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The report points to the need for greater efforts to educate people living in oppressive regimes about the availability and function of these tools, says Steven Murdoch, a researcher in the security group at the University of Cambridge and a member of the Tor Project. “How many of these tools are available in Persian, for example?” Murdoch notes. (Tor itself was only recently translated into Persian.)

But Evgeny Morozov, a visiting scholar in the program on liberation technology at Stanford University, points out that such tools are not likely to get much wider use, even with more exposure. Even in places like Iran and China, he says, people can access most of the entertainment they want online without resorting to sophisticated tools. “Nothing is irreplaceable online,” Morozov says, pointing to the success of the Chinese YouTube alternative Youku. Those using censorship-circumvention tools are probably people engaged in subversive behavior, he says, and are by definition a small percentage of the population.

Zuckerman acknowledges that many people may simply not be interested in censorship circumvention. He says, “We have always hoped that the people who use circumvention tools act as gateways to suppressed information for other users, but we’re also wrestling with the possibility that the group of people who want to participate in these political conversations may be smaller than we’ve generally hoped.”

He hopes that future tests will help to resolve the question. For example, Facebook is booming in Vietnam despite being blocked there–users are circumventing the block to access the site anyway. A domestic competitor to Facebook was recently launched. The success or failure of this competitor, Zuckerman says, should help illustrate whether users prefer local content enough that they’re less inclined to flout regulations when it’s available.

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Tagged: Web, security, censorship, politics, censorship circumvention

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