In a move that if properly implemented is likely to give the NSA a seizure, Tor executive director Andrew Lewman has strongly hinted to the Daily Dot that anonymity network Tor is in talks with Mozilla over adding a Tor ‘private browsing mode’ to its popular (and our personal favorite) open source web browser, FireFox.
Discussing Tor’s plans to increase its user base to a ‘global population’, Lewman said that it was in talks with several major tech firms, which would allow it to potentially reach over 500 million users. Although naming no names, Lewman talked about one company in particular, who want to include Tor in its mainstream browser,
‘They very much like Tor Browser and would like to ship it to their customer base. Their product is 10-20 percent of the global market, this is of roughly 2.8 billion global Internet users.’
According to Wikipedia, Firefox ‘has between 12% and 22% of worldwide usage.’ Crunching the figures, the Daily Dot notes this means between 280 million to 560 million people, and while only a fraction of these would make use of a ‘private browsing mode’ feature, that still adds up to a lot of new Tor users!
Mozilla and Tor have so far refused to comment on whether Firefox is the browser under discussion, although a Tor spokesperson did contact the Daily Dot to speak of their ‘long standing relationship’,
‘Mozilla and the Tor Project share many of the same values and goals, such as building user trust in the Web and giving users more capabilities to navigate the Web on their own terms. We have a long-standing relationship with the Tor Project and regularly discuss ways we might collaborate to strengthen the open Web and deliver a better browsing experience for Firefox users, but have no specific projects to share at this time.’
The Daily Dot has also updated its article to note that,
‘A pair of tweets posted earlier this year by Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich confirms that his organization has been in talks with the Tor Project over potential Firefox integration.’
Although this is exciting news (if true), and will hopefully give the NSA a headache just thinking about it, the challenges such a project will face are considerable. As it is, one of the biggest weaknesses of Tor is that users do understand how to use it properly, or what the risks and limitations of Tor are.
By expanding its user base so dramatically, especially to ‘casual’ users with little technical expertise, there is a very real danger of users gaining a false sense of security which could put them at considerable risk. Numerous technical issues relating to ensuring users privacy and anonymity also remain.
Nevertheless, if a secure and ‘idiot proof’ ‘tor button’ can added to Firefox, it will represent a strong victory for ordinary internet users, giving them a powerful tool for protecting their privacy and taking control of the internet away from governments. We therefore hope the rumor is true, and that Tor and Firefox can pull it off…