The potential harms of the Tor anonymity network cluster disproportionately in free countries

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National Academy of Sciences


The Tor anonymity network allows users to protect their privacy and circumvent censorship restrictions but also shields those distributing child abuse content, selling or buying illicit drugs, or sharing malware online. Using data collected from Tor entry nodes, we provide an estimation of the proportion of Tor network users that likely employ the network in putatively good or bad ways. Overall, on an average country/day, ∼6.7% of Tor network users connect to Onion/Hidden Services that are disproportionately used for illicit purposes. We also show that the likely balance of beneficial and malicious use of Tor is unevenly spread globally and systematically varies based upon a country’s political conditions. In particular, using Freedom House’s coding and terminological classifications, the proportion of often illicit Onion/Hidden Services use is more prevalent (∼7.8%) in “free” countries than in either “partially free” (∼6.7%) or “not free” regimes (∼4.8%).



Dark Web, political freedom, political rights, cryptomarkets, child abuse