This week marks a significant milestone in the history of decentralize.today as we expand into the onion! Yes, we are officially 'unofficial' and alive & kicking on the internet's largest privacy network, courtesy of TOR and the .onion. So, it seemed highly appropriate to rerun a recent article in our In Case You Missed It series by a regular DT contributor, Dadon, from just 4 months ago explaining the 'sunny uplands' of this mythical and legendary place...come find us here!
You have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide. This is the message we hear repeatedly drummed across Social and mainstream media platforms, News anchors, celebrities, academics, politicians all parroting the same script in one form or another, leading you to believe that it's weird to want privacy, strange..and even suspicious!
" why do you need privacy..what are you up to..what are you trying to hide?"
That! is the general attitude of most people in today's world of safe space and free Wifi. To tout the line and regurgitate the status quo without a scratch of foresight into how such careless attitudes could be detrimental even "dangerous" with the right (Or wrong?) circumstances or "In the wrong hands" you might say could lead to a violent outcome, not unlike other Violent outcomes we have seen repeatedly demonstrated thru distant as well as recent history.
Where again have we heard something like this in the past? and that "something" being the demonization of personal privacy as something only desired by the Dregs of society.. the crooks and perverts. "Regular" people don't need privacy so we are told, but if you do seek it out for whatever reason that might be, then prepare to be labeled a "Bad person".
It is not surprising we are witnessing this repeating pattern, History is full of repetitions and those who fail to recognize this are doomed to repeat them. Thankfully, with the increasing proliferation of "Out of the Box" privacy tools we are beginning to see a shift in attitude.
VPNs or Virtual private networks are one such out of the box tool that has soared in popularity, in the wake of revelations of mass surveillance and Alphabet agency overstep by whistle blowers and personal privacy activists such as Assange or Edward Snowden who thru the release of documents in 2013 revealed to the public a mass surveillance operation now known as Five Eyes , a intelligence-sharing agreement between nations, whose members include the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, only confirming what many of us have suspected for a long time "Big Brother" is indeed watching.
Events like these and others in turn helped shift the public's view of privacy enhancing tools from outright negative to more favorable.
So what About TOR?
Just the mere uttering of the acronym is enough to get you filthy looks from bystanders.
developed in the mid-1990s by employees of the United States Naval Research Laboratory with further developments by DARPA. "Tor" or the onion router was released Opens source and under free license in 2004 and was quickly embraced by privacy advocacy groups and cypherpunks such as the EFF ( Electronic Frontier Foundation) and others for further development.
Unable to shake it's origin as a tool developed to protect the communications of US intelligence. It has, and still is causing divides among privacy advocate groups, with some calling into question the "Real" purpose of it's existence.
But Tor and the issues that swirl around it from both ends of the spectrum seem to be more symptomatic then systematic. At it's core Tor is nothing more then a network of volunteer-operated servers known as "Nodes" that allow browsing anonymity by encrypting and bouncing the redirected traffic off one another before it reaches it's intended destination, effectively obscuring the activities source, so in a way not much different to a VPN and like VPN not a perfect solution but a lot more trustless and hell of a lot more decentralized.
So what is the Tor Enigma?
In 2014, Eva Galperin Of the EFF told BusinessWeek magazine that "Tor's biggest problem is press. No one hears about that time someone wasn't stalked by their abuser. They hear how somebody got away with downloading child abuse material."
The following year In December of 2015, The Tor Project announced Shari Steele as its new executive director. Steele had previously led the Electronic Frontier Foundation for 15 years, and in 2004 spearheaded EFF's decision to fund Tor's early development. One of her key stated aims was to make Tor more user-friendly in order to bring wider access to anonymous web browsing, evidently even in 2015 it was apparent to those involved that "Out of the box" privacy solutions like we are seeing now were going to be necessary for widespread adoption.
So why is it that Tor continues to lag in this regard? failing to gain the widespread usage that other VPN based services have achieved despite similar if not at least in some cases better usability and superior privacy? Could it really all be down to as Eva Galperin put it "Press problems". could it be the stigma attached with headlines of terrorism and criminal activity? or is just the just the uncertainty of it's genesis that keeps people at a distance.
No matter what side of the fence your on when it comes to TOR and it's origins or privacy and it's importance. it is clear they are powerful tools, and the fact that some wish to remove our rights to engage them is proof of this. But the question still remains.
Why the Tor enigma?
In tomorrow's entry to the Privacy Cookbook, the Privacy Advocate will lead you through the mechanics of TOR and the Onion...until then!