How Has Tor Helped You? We Need Your Stories

 

It’s an understatement to say a lot has happened related to privacy and freedom online over the past seven years! Surveillance and crackdowns on free speech have increased around the world, and vast amounts of personal data have been collected and sold. Tools like Tor are needed more than ever to allow people to browse the web freely and privately.

It’s been seven years since we last asked, so we want to know: What do you use Tor for? Why do you need it? What has Tor done for you? What could have happened if you weren’t able to use Tor? We need your stories!

We know these examples exist, and we reference them in our talks around the world, but these stories are more powerful when they come as a quotable personal narrative from you.

Here are some examples of stories we’re interested to hear you tell:

Censorship circumvention. Has Tor helped you access social media or critical resources when they were blocked by your government or ISP? What kind of consequences could you have faced without Tor?  

Political organizing. Has Tor helped you organize a protest or share political resources when doing so without Tor could’ve been dangerous?

Coping with domestic abuse or stalking. Has Tor helped protect you from an abusive relationship or helped prevent someone monitoring your activity?

Curtailing surveillance. Are you an activist who has used Tor to protect yourself from surveillance online?

Medical research. Has Tor helped you research a medical condition without fear of corporate profiling on you or your loved ones?

Journalism. Has Tor helped you communicate anonymously with sources or conduct controversial research?

Whistleblowing or anti-corruption reporting. Did Tor help you submit details of corruption without putting yourself at risk?

If any of these apply to you, or if you have another story to share, please let us know!

Your stories will help us:

  • Demystify Tor to the general public
  • Reach more people who could benefit from Tor’s protections
  • Help our funders justify their support of Tor to their boards of directors
  • Raise funds from new sponsors and individual donors to diversify our funding and ensure Tor remains independent, robust, and secure

We would like to share these stories on social media, on our website, in materials about our work, and in conversations with potential users and supporters. You don’t have to tell us your name, but if you do (or you contact us in a way that reveals it), we won’t use it without your explicit permission.

Please use caution when telling us the details of your story. If too many details could reveal who you are and put you at risk, please leave that information out. Do not respond to this request if it could put you in danger.

That said: Why do you use Tor? Since we designed Tor with privacy in mind, we can't know unless you tell us.

How To Share Your Story

There are several ways you can tell us how Tor has helped you.

Please be as specific as you can without putting yourself at risk.

Thank you!

 

Anonymous

October 01, 2018

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I have started to use Tor simply to browse the internet in private. I have become tired of internet and web tracking, Tor is the only way to stay private provided you use it properly of course (remember the rules of the Tor network to help protect everyone else!). Nowadays even browsers that are supposed to protect you (ehm.. you know who) are no longer private, and trying to tweak and configure the browser to respect your privacy better is becoming more and more painful.

I use Tor on Microsoft Windows, which is probably not the best way to do it, but hey, since it's available for the platform I'm going to use it. I might switch to GNU/Linux soon, install a free distribution approved by the fsf (free software foundation). It's the only way to get 100% privacy.

Thank you Tor project for an easy and simple way to get privacy on the web and on the internet!

> I might switch to GNU/Linux soon, install a free distribution approved by the fsf (free software foundation).

You might also want to try Tails (see tails.boum.org), which offers an easy way to try Linux without committing yourself to the effort of installing a new OS on your laptop and PC.

Tails is a complete Linux OS, based on Debian, which can be booted from a USB stick (convenient) or R/O DVD (safer), which includes the latest Tor Browser (with extra protections against software glitches possibly deanonymizing you), as well as LibreOffice (FOSS clone of M$ Office) and other utilities, but which also has the very important "amnesiac" property that Tails tries to leave no traces on the hard drive of your PC or laptop of your activity. This can be a life-saver for whistle-blowers, journalists, political dissidents, union organizers, political campaign staffers, human rights workers, medical aid workers, social justice advocates, UN weapons inspectors, civil rights violations investigators, etc. Also perfect for the undercover cop embedded in a narcotics gang (see the post up above), and for brave MX citizens who report on the appalling cartel violence in cities like Ciudad Juarez (greater death rates than the death rate from terror bombings during the worst of post-US-invasion civil war in Iraq, but unlike that horror rarely mentioned in the US press).

Useful both for safer browsing (modulo a long standing issue re guard nodes which is slowly being addressed, and an issue with gaining good entropy which is a problem for "amnesiac" OSs), and for off-line activity (e.g. writing a human rights report while "in-country"). I have found that rebooting often to switch between on and off-line Tails sessions is not as inconvenient as it may sound, it simply requires a small amount of organization and discipline.

The only fsf-approved distro I know of is Trisquil, and it's not very popular and so probably hasn't been pounded on and hardened like, say, Debian. Also Trisquil isn't necessarily designed with extensive security features. Thus I would highly recommend to you Qubes OS with a Whonix VM. It's not fsf-approved, but there's a bit of a tradeoff between privacy and security here. It depends on your threat model. To me, it's more important that an adversary's malicious payload be contained withing a Qubes VM, than to worry that my WiFi card's driver might be spying on me or something. However, really any GNU/Linux will offer better privacy (and probably security) than Windows, so the choice of distro isn't all that important.

Anonymous

October 01, 2018

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Hi Steph,

Glad to see this

> Raise funds from new sponsors and individual donors to diversify our funding and ensure Tor remains independent, robust, and secure

and hope to soon see Isela (the incoming Executive Director) post that this continues to be a top priority for Tor Project.

I have a suggestion about gathering stories. In addition to asking "how have you used Tor?", I suggest asking "what made you start using Tor?". I think some of these stories could help people who haven't tried Tor Browser better understand why they should possibly consider trying it.

