Dreaming at Dusk: the Tor Project’s NFT Auction & What’s Next
In mid-May, the Tor Project held a nonfungible token (NFT) auction of a generative art piece we called Dreaming at Dusk, created by artist Itzel Yard (ixshells) and derived from the private key of the first onion service, Dusk.
This action was held on Foundation and resulted in a final bid of 500 Ethereum (ETH), roughly $2M USD at the time of the auction, with the proceeds going towards the Tor Project and our work to improve and promote Tor.
Raising roughly $2M USD in one day breaks all records of individual giving we could possibly imagine, and we are extremely humbled and grateful for the success of this auction and what this means for the Tor Project nonprofit organization.
We deeply appreciate everyone who shared this effort and followed along, and want to share more about why we held this auction, the artist ixshells, and what happens next with the money raised.
Why auction an NFT?
If you have been following the Tor Project, you will know that 2020 was a difficult year for the organization (as for many nonprofits, small businesses, and people). We made the difficult decision to lay off one third of our staff in April 2020. Beyond the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and economic changes in 2020, Open Technology Fund—a long-time supporter and funder of the Tor Project and other efforts in our ecosystem—faced a political attack that froze its funds and halted one of our contracts.
Despite these challenges, we have made strong strides in regaining solid financial footing, much of which is a result of the 2020 year-end campaign (#UseAMaskUseTor) and your generous support during this time. We’ve also been able to re-hire several staff members and about a year on from that moment, we are in a better place.
Still, these disruptions made it very clear that our goal of diversifying our funding sources is critical, and that having a solid reserve of general operating funds would help us weather any future storms and keep the Tor Project a strong nonprofit for a long time. We are always looking for strategies to raise these kinds of funds.
Over the last several months, Tor community members have discussed the idea of auctioning an NFT as a fundraising campaign—could an effort like this help to raise general operating funds and keep Tor strong? After Freedom of the Press Foundation had such an epic success with their NFT auction with Edward Snowden for the piece called Stay Free, and after we saw that our specific audience responded positively to this auction, we decided to hold an auction of our own.
The NFT & the artist
We wanted to honor a piece of Tor history with this process, and with the deprecation of v2 onion services coming up rapidly, we decided to honor the very first .onion website known as Dusk, or duskgytldkxiuqc6.onion. We decided that the winner of our auction would receive two things: (1) the private cryptographic key used to create Dusk, and (2) a one-of-a-kind art piece generated using this key. We wanted this to be an opportunity to own a piece of history from the origins of the decentralized internet.
We decided to partner with ixshells, an artist from Panama to create this piece. Beyond creating a one-of-a-kind piece of art, she helped us to mobilize the NFT community and raise awareness about what we do for privacy online among many who had never heard of Tor.
NFTs and climate change
We wanted to be mindful of the impact of the blockchain on climate change. Part of our decision to move forward came after we looked into the efforts Ethereum has been putting forward to address their part in this—here is a blog post from them that just came out about moving ETH from PoW to PoS and what this means for ETH’s climate impact.
We also decided that instead of buying carbon offsets as part of this auction, we would put money in the hands of those who are on the frontlines fighting for our planet. We chose to donate to the Munduruku Wakoborũn Women's Association, a grassroots indigenous organization in Pará, Brazil.
At the time of the auction, we decided to help them because illegal miners had attacked, burned, and destroyed their office. But more recently the home of their coordinator, Maria Leusa Kaba, was also burned and destroyed. If others would like to support their work, you can find more information here. The Munduruku Wakoborũn Women's Association is yet another example of the kinds of organizations and communities for whom we build our technology—people who need help to stay safe online in order to keep fighting for their rights. We invite others to help them as well.
Results of the auction
After roughly 24 hours of bidding, the NFT sold to the highest bidder, PleasrDAO, a decentralized autonomous organization that also purchased Stay Free by Edward Snowden, for 2,224 ETH, which equated to roughly $5.5 million at the time of sale.
As a result of this auction, ixshells became the highest selling female NFT artist on Foundation. She was an excellent partner in this process, and we hope you check out the rest of her awesome generative artwork.
Some news coverage:
- Tor’s Upcoming NFT Auction to Let Bidders Own Piece of History (BeInCrypto)
- Tor Project auctions off the first Onion URL ever created as an NFT (BleepingComputer)
- Tor Sells NFT of First .onion URL For $2 Million in ETH to PleasrDAO (Decrypt)
- Highest Selling Female NFT Artist Itzel Yard Nets 500 ETH for ‘Dreaming at Dusk’ (Yahoo! Finance)
The funds raised from this auction will help us to:
- Continue work with grassroots communities in the Global South with training on privacy and security online and give a percentage of the proceeds to one of these organizations.
- Improve the security of our network. Dusk might go, but v3 onion services are here to stay. These funds will help make onions more resilient against anonymity and DoS attacks.
- Work on Arti, a rewrite of Tor in Rust, which improves Tor's security, makes it more sustainable, easier to improve, and lighter-weight for mobile integration.
- Keep Tor strong for whistleblower solutions like SecureDrop and GlobaLeaks, used by sources to communicate about important stories with journalists without sacrificing their anonymity.
And of course, save a bit of it for our future.