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[liberationtech] Not another Haystack right?

Evgeny Morozov evgeny.morozov at gmail.com
Thu Dec 1 13:04:12 PST 2011


some good thoughts here, indeed. One thing I'd like to highlight is that
it's not just the perceptions of users that matter - it's also those of the
governments. It's the latter who are much more likely to engage in
conspiratorial thinking, not least because they have a lot to lose and
because they have been victims of some real US-led conspiracies in the
past. When Haystack was still alive, we did see some fascinating coverage
of it in the Iranian state media that denounced it as a tool of the US,
citing its advisory board and the fact that the Haystack team met with
people on the Hill as evidence. (Not that they need any evidence to
speculate that a conspiracy is in order).

The bigger question, then, is to what extent do these perceptions influence
the government's willingness to go after a particular tool and invest time,
money, energy in blocking/countering it? And how easier/harder might it
have been for Tor if was not aligned with USG or if it did not take all the
smart steps to ensure that its alignment is not political? Or assume that
Ultra Surf got money from USG and had no connections to the Falun Gong: how
would that shape the Chinese reaction, etc?

so that mysterious person who'll end writing a dissertation out of it has
her work cut out!

On Thu, Dec 1, 2011 at 12:02 PM, Jillian C. York <jilliancyork at gmail.com>wrote:

> I have no empirical answers of course, but +1 to the urging for research
> on this.  It is entirely plausible that this is indeed overblown and that I
> hang with conspiracy theorists (though I somehow doubt it).
>
> I think there's one more element here regarding Tor that might make a
> difference: Until very recently, Tor was still much more difficult to use
> than your average proxy or circumvention tool - I would hypothesize that
> its difficulty has set its users apart; that is to say, Tor users would be
> more aware, more savvy of this space.  They were/are probably more likely
> to read up on what the tool really does.
>
> Another thing, of course, is that the better tools don't pitch themselves
> as heavily as the less safe ones.  I've gotten PR emails from
> HotSpotShield, for example (and they use, or used at the time, a
> hipster-ish PR firm, too).  When you've got a slick PR campaign, you're
> going to attract people who don't know much about the tool aside from "it
> lets me access YouTube."  A Tor user, on the other hand, would have some
> sense of their own risk model, one would think.
>
> Again, these are just thoughts that a person taking on such research might
> consider :)
>
>
>
>
> On Thu, Dec 1, 2011 at 11:37 AM, Luke Allnutt <AllnuttL at rferl.org> wrote:
>
>>
>> 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
>> thing.
>>
>> 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,
>>
>> Luke
>> RFE/RL
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>  *Nathan of Guardian <nathan at guardianproject.info>*
>> Sent by: liberationtech-bounces at lists.stanford.edu
>>
>> 12/01/2011 08:26 PM
>>   To
>> liberationtech at lists.stanford.edu
>> cc
>>   Subject
>> 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.
>>
>> +n
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>
>
>
> --
> jilliancyork.com | @jilliancyork | tel: +1-857-891-4244 | google voice:
> +1-415-562-JILL
>
>
>
>
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