The nonprofit behind the privacy-enhancing Tor browser has been forced to lay off some staff, citing the economic impact from COVID-19.
“Like many other nonprofits and small businesses, the crisis has hit us hard, and we have had to make some difficult decisions,” The Tor Project wrote in a blog post on Friday. “We had to let go of 13 great people who helped make Tor available to millions of people around the world.”
The Tor browser is perhaps best known for letting you visit sketchy websites on the Dark Web. But it’s also an important tool that can help you surf the internet anonymously. The browser can do this by ferrying your internet connection through a network of volunteer-operated servers, which can prevent ISPs and governments from tracking your web activities.
In some countries, Tor can also circumvent local government attempts to censor the internet, making it an important tool for activists, journalists and internet users to access the web, unfiltered.
For financing, the Tor Project partly relies on grants from US government groups such as the National Science Foundation, the US State Department and DARPA, which fund it for anti-censorship and privacy research. The group also pulls in donations from Mozilla, DuckDuckGo, and internet users. At the end of 2019, the Tor Project raised $833,956 from individuals, the most it’s ever raised before in a single year.
What exactly prompted the nonprofit to make the layoffs wasn’t clearly spelled out in today’s blog post. But the group still has a core team made up of 22 people, who remain dedicated to supporting the browser and the Tor ecosystem.
“In these times, being online is critical and many people face ongoing obstacles to getting and sharing needed information,” the nonprofit said in the blog post. “We are taking today’s difficult steps to ensure the Tor Project continues to exist and our technology stays available.”
It remains unclear how the cuts will affect future releases of the browser. We’ve reached out to the Tor Project for comment. In the meantime, the group’s blog post says: “We want to let all our users and supporters know that Tor will continue to provide privacy, security, and censorship circumvention services to anyone who needs them.”
You can visit the donation page for the Tor Project here.