Mozilla will match all donations to the Tor Project

Mozilla gives back to the Tor Project after it embedded multiple Tor Browser features into Firefox.

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Image: Tor Project

Mozilla will be matching all donations made to the Tor Project until the end of the year, the Tor Project announced today.

The announcement came as the Tor Project launched this week its scheduled end-of-year donations campaign through which the organization supplements its next year's budget.

This is the second year in a row that Mozilla has agreed to match Tor Project donations. Last year, the Tor Project raised $200,000 from user donations, and with Mozilla's contribution, that number went to $400,000.

With last year's funds, the Tor Project was able to fund a huge facelift of the Tor Browser for Desktop, but also release a dedicated Tor Browser for Android.

With funds that it will gather this year, the Tor Project promised today to:

  • Increase the capacity, modularization, and scalability of the Tor network, making improvements and integrations into other privacy and circumvention tools easier and more reliable;
  • Better test for, measure, and design solutions around internet censorship, allowing people around the world living under repressive governments to access the open web safely and privately; and
  • Strengthen our development of Tor Browser for Android, now in alpha, and make sure it's in tip top shape to reach the rising number of people around the world who only access the internet from a mobile device which may have low bandwidth and a costly connection.

Mozilla and Tor Project are tied at the hip

The Tor and Mozilla organizations are deeply interconnected. While most people already know that the Tor Browser is a privacy-hardened version of Mozilla's Firefox browser working on the Tor Project's Tor and Onion protocols, the connection goes both ways, and Firefox is also hugely dependent on the Tor Browser as well.

Since 2016, Mozilla developers have been siphoning privacy-hardening features developed originally for the Tor Browser and integrating them into Firefox, as part of an internal project named Tor Uplift.

For example, the Tracking Protection feature that Mozilla enabled for all users yesterday, with the release of Firefox 63, was actually initially based on a list of known user fingerprinting domains that the Tor Project was maintaining to block inside the Tor Browser. Mozilla integrated that list into Firefox 48, and later developed into the more complex Enhanced Tracking Protection feature that it launched yesterday.

But that was only the beginning. Another Tor Browser feature landed in Firefox 52, with the addition of a second anti-fingerprinting technique that prevented websites from identifying users based on their OS fonts.

This process later continued in Firefox 55 when Mozilla added a Tor Browser feature known as First-Party Isolation (FPI), which worked by separating cookies on a per-domain basis, preventing ad trackers from using cookies to track users across the Internet.

Another Tor Browser feature was also added in Firefox 58. Just like in Firefox 52, Mozilla engineers integrated another Tor Browser anti-fingerprinting technique, but this time one that prevented websites from tracking users via the HTML5 canvas element.

The connection between the two projects was more than visible again in Firefox 60, which included a feature developed at the request of the Tor Project, whose developers wanted a simple method to disable Firefox Sync in their browser, to prevent users from accidentally syncing Tor browsing data to Mozilla's servers.

It's for these reasons that Mozilla has matched Tor Project donations in 2017 and 2018, and will most likely continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

Upcoming Tor Uplift plans include Mozilla engineers adding support in Firefox for blocking sites from fingerprinting users via VP8 and VP9 codecs, via the AudioContext API, and support for preventing Firefox from loading user details (username, emails, real names) into the operating system RAM.

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