Why I’m not on Tor now.

Posted: January 26, 2013 in "Real" Monsters
Tags: , ,

Here’s a letter to Jacob Applebaum, Tor Router inventor and advocate. It never made it through.

Though I wrote it during late summer/early fall I didn’t think to post it.  Now that news of Skype has flown the coop,  there’s a succession of action to get corporations to start requiring warrants from prying government interests. An open letter is being circulated to try to incite a conscience from Microsoft at Skype to protect journalists, sources and reporting done at the video chat site.

As a default, a lot of journalists have been asked to adopt Tor, the onion router.  I installed this on my machine but it sucked a lot of RAM, gave my laptop a fever and I went through 2 batteries in a year.  Once I uninstalled it, the laptop fevers went away. I still don’t know if it could have been helped because I didn’t know how to operate the program.

There was nothing left to do but tell the creator of the program, hey, I need help with this.

Dear Jacob,

One time at CFP in San Jose,  I got David Huerta to do a brief interview with me about Haystack.  Haystack turned out to be not-that-great for privacy and counterintuitive.  EFF then of course turned to Tor and did a bunch of promotion along with Wikileaks and The Juice News to boost adoption of Tor.

I don’t know much about Tor but I did discuss it with Julian Sanchez this year.  I am usually a skeptical adopter when it’s a product of an IP partnership with government interests (Pentagon, Dept. of State).   He said it did use a Haystack obfuscation that actually functioned better.

That’s great, but I’m still not using Tor.  In fact, I uninstalled Tor because I really didn’t know how to use it and it wasn’t really working on my laptop.  The online tutorial I found was for PCs.  I could have poked around for one on Mac but I was still hedging because of typical issues in the engineering-to-user class translations.

Over a year later I learned that Tor probably required me to enable incoming browser connections.  The reason why you are [not] getting this e-mail today is because I spent over 2 hours trying to figure out why my e-mail  program never connnected with the servers.  Comcast pointed at Apple. Apple rectified the internal connection settings for my browser and THEN I had to cope with a hypervigilant Firewall.  You should know between 3 States and 4 years on the same laptop I have never had one e-mail delivered on my mail program before yesterday.  I was a closed society and didn’t realize it.

Operator error, but I’m someone hypervigilant (probably paranoid) when it comes to privacy settings. So I followed all these arcane little tips to shut out hacks.  I’m still probably outgunned, but I don’t want to make it easy for hackers.

Perhaps we both know engineer developement snobbery never actually gets the user anything other than insult for attempts to operate new tech.   That’s kind of the corner where Chris Soghoian is[was] having his tantrum over Cryptocat.  The trouble with this way of thinking is IRL we would never insult someone for not knowing how to wire the guts of say, a toaster, but yet a software development engineer is always tempted shunt the user for not operating their program.

A toaster is simple to use.  You probably learned from watching a family member. Software is not so intuitive oftentimes.

I think one may have more or less become a developer by immersion in the activism process or vice versa by addressing necessities and solutions.  I think it may still be necessary to dial it back and approach activists a bit differently.  You may know Debra Sweet from World Can’t Wait.  If someone can’t show Debra how to use or operate Tor – she’s not going to pass it down to the rest of the hive.  Debra is an enthusiastic technology adopter, but World Cant Wait just discovered how to produce their own podcasts a couple of weeks ago. Technology has to be accessible or skeptical distrusting people (as activists frequently are) won’t adopt.

I wanted to adopt Cryptocat because someone took the time to make a decently produced video explaining how it was useful.  Then Quinn Norton, like a lot of journalists, liked that this was easy to understand and operate and raved about it’s cool benefits.  That happened was because Norton and every other journalist using Skype cannot protect any source who has history on the program c/o Microsoft’s user agreements.  I was thrilled for the same reasons because perhaps I would not get burned this time.

Then someone found a vulnerability.  Then it got academic and political.  {I don’t care about all that bullsh*t. If I can’t be confident of a technology, I won’t use it.}

CASE:  I uninstalled, as best I could manage, Skype when it grabbed my entire contact list internally like a Plaxo or LinkedIn without much permission settings AND becuase it was being groomed for sale to Microsoft.  My intuition said, “Time to get out.”

It’s great that journalists did fantastic work on Skype.  Hell, Julian Assange used skype to bring his truth forward from the UK before absconding to the Ecuadorian Embassy – but now Microsoft can sell his communication to the Pentagon as a COURTESY.

I’m not going to impress you with my lowbrow IT savvy, ever.  My point is that software is created so people who are not engineers can use it.  If Tor can get repoed by the State Dept. or it’s information stores can get articulated and sold off and if I am yelling ” WHY DO I NEED TO KNOW ENCRYPTION TO DO MY REPORTING” in 3 months – there’s a real breakdown in useability!!

Would you like to help someone like me understand Tor better to adopt your software?  At the moment, I can’t.  It’s not personal.  I’m just a dumb user.

Sheila M. Dean

This isn’t an open letter to Tor.  It is a compliment to the Open Letter to Skype, because privacy conventions are getting better but it’s still a landmine for many ignorant users.  We’ll need some tools.


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