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Accepted Contribution:

What does it mean to be part of a network? From silent contributor to engaged activist: the volunteer relay operators behind the Tor Project  
Victoria Neumann (Lancaster University) Ana Custura (SR2 Communications Limited)

Short abstract:

The Tor Project is one of the most (in-)famous anonymization networks, providing privacy online. It is made up of 6,000+ volunteer-run nodes called “relays”. Who are those volunteers and what are their motivations? Our study mixed surveys and interviews to find out more about the people behind Tor.

Long abstract:

Tor (acronym for The Onion Router) is one of the most famous projects focusing on online privacy and anonymity.

Using the Tor Browser, one can access clear net websites without being tracked or traced or so-called "onion services (formerly hidden services)," which can only be accessed via the Tor network. Nowadays widely known for darknet marketplaces, it is also used by journalists, human rights and digital activists, spies, hackers, and ordinary people to circumvent state surveillance, internet blockades and to stay anonymous.

Originating from military research, the Tor Project is non-profit and open source after being taken over by hacktivists in the in the early 00s. Today the network has 6,000+ volunteer-run nodes called "relays." When the network began, relay operators were friends, colleagues, and collaborators of the original Tor developers. Over the years, grown beyond trusted/known collaborators to thousands of people and organizations, many of whom the Tor Project does not know. This has led both to a more diverse and hence resilient network, but it also made it easier for malicious actors to join.

Who are the volunteers behind the network and what motivates them? Very little research has been conducted so far focusing on Tor relay operators. We conducted two surveys and 20 interviews to find out more about demographics, privacy values, trust, network health and community.

Combined Format Open Panel P347
Hacker Cultures! The Podcast Panel Season 3!
  Session 1