Supporting Online Privacy and Anonymity

Many in the Global North do not value their online privacy very highly. I'll often hear people say, “they already have all my data, what do I care if they collect another piece,” or, “I have nothing to hide”. There are plenty of articles written about why these statements are flawed and that people always have “something to hide”, but that's not what I'd like to talk about here. Instead, I would like to share some tools anyone can use to help support those around the world who rely on internet privacy and anonymity.

There are millions of people who face dangerous, real-life consequences for sharing their thoughts and ideas on the internet. This often includes marginalized communities and journalists in countries where information and news is actively suppressed. For some like myself, anonymous networks like tor are interesting on a technological and ideological level. But for many around the world, the tor network is the only way they can safely and anonymously access content and communicate on the internet.

The three things I'll be sharing are the Snowflake proxy by tor, the I2P router, and the Signal TLS proxy. Each tool gets progressively more technical in its implementation, however there are plenty of guides available to assist with setting them up and troubleshooting if there are issues. If the technical stuff is overwhelming, feel free to share this with a more technically proficient friend or family member. Every little bit helps.

Snowflake Proxy

The Snowflake proxy is an add-on available for Chrome and Firefox. It is developed by the tor project as a way to help people anonymously access censored content on the tor network in countries where that access is heavily restricted.

After installing the add-on, you will see a purple snowflake icon in the corner of your browser. You can click it and switch it on, and just like that, you'll be supporting the tor network and those who need it.

I2P Router

I2P stands for the Invisible Internet Project and is another anonymous internet network similar to tor. In order to access the network you have to install the I2P router. It's a program that is quite straightforward to install and allows you to view I2P websites, or eepsites, from your browser. Even if you have no interest in exploring content on I2P yourself, running a router improves the speed and overall efficacy of the network for those who need it. There is even a mobile app available on Google Play and F-Droid that allows you to run a router on your phone.

I personally run an I2P router on my desktop computer, and overnight on my phone. Similar to the Snowflake proxy, you can take a “set it and forget” approach and have your router running continuously.

Signal TLS Proxy

I've previously talked in detail about the messaging app Signal, but in general Signal is an encrypted private messaging application. In September of this year, in response to crackdowns by the Iranian government on access to the application, Signal shared a proxy tool people outside Iran can use to help those in the country access the application.

If you or someone you know has a rudimentary understanding of Docker, Signal has a very simple step-by-step guide for setting-up a Signal proxy. If you do run a Signal proxy, the Signal Organization has a number of tips for sharing it securely in this blog post.

Other Ways to Support Internet Freedom

These tools are just a few examples of ways you can support the fight for internet freedom around the world. In addition to these tools, you can also support the organizations and communities developing and maintaining these tools and networks through donations. They are often run by volunteers and not-for-profit organizations, so funding is a vital part of keeping these networks alive.

Internet freedom is something many of us take for granted. We can access, share, and consume content with little to no restrictions. But for millions of people around the world, that freedom is severely limited.

Every contribution we make to improving internet freedom goes a long way to helping millions of people across the world access this global network tying us all together.