Half of the Tor Project's funding now comes from the private sector

Tor Project reports $4.2 million income in 2017, of which only 51 percent came from government funds.
Written by Catalin Cimpanu, Contributor

About 49 percent of the Tor Project's funding came from the private sector, according to financial figures released today by the organization.

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This is great news for the US-based nonprofit, which for more than a decade has been financed primarily through US government funds, and many detractors have used this detail to question the security of the Tor software and network.

"In terms of percentages, while 2015 saw 85% of our funding coming from US government sources, 2016 saw the fraction drop to 76%, and in 2017 we're down to 51%," said Roger Dingledine, co-founder of the Tor Project and original developer of the Tor anonymity software.

Taking a closer look at the organization's Form 990 IRS filing, we see that the biggest source of government funds weren't donations from government agencies, but rather research grants from other government-backed organizations.

"I should take a brief moment to explain how funding proposals work, for those who worry that governments come to us wanting to pay us to do something bad," Dingledine said today about the Tor Project's government funding. "There is never any point where somebody comes to us and says 'I'll pay you $X to do Y'."

"The way it works is that we try to find groups with funding for the general area that we want to work on, and then we go to them with a specific plan for what we'd like to do and how much it will cost, and if we're lucky they say ok," Dingledine added.

This is how the Tor Project secured funding in 2017 from the US and Swedish governments. It secured $798,029 worth of funding from the US government-backed Radio Free Asia, $635,504 from the similarly US government-backed SRI International, $548,151 from the US National Science Foundation, but also $594,408 from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

The US Department of State, which paid for Tor's initial development and has sustained the project through its first years by covering most of its costs, has cut down its involvement in the Tor Project to a minimal level for the past three years, donating only $133,061 in 2017, $218,796 in 2016, and $199,071 in 2015.

But as the US Department of State has been slowly withdrawing from funding Tor, other entities have stepped in, and the private sector has been the one who stepped up the most.

Last year, the Tor Project raised a record-high $425,709 from its users, which is more than twice the funds it raised from users in 2016.

This year, in 2018, that number is nowhere near the 2017 numbers, being roughly around $95,000, but users still have a chance to donate until the end of the year, with Mozilla pledging to match every of their donations.

Mozilla, overall, has stepped up big-time for the Tor Project in recent years, boosting its contributions from $24,500 in 2016 to a whopping $522,188, last year, and looks set to be one of the top contributors in 2018, as well.

Besides Mozilla, DuckDuckGo also contributed $25,000 to the Tor Project, which also received donations in the form of in-kind services worth $806,372. These latter donations included free cloud computing services donated by various organizations, free hosting services, and all the volunteering work in the form of free coding, translation, and legal services.

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Overall, the Tor Project's total revenue has continued its growth, and in 2017 the organization reported a total figure of $4.2 million, an all-time high. The number is up from $3.2 million in 2016, $3.3 million in 2015, and $2.5 million in 2014.

But despite reporting its highest year of income to date, the Tor Project is still scraping by, mainly because its costs have also gone up as well. However, Tor Project has used its income better than most. This year, the organization released a major redesign of its desktop browser but also launched its first official Android browser version.

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"Tor's budget, even at the 2017 level, remains modest considering the number of people involved and the impact we have," Dingeldine said. "And it is dwarfed by the budgets that our adversaries are spending to make the world a more dangerous and less free place."

Users who'd like to donate to the project can do so here.

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