The Internet is an increasingly contested space, particularly in countries with repressive governments. Infringements on Internet freedom, particularly through Internet filtering and surveillance, have inspired activists and technologists to develop technological counter-measures, most notably circumvention tools to defeat Internet filters and anonymity tools to help protect user privacy and avoid online surveillance efforts. The widely heralded role of online activism in the Arab spring and the increasing incidence of Internet filtering around the world have spurred greater interest in supporting the development and dissemination of these tools as a means to foster greater freedom of expression online and strengthen the hand of activists demanding political reform. However, despite the perceived importance of this field, relatively little is known about the demand for and usage patterns of these tools.
In December 2010, we surveyed a sample of international bloggers to better understand how, where, why, and by whom these tools are being used.
From previous research, we know that circumvention tools are effective in evading national Internet filtering, though they can be slow, insecure and difficult to use. We also know that worldwide circumvention tool usage is limited. In our recent report on circumvention tool usage, we found that at most (and likely far fewer than) 3% of Internet users in countries that engage in substantial filtering use circumvention tools once a month or more. Through this survey, we aim to better understand usage of these tools by a specific community of politically- and internationally-oriented bloggers.