiddie porn site or a credit card number auction house and test my browser security just as a show of ideological purity. So the "dark web" lacked *destinations*, as far as I could tell - at least, destinations I would feel safe or interested in going to. But with the Stomer, we now see the crooked cabal behind the domain name racket has finally shown their true colors. They're not content simply chiseling away our money any more - they want to decide what we read and what we can't. And that means that there is now an .onion link required for a site that is entirely legal to read. And with the apparent banning of the Daily Rebel by one DNS, soon another. The slippery slope won't stop there -- before long you won't be able to look at pictures of a bull-fight or read an editorial praising enforcement of immigration law without going to the "dark web". Simply put, as of this week, the "dark web" became the only real internet there is. Not having a Tor browser is not having an Internet browser.
To be sure, I don't know if Tor can survive success -- I don't know if the only reason it was ever allowed is because practically nobody used it. It is possible that a coordinated campaign of idiots DDOSing and doxxing node operators and software developers will leave the network in shambles. If they do, of course, it will be no step forward against racism. A person with half a brain should be able to see that if racists resort to meeting in person to exchange "El Paquete" like the Cubans under Castro, those meetings will include hand-offs of more than just computer files, and vulnerable minority members who happen to be found near them will be in real danger. But far more damaging in the long run is that if racists aren't allowed to speak, people will no longer know that they have nothing persuasive to say. Worse than that, they will actually begin to believe that racism has been vanquished, even as vastly disproportionate numbers of blacks languish in prison cells, even as the same holier-than-thou tech overlords like Facebook invent mechanisms like "social credit" and "artificial intelligence" to allow businesses all over the world to discriminate against blacks systematically without being "racist".