From the Dark Web to the Future of Privacy
240 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: April 16, 2024
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A biography of Tor—a cultural and technological history of power, privacy, and global politics at the internet's core.
Tor, one of the most important and misunderstood technologies of the digital age, is best known as the infrastructure underpinning the so-called Dark Web. But the real “dark web,” when it comes to Tor, is the hidden history brought to light in this book: where this complex and contested infrastructure came from, why it exists, and how it connects with global power in intricate and intimate ways. In Tor: From the Dark Web to the Future of Privacy, Ben Collier has written, in essence, a biography of Tor—a cultural and technological history of power, privacy, politics, and empire in the deepest reaches of the internet.
The story of Tor begins in the 1990s with its creation by the US Navy's Naval Research Lab, from a convergence of different cultural worlds. Drawing on in-depth interviews with designers, developers, activists, and users, along with twenty years of mailing lists, design documents, reporting, and legal papers, Collier traces Tor's evolution from those early days to its current operation on the frontlines of global digital power—including the strange collaboration between US military scientists and a group of freewheeling hackers called the Cypherpunks. As Collier charts the rise and fall of three different cultures in Tor's diverse community—the engineers, the maintainers, and the activists, each with a distinct understanding of and vision for Tor—he reckons with Tor's complicated, changing relationship with contemporary US empire. Ultimately, the book reveals how different groups of users have repurposed Tor and built new technologies and worlds of their own around it, with profound implications for the future of the Internet.