Tor is for everyone

Op-ed by Lunar, member of La Quadrature du Net

Some months ago, Nos Oignons was contacted by a journalist who wanted to “explain to our audience how we go into the deep web (through Tor) and why they might be interested in going there, without talking about “dark” sites like ones selling weapons”. But after some exchanges, the topic seems hard to sell to the editors: “At this stage, we frankly don’t have enough arguments, to the point that I doubt the article will even be published”. To the best of our knowledge, the article has indeed never been released.

In our view, this lack of “arguments” stems from a fundamental misunderstanding: using Tor or (.onion sites) is no different from using the web or Internet in general. If Internet is meant for everyone, so is Tor.

On the Internet, we read the press. But the experience is different from reading the press on paper. Someone grabing the latest edition of a daily newspaper in a coffee shop does not inform the publishers that their audience went up. They don’t tell them that they are in a coffee shop, or the name of the place, or which pages they read, or how long they spent on each article…

But if the same person goes on the website of the same newspaper, the publishers will at the very least learn which Internet connection has been used, which pages have been read and for how long. And this information will not only be available to the newspaper: their ad broker will learn as much, as will Google which provides the character fonts, Facebook with the “Like” button, Twitter with theirs, and these are just the most common examples.

So let’s be clear: on paper or online, no one reading a newspaper expects it to be reading them back.

Replacing Firefox or Chrome by Tor Browser makes collecting data against our will much harder. We regain an Internet better matching our expectations.

Viewing Tor only as a tool for anonymity or censorship circumvention marginalises its use and backs it into a corner. It should be the opposite: Tor gets the Internet a step closer to our most common intuitions on how it should work.

The time when Internet use was reserved for a select few with a computer science background is long gone. Most net users are not able to make an informed choice about what data and traces stored or shared by the various computers involved in their communications. Even those who develop applications are not able to measure how much data is leaked to the vendors of the software development kits they use! Using Tor Browser allows us to limit the amount of information we communicate to third parties without our explicit intent.

Controling what information we share when we communicate should not be the privilege of an elite. That’s why Tor is for everyone.

The non-profit organisation Nos Oignons humbly contributes to the Tor network by running relays in France. Today, we start a new fundraising campaign to gather 12,000€ needed for the next year. La Quadrature du Net, association that ensures using such tools stays legal in France and in Europe, relay this campaign. You can also support the Tor Project creating the software.

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