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Monday, February 20, 2017

Tor Metrics Data Shows Massive Spike of Tor Use from the United Arab Emirates

Not long ago, an entire country banned Tor. And the ban, unlike previous bans, became a permanent ban. The country that banned Tor also, coincidentally, condoned and used statewide censorship for years on end: Turkey. Turkey is not the only country where citizens fear the state sponsored compromisation of privacy. According to the Tor Project’s “Tor Metrics,” The United Arab Emirates just took the crown from Russia for the quickest Tor adoption within only “several days.”

Tor users in the United Arab Emirates grew at a somewhat surprising rate. Per the metrics provided by the Tor Project’s analytics website, The number of directly connecting relay users increased from 150,000 to more than 300,000 between January 1, 2017, and February 11, 2017. Russia, previously topped the charts on this metric—a country known undeniably for Internet censorship and a need for Tor.

Turkey, of course, holds the crown for countries with the most uses based on what the organization calls “potential censorship events.’’ A special algorithm detects countries where such every might have transpired. Developers primarily developed the program as “an ‘early warning’ system that looks for anomalies in the volumes of connections from users in different jurisdictions and flags potential censorship events.”Turkey, of course, became much more than a “potential” censorship event, as we reported in Iate 2016.

The Turkish government issued a 12-hour ban on Tor, VPNs, and social media or networks. After 12 hours passed, VPNs and social networks started functioning normally. Turkey Blocks first confirmed that an issue existed. According to the organization, users started reporting unusually slow connectivity to social networks, if they had access at all. Alp Toker, founder of the censorship reporting group, found the move a little extreme, even for Turkey. “Everything we have seen suggests the Tor/VPN block is here to stay, not a measure that gets switched on or off at request… So that is a pretty serious escalation,” He said. 

As of the writing of this article, Tor Metrics has not flagged the spike (or country) as one with a potential censorship event. However, the anomaly based prediction algorithms explanation document notes that “the data collection has been historically patchy, introducing wild variations over time that are not due to censorship. The detector is based on a simple model of the number of users per day per jurisdiction.”This spike in relay users from the United Arab Emirates proves very little by itself. More data, in order for researchers to make a definitive claim, is needed. Christopher Franko, CEO of Borderless Corp., explained through Cointelegraph that “the rise in the number of Tor users is directly related to the unique combination of the limitless one-way access to private data and censorship-prone to oppressive regimes because people naturally want freedom.” His statement represented much of the reason Tor, along with other censorship bypassing services like Signal, provide the services they do.
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