Over four years ago, Onion Browser — one of the first Tor browsers for iOS, and certainly the first open source one — launched at the price of $0.99. As of today, Onion Browser is available free of charge; there’s now a Patreon page and other ways to support the project.
Given recent events, many believe it’s more important than ever to exercise and support freedom of speech, privacy rights, and digital security; I think now is as good a time as ever to make Onion Browser more accessible to everyone.
Although the Onion Browser source code has always been freely available and under an open source license, I initially set the purchase price as a way to recoup the $100 annual Apple Developer membership cost, never believing that it’d become quite as popular as it did.
I hope to eventually have a full conversation about the economic factors behind my work on Onion Browser and my reliance on the income I’d been receiving from sales of Onion Browser. For now, let me give you a short version: in the time since Onion Browser was first released, my partner and I (and our cats) moved from Spokane to New York so that I could join the investigative newsroom at ProPublica. The extra income has been reliable — and definitely relied on — as part of the change. Over the years that income has also given me the economic freedom to continue working on side projects that have a positive impact in the world, and not have to think twice before working on such things or helping teach others about digital security, privacy, and civic data — almost always pro bono. I'd like to think that I've been making good with both the economic leverage that came my way thanks to Onion Browser, and through the code and community contributions that I've tried to give back along the way.
But selling an app inherently puts up a barrier to user adoption — not for users who simply don’t want to pay for software, but rather for those users who cannot pay for the software. (In many cases, this is due to possessing a grey market iPhone in a country where it’s unusual to have a payment method accepted by the App Store.) For censorship-circumventing software like Tor, barriers to access are a significant human rights issue — especially in the face of escalating digital repression in some parts of the world.
This year I've received a little bit of financial support from the Guardian Project, the collective behind Orbot and Orfox on Android, and other great mobile privacy software. It's through their support that I was able to work on integrating the obfs4proxy pluggable transport into Onion Browser; the fruits of that labor are available to other developers as the iObfs framework. (Pluggable transports like obfs4proxy allow Tor to continue to work in places that actively attempt to censor or block Tor.) The Guardian Project has also supported my work towards a full app rewrite and new user interface that should be coming out soon. It's partially thanks to their support that making a change to Onion Browser pricing has become less terrifying to me; it's not a completely replacement or solution, but it’s been a very helpful way to start.
If you'd like to help support my continued work on Onion Browser, I implore you to back the project on Patreon. You can be credited as a supporter of Onion Browser in the app, or gain access to future beta test versions of the app. If you'd prefer to make a one-off donation or if you'd like to anonymously donate Bitcoin, check out your options here. Onion Browser used to be sold for $1 per copy, and donations of even that amount can help out tremendously.
Despite the donation options and the Guardian Project’s support, it’s doubtful that I’ll ever be in a position to recover the income I was previously making through app sales. I’ve tried my best to prepare for it. I’m not entirely sure I can say where this all goes from here; I suppose the best I can do is say that I remain happily employed at ProPublica, plan to continue working on Onion Browser (and the other FOSS projects I’m involved with) in my spare time, and look forward to the next opportunities that await me.
I'm still a little terrified that I've made this change, but I'm happy this day has come — and judging from the responses I've already received, so have many of you. Thanks for your support.