The onion router: Understanding a privacy enhancing technology community

Hsiao Ying Huang, Masooda Bashir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Internet technologies have made mass surveillance prevalent and much easier to carry out, while at the same time making personal privacy more difficult to protect. The ubiquity of personal data processing has raised public awareness about the infringement of information privacy. To protect users' information privacy, several initiatives have been developed to provide Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs). One of the most well-known PETs is the Onion Router (Tor) network, which provides users with online anonymity. The Tor network is supported by a group of volunteers who contribute their resources to sustain the availability and quality of the service. However, Tor Volunteers may find themselves in a tough spot at times because Tor network is often monitored by law enforcement, which makes this PET community different from any other open-source initiatives. To explore this volunteer community's motivation for providing their services despite the risks, we conducted an online survey. Our study results reveal that one of the main motivations for these volunteers is to advocate and provide privacy for online users. In addition, Tor-relay operators report on their views about anonymous networks, the challenges they face, and how their belief in providing an opportunity for everyone to access information without interference or censorship is a key component of their volunteer participation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Tor
  • anonymous networks
  • information freedom
  • information privacy
  • online community

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • Library and Information Sciences


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