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[liberationtech] Not another Haystack right?

Luke Allnutt AllnuttL at
Thu Dec 1 11:37:47 PST 2011

I would add a couple of questions to this debate: 

1) Is there any substantial evidence, beyond ancedotal, that users won't 
trust a service if it's USG funded? I'm sure many people would indeed be 
wary, but don't know how much field research there is on this type of 

2) Before asking the "do they care" question, I think you need to answer 
the "do they even know" question. Of course, in libtech world, who funds 
who is crucial, and ideological, and political, but does the average user 
know, say, about who funds Tor? I understand they could easily find out if 
they wanted to, but I'm skeptical if many would be interested, providing 
the tool worked for them.

Fascinating discussion.

Best Wishes,


Nathan of Guardian <nathan at> 
Sent by: liberationtech-bounces at
12/01/2011 08:26 PM

liberationtech at

Re: [liberationtech] Not another Haystack right?

On 12/01/2011 01:40 PM, Brian Conley wrote:
> so its especially interesting to me to see how Tor evades such
> conspiracy talk

I agree this should be a dissertation, but here are some throughts from
a product design perspective. I think that if a tool has demonstrable
value, people, as user or consumers of a tool, and are able to deal with
the cognitive dissonance that might be caused by paranoia or actual
information that, on its own would be troubling, but in context of the
task at hand, is secondary.

As an example, seemingly no matter what Facebook does, you cannot get
people to quit it, and by people I mean activists, human rights
organizations, etc. The value or pleasure it provides is greater than
the perceived risk of being exposed to its subtle brand of evil. Same
goes with all the hardcore activists I know who use iPhones without
second thought about the closed OS, app censorship, manufacturing
practices, premium cost, etc. They just want a phone that works, that
can take good pictures, stream video and doesn't add more hassle to
their already hassled lives.

If you live somewhere where you cannot get to Facebook or Twitter, and
you really have a need to do that, and Tor works for you, I think
however you feel about Tor being funded by the USG in part, it matters
less than your need to update your status and connect with your global
community. Maybe somewhere down the road, you might take up building
your own version of Tor, but right now, when the rubber hits the road,
you have to use what works.

This also works against Tor in many cases, where people might understand
it is the best option, but will use a less safe VPN or single-hop proxy,
because they want something 'faster' or need to stream a YouTube video
in Flash. In that case, they are following the wrong instincts, but it
is the same mechanic at play.

To bring the discussion back to the top, the problem with Haystack was
not USG funding. The problem was that it didn't work the way it claimed
to, and had no process in place to transparently assure its users that
it could solve problems as they arose. Haystack went from 0 to 60, in
months, trying to solve a problem that takes years of hard work to even
understand. Tor should get credit for playing the long game and showing
up every day, ready to work, even through their software does play Ray
Charles' version of "America the Beautiful" every time you boot it up.

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