Mental models and user experiences of the Tor browser

Thursday 30th June 2022

Abstract: With the exponential increase in government and corporate surveillance of online activities, there is an increasingly important need for usable tools that help individuals maintain privacy. While the Tor Browser is a popular anonymity tool, it has yet to achieve notable levels of mainstream usage. Making the Tor Browser appealing to the general population would require greater attention to usability and user experience aspects. To this end, we carried out two studies to examine user understanding of Tor operation and user experience of browsing the Web using the Tor Browser, respectively. The first study found significant differences in the mental models of experts and non-experts regarding Tor operation and threat model. The second study uncovered a number of significant challenges users encounter when using the Tor Browser for everyday online activities. Based on these findings, we offer a number of suggestions for making the Tor Browser more usable, thus helping boost privacy and anonymity for everyone. 


Bio: Sameer Patil is an Associate Professor in the School of Computing at the University of Utah. Previously, he has held several academic and industry appointments, including at Indiana University Bloomington, New York University, University of Siegen, Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (HIIT), Vienna University of Economics and Business, Yahoo Research, IBM Research, and Avaya Labs Research. Sameer’s research interests lie at the intersection of Human Computer Interaction with cybersecurity and privacy. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of Homeland Security, and Google. Sameer obtained a Ph.D. in Information and Computer Science from the Univeristy of California, Irvine and holds Master’s degrees in Computer Science and Engineering and in Information from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.