Brussels / 2 & 3 February 2019


UX at Tor

an Open Approach

How do you create privacy tools that work for people all over the world, who are fighting many different struggles for liberation? We will talk about how we empower users with open design and community help at the tor project. We'll share our process during the development of Tor Browser 8 and explain why the way we work defines the product we release.

To make useful software, especially software that aims to keep people safe, it is essential to understand users’ contexts and goals. As part of our global south initiative, members of the Tor user experience and community teams traveled through India, Uganda, Colombia, and Kenya to run usability testing. We ran in-person testing of several user experience (UX) improvements in Tor Browser 8.0 with users of different technical backgrounds. We conducted more than 45 interviews that gave us an understanding of the diverse mental models and technical levels of knowledge of our users. We met people like Juana, a coffee farmer in Colombia who is part of a self-managed group of women coffee growers. The group uses Tor to communicate securely with one another. We met Jon, an environment activist and journalist in Hoima, Uganda who uses Tor to anonymously publish his blog. We learned about several threat models of the people we spoke to in Uganda. Concern about local police retaining hardware devices, and the practice of the political party currently in power seizing journalists notes and other records were common in most of those communities.

In addition, this work allowed us to speak with people using our software in extreme conditions, such as poor telecommunications infrastructure, very expensive data packages or very old hardware. This helped us to understand their context, empathize, and consider solutions that work for them. We believe that Tor Browser must be usable by people without a technical background, as well as by advanced users. We want to empower our users through education so that they can have control of their browsing.

We use an open design process where developers and designers work together to achieve the best solution. We use knowledge gained from our research to help us to create the most usable flow for users.

We will talk about the iterations and improvements we released in Tor Browser 8: the security indicators for .onion sites, the circuit display and the onboarding for new users.


Antonela Debiasi