The book by Julia Angwin, Dragnet Nation, opens with a horrifying anecdote, not involving Tor, but clearly explaining one very good reason why people might want to use Tor, namely secret scraping of web forum posts. This anecdote is directly relevant to the post above about a mental health condition.

I experienced a similar scraping issue at another legal and seemingly innocuous on-line forum--- not a medical forum, but as it turned out also a forum of great interest to spooks, which was quite a shock to almost all members--- in which the scraping was not authorized by the forum operators, but was done by a Third Party, as part of a USIC contract. Nasty.

Another issue forum users should be aware of is that people who ask to "friend" you might very well be spooks or cops, especially if you are an activist. It doesn't matter whether or not your group is non-violent since the spooks always claim that anyone *might become* violent in the future, so they "need" to spy on non-violent groups too [sic]. "Friending" members under false pretenses is a very common and cheap way to keep an eye on your group. So common that it often happens that a UC working for one agency reports an agent provocateur working for another agency. Some of the best documentation for this comes from The Guardian's years of reporting on abuses by police agencies in the UK monitoring peaceful environmental groups and social justice groups. Further extensive documentation of abuses by civilian and military spooks operating in the USA comes from documents obtained under FOIA by ACLU and EFF. This issue is in the news again right now because some major tech-cos are now stating that their real-name policy extends to police officers, who presumably will continue to violate the Terms of Use. (Who is Facebook going to call when they catch an FBI agent using a false identity in his/her Facebook account?)

Oh yes, why are US medical forums of interest to spooks? Well, one major job of any non-USG intelligence agency is to assess the stability of the USA, and physical/mental health issues experienced by the general population are part of that assessment. Why would GRU rely on official USG statistics when it can go to the source and scrape at scale stories told by US patients themselves? Sure, the result is a messy dataset, but machine learning can deal with that well enough to keep the GRU bosses happy. And FBI is very interested in keeping an eye on anyone they suspect might be "unstable", so they monitor mental health forums too. All the world's spooks and cops have decided that because technology enables them to presume present or future guilt (of something, anything) in everyone, their intelligence/LEA missions demands that they take advantage of the technology. Ethical considerations are never a part of decisions whether or not to use some new "investigative technique". That's how cell-site simulators (Stingrays), "lawful interception" [sic], state-sponsored malware, aerial surveillance, and so much more, secretly came into such wide use. They did these things because they could, without any regard for the many severe ill consequences for society as a whole, not to mention for individual lives damaged by abuses of technology.

Just one more reason why the shibboleth that "if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from state-sponsored cyber campaigns" is dangerously incorrect. Just because you cannot think of a reason why someone might want to spy on Grandma doesn't mean that they have not thought of a reason. And in fact, they have thought of a large number of reasons. It's safe (for them), it's easy, it's cheap (after the initial investment), so why wouldn't they spy on Grandma and everyone else?

> "what made you start using Tor?"

Accidentally stumbled upon an ugly secret surveillance scheme, then accidentally discovered and reported a horrifying internet insecurity (unfixable in software and hardware), only to watch "the authorities" use it as another method for cyberespionage, rather than protecting their own citizens--- rather than protecting, in fact, their own damn military servicepeople! Then some more stuff like that. And then they demanded that I work for them helping them to do even worse things.

Such experiences are apt to induce a certain skepticism, even cynicism, concerning the intentions of governments toward ordinary people, and an intense desire to avoid their myriads of technologically enabled intrusions into private lives, to thwart their semi-pseudo-scientifically engineered manipulations of the attitudes of private citizens, to obstruct their endless proliferation of WMD, to work to slow climate change and the current great extinction event, etc.

Stay safe, everyone! And read everything our masters don't want us to read. Look at everything they don't want us to see. Think for yourself and act for The People.

Anonymous

October 05, 2018

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I use tor as vpn. You do not need public IP and can easily connect to your server behind 3 NATS. Onion services 3 made this use case much safer.

Anonymous

October 05, 2018

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I asked my medical provider to communicate with me using Onion Share, but they refused.

I now use a different provider!

Anonymous

October 06, 2018

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I live in Russia. There, in july '16, was accepted Yarovaya's law, an analogue to EU Mandatory Data Retention. So, I told myself: either I use GNU/Linux instead of Windows and Tor instead of Chrome, either I stop using internet. So, I'm texting this message using Tails 3.9, Tor Browser and Tor Network; thank you Tor & Tails developers and all people who were hosting, are hosting or will be hosting onion relays! Novadays you carrying out the important mission for us all.

Anonymous

October 07, 2018

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I can't be on the free internet in China with out TOR as my browser since 2007 already.
Downloading is a little bit slowly, but acceptable.
Like to get TOR on my mobile directly and not through The Guardian or so???
I will stick to you as my ONLY browser.

Anonymous

October 12, 2018

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Probably too late to mention it now, but for next time, I just wanted to suggest you also ask users how long they have been using Tor. I just think it's interesting and gives the stories some context.

Me, the first time I used Tor was probably 2007 or so, back in the TorButton days before TorBrowser was even an idea, nor were hidden services if I remember correctly. It was also very very slow back then which meant I only used it when I felt I needed to. I didn't start using Tor every day until around 2012. Now I use it for nearly all my browsing (except certain sites like banking and shopping). More and more I can feel the chilling effects of the clearweb, I can say without hesitation that my life would be much different if it hadn't been for Tor. It's awesome to see how far Tor has come in terms of performance, usability, and the community.

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