Tor in the News, 2021
For the past few years, we’ve shared a post in early February summarizing the news and coverage related to Tor that was published during the previous year. This year, we’re a bit late, and we apologize, but there’s a good reason— we have been busy making sure censored people have access to Tor and teaching others how to help censored users by installing the Snowflake web extension.
What’s new with the Tor Project
In 2021, we announced three new Tor Board Members: Alissa Cooper, Desigan Chinniah, and Kendra Albert. We shared our plans to build a ‘VPN like’ service to help mobile users connect their apps through Tor, starting with Android, at our 2021 State of the Onion. And at the end of the year, we presented at CCC, where we shared about the Network Health team’s work to make our network safer. We also spoke about the importance of Snowflake in the ‘arms race’ against censorship and the new censorship user experience features we will launch this year.
New onion services features
Onion services are becoming more and more popular as an easy way for sites and services to provide privacy and censorship circumvention features to their users. Last year, The Intercept launched their own .onion site and OnionShare came out with a super friendly new look and new features, like the .onion Chat service. We also finally completed the depreciation of v2 onion services, which means that Tor Browser no longer supports these addresses and users who try to open them are served an “Invalid Onion Site Address” error message. Onion service admins are also finally able to purchase affordable DV certificates for v3 onion sites!
Tor + cryptocurrency
We wrapped up 2020 with a 23% increase on cryptocurrency donations, continuing the growing trend of support by cryptocurrency donors. And then 2021 turned out to be an even bigger year for Tor and the cryptocurrency community. We received a grant from Zcash Open Major Grants (ZOMG) to develop Arti, a Rust coding language implementation of the Tor Client. We minted and auctioned an NFT—a generative art piece based on the very first onion service key called “Dreaming at Dusk”—in partnership with the amazing artist Itzel Yard (aka IX Shells), who became the highest-selling female NFT artist as a result. PleasrDAO won the auction and purchased the piece for USD $2,000,000.
The Tor Project’s advocacy work
The Tor Project builds software, but we are also part of an internet freedom community. That means we join forces with this community whenever we can to help advocate for issues that align with our mission. In 2021, we spoke about how changes in Section 230 would negatively affect Tor and other services. We joined over 30 organizations to demand top US retailers cease using facial recognition to identify shoppers and employees in their stores. And we signed a letter asking Apple to drop plans to implement device-scanning iMessages for abuse images. "Once this backdoor feature is built in, governments could compel Apple to extend notification to other accounts, and to detect images that are objectionable for reasons other than being sexually explicit," the letter says.
The censorship arms race
2021 demonstrated the idea of the fight against censorship as an “arms race,” with advancements on Tor’s side—and the side of censors. In March, we saw censorship and crackdowns against Myanmar citizens intensify, and when the military forces seized power through a coup, many turned to Tor to protect themselves and bypass the censorship. In July, we released Tor Browser 10.5, which included the ability for users to connect to the Tor network via Snowflake bridges, a very sophisticated way to bypass censorship against Tor. This release also improved censored users' seamless access to the open internet by simplifying the connection flow, detecting censorship, and providing bridges. At the end of the year, we learned that the Russian government was blocking our website (torproject.org) and censoring access to our network in some regions of the country.
Plus, shout out to all the articles out there explaining Tor
We are always happy when news outlets publish articles explaining how Tor works to their readers, like What Is Obfsproxy and What Is It Used For? or a basic Tor Browser FAQ: What is it and how does it protect your privacy? These types of articles are extremely important as they teach people about Tor and how it can help them in moments when they need to circumvent censorship or protect their privacy online. Most of the authors of these articles probably never imagined what would come in 2022 and how Tor would become a lifeline to the free internet for people impacted by the conflicts in Ukraine. Thank you to the journalists and writers who take the time to help educate people about Tor.