Tor Usage Has Dropped Nearly 50% in Three Months

Jan 14, 2014 at 8:50 AM ET

The dark net has become a lonely place.

In mid-September, there were nearly 6 million Tor users. But today—three months later—half the Tor population has vanished. See for yourself here:

For the uninitiated, Tor is a piece of software that allows its users to browse the Internet anonymously; it does so by encrypting its users IP addresses. Its name is an acronym for “The Onion Router”—a reference to the many secure layers it puts between a user and the content they’re accessing. Not surprisingly, Tor has become the network-of-choice for a number of niche groups that value privacy above all else—especially the creators of dark net sites like Silk Road, which the FBI shut down in early October. 

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Though Tor was created back in 2002, it experienced a surge in popularity in the summer of 2013.

Though there’s no conclusive agreement on what drove the August 2013 surge to Tor, plenty of analysts attribute the jump to the fear of government surveillance, no doubt prompted by the Edward Snowden NSA leaks.

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So what prompted the fall-off in its popularity? For all the privacy Tor offers, the reality remains that Tor is somewhat of a pain in the ass to use. First of all, it’s very slow, and because it hasn’t yet achieved mainstream adoption, there’s relatively few things you can accomplish on it. (You can’t go shopping on Amazon, or order food from Seamless, for instance.) Unfortunately, there’s no way to poll people as to why they’re leaving—that would defeat the purpose of the anonymity Tor offers in the first place.

The fact is, most people are just willing to sacrifice some privacy for convenience.