Highlights from our Southeast Asia Regional AMA with Tor Project

Onion Browser loading page which helps “demystify” Tor

Onion Browser loading page which helps “demystify” Tor

To support the Tor Project’s Global South Initiative, Localization Lab helped coordinate an Ask Me Anything with developers and community members from all over Southeast Asia this month. Since 2016, Tor Project has been organizing meetups around the world, and this year they are making stops in SEA to gather feedback from users and lead workshops around Tor and how it can be used in the region. For our AMA, we were joined by users from around the region to discuss issues ranging from usability, localization, public perception and more.

Here are some highlights from the event:

What is the Global South Initiative (GSI) and how will Tor be supporting users in the region?

Tor Project: Since 2016, Tor Project has been putting a lot of effort into supporting and creating a more diverse community in Tor Project. That means organizing Tor Dev Meetings outside the US and Europe, more translations and localization work, Tor outreach in the Global South — with the big goal to make Tor usable everywhere, for everyone. This month, we're going to visit some countries in SEA: India and Indonesia. During these visits, we're organizing Tor workshops, user meetups and UX tests. We are documenting and discussing GSI activities here:

https://trac.torproject.org/projects/tor/wiki/org/teams/CommunityTeam/Projects/GlobalSouth & https://lists.torproject.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/global-south

What is the goal of the Tor workshops and what topics will you cover?

Tor Project: For many of us that use Tor everyday, we might think that the reasons why we should all use Tor are obvious. But for many users, especially human rights defenders, they don't know exactly the benefits are and why they should use Tor. So, the idea behind this workshop is to gather new users (journalists, human right defenders, activists, bloggers...) and explain why they should use Tor. We also want to learn what's holding their back to use Tor in their daily activities. We don't ask names, ID, passport number or any kind of personal information. Last year, we organized this workshop in many different countries: Brasil, Colombia, Mexico, Kenya, Uganda and soon in India.

Are there plans to increase the number of relays in SEA and South Asia? What kinds of barriers are there to getting users to set up relays if you know of any?

Tor Project: More relays are not necessarily needed inside SEA, they could be anywhere. There have also been some changes on the Tor protocol that make flaky connections not so easy to break. However, we have only 7000 relays on the network so we do want to have more. Last year, Mike Perry and Chelsea Kolmo wrote this nice article about Network Performance and the research that they're doing: https://blog.torproject.org/tors-open-research-topics-2018-edition. For example, from a network perspective, the servers "don't know" if they are overloaded, so when you try to connect in a overloaded circuit, your connection becomes very slow or times out. So, you need to manually change the circuit. This is a thing that we want to improve.

What is the process for releasing a new Tor Browser locale once all of the translation has been finished? What are some translation priorities?
Tor Project: Tor is based on Firefox, so for a new language to be added to the browser, we need to have Firefox translated to the same language. Then, we need to translate the different extensions that make Tor Browser on top of Firefox. Finally, Tor Project would like to have the documentation translated (although this hasn't stopped languages to be released) because if you start using our software because it is on your language, you are not likely to be able to read the documentation in English, so it makes sense to have the docs translated too. The sysadmins and developers of Tor are also working on ways to make a new language easier to add.

What are some obstacles that prevent users from accessing Tor in SEA?

Connectivity Issues

Users in Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and India reported that their community members felt slow connection while using Tor was a major obstacle to adoption. In low band-width areas where Internet speeds are already affected by the existing infrastructure, adding any additional impediment to speed will likely decrease the likelihood that people will use the tool.

Cambodia: “it usually takes too much bandwidth to load websites via Tor and it is not very user friendly so people who are not very keen to learn new stuff, they are likely to use a normal browser.”

Thailand: “Speed issues are quite a concern here that drives people to carelessly use the fastest browser as possible.”

India: “One problem I saw in general is the actual network speed available in the area. If that is already slow (still in most places in India), one may feel Tor is slow.”

Public Perception

India: “People often have a negative view of Tor because of the news articles. Some people think using Tor is illegal and against the law. There are more articles which tag Tor as "Deep Web" and even some vloggers do the same. And this creates negativity around it.”

Cambodia: “Normally people say TOR is for hackers and digital security savages. And when they say it is for hackers, it means they can have problems using this browser.”

How can Tor Project help demystify Tor for users in SEA?

SEA users: Tor Project can customize outreach materials with designs, animations and analogies that are localized and make sense for each region. The Onion Browser loading page is a good example of use cases that can help explain how Tor can be used by communities like journalists, human rights defenders and everyday users.

When is the next GSI online event taking place?

Tor Project: March 1 - https://lists.torproject.org/pipermail/global-south/2019-February/000222.html you can connect to us in #tor-south in irc.oftc.net, it's open! So bring your updates and let's make more plans. Next week we're going to India and then travel to Indonesia. If you live in these countries, let's meet in 'real life'!