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Tor is '90 per cent of the net' claims City of London Police Commish – and he's dead wrong

Let's crunch the numbers

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Yet again, someone who should know better appears to be hyping up the size of the so-called “darkweb” to push an agenda.

As reported by TorrentFreak, the remarks were made to the IP Enforcement Summit in London.

According to that report, among other things, Commissioner Adrian Leppard of City of London Police said: “Whether it’s Bitnet, The Tor – which is 90 per cent of the Internet – peer-to-peer sharing, or the streaming capability worldwide. At what point does civil society say that as well as the benefits that brings, this enables huge risk and threat to our society that we need to take action against?”

I can't tell you whether Leppard said “BitTorrent” and was mis-transcribed, or whether he slipped, but I'd like to address the assertion that Tor – The Onion Router – is “90 per cent of the Internet”.

It's a piece of silly scare-mongering, and would be laughable except that numbers like this are being used to shape public policy. As the TorrentFreak report states, Leppard believes counterfeit goods is a trillion-dollar market.

Ninety per cent of what?

Let's take three definitions of “The Internet”: the number of users, the amount of stored data, and the amount of traffic.

In terms of the number of users, Tor is nowhere near “90 per cent” of anything: by its own metrics, Tor users peaked at around three million users and currently the number hovers between 2 and 2.5 million users.

That should spike Leppard's statement straight away: the ITU estimates that there were 2.7 billion Internet users in 2013 so for every TOR user there's more than a thousand ignoring the network.

The small user count completely rules out the idea that Tor users are responsible for “90 per cent” of Internet traffic. Merely to generate the same traffic as the rest of the Internet, they'd have to run a thousand times as much traffic per user as everyone else, and that's plain silly.

Worldwide, Cisco's Visual Networking Index tells us that 29 Exabytes is sucked down the Internet's various pipes each month. If Tor users are “90 per cent” of that volume, their average monthly downloads would be nearly 10,000 GB, and the rest of us would have an average monthly download volume of just 100 kilobytes.

Tor isn't 90 per cent of anything, and it's time to reiterate that the whole thing is yet-another misinterpretation (with added “mangled numbers”) of this document.

Back in 2001, in his “Deep Web” article, Michael Bergman wrote that document to complain about the amount of Internet content that wasn't available via search engines – that is, you had to know where to look to find stuff like PDFs.

As Slate's David Auerbach wrote back in February, “I wish this number would go away”.

It won't – and the scary thing is, it's going to misinform policy-making and law enforcement for years to come. ®

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