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Seminar: Mental Models and User Experiences of the Tor Browser

Sameer Patil

Assistant Professor, Indiana University Bloomington

Tuesday, February 11, 2020
9:30am - 10:30am
655 McBryde Hall


With the exponential increase in government and corporate surveillance of online activities, there is an increasingly important need for usable tools that help individuals maintain privacy. While the Tor Browser is a popular anonymity tool, it has yet to achieve notable levels of mainstream usage by non-expert users. Making the Tor Browser appealing to the general population would require greater attention to usability and user experience aspects.

To this end, we carried out two studies to examine user understanding of Tor operation and user experience of browsing the Web using the Tor Browser, respectively. The first study found significant differences in the mental models of experts and non-experts regarding Tor operation and threat model. The second study uncovered a number of significant challenges users encounter when using the Tor Browser for everyday online activities. Based on these findings, we offer a number of suggestions for making the Tor Browser more usable, thus helping boost privacy and anonymity for everyone.


Sameer Patil is an Assistant Professor in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University Bloomington. He also holds an affiliate appointment as an Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering. Previously, he has held several appointments in academia and industry, including Vienna University of Economics and Business (Austria), Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (Finland), University of Siegen (Germany), and Yahoo Labs (USA).

Sameer's research interests cover the fields of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Computer Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW), and social computing, with a focus on privacy and security aspects. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Google. Sameer’s work has been published in top-tier conferences and journals, and he holds eight US patents related to mobile technologies. Sameer obtained a Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science from the University of California, Irvine and holds Master’s degrees in Computer Science & Engineering and Information from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.