We are collecting here summaries and insights from intercept interviews with Tails users. Intercept Interviews are designed to increase understanding and dialogue through a series of quick questions that take no more than 10 to 15 minutes of dialogue.

The email address of the interviewees are stored in the internal Git repo: contacts/intercept_interviews.mdwn.

The names of the interviewees are changed but loosely related in terms of gender, language, and age. For list of popular given names see:

HOWTO

Interview script

  • Introduction

    • Who I am, what I am doing, and why I'm conducting the interview.
  • Getting the interviewee's consent:

    • You can answer my questions to the extend that you feel comfortable and stop at any moment.
    • We want to keep this information publicly available for contributors of the project but in generic terms, removing personally identifiable information.
  • The user

    • Who are you? What do you do?
  • Tails & you:

    • How did you come to be interested in Tails and get started?
    • What is your level of expertise with Tails?
    • What do you use it for? How often?
  • Pros & cons:

    • What are the three things that you like the most in Tails?
    • What are the three things that you dislike the most in Tails?
  • Good bye:

    • Thank you!
    • Would you give us your email if you want to keep in touch for future questions or go deeper? Emails are stored encrypted and only accessible to the core contributors.
    • Do you know of anybody else using Tails and that would be worth interviewing?

Template email for validating the output

Thank you so much for taking some time to answer my questions about Tails the other day!

I'm sending you here what I plan to store in our public working documents on our website. Please correct me if I misunderstood something or if you want me to remove some bits.

Interviews

Miguel, May 2017

Miguel is a 20 years old statistics student in Brazil. He is part of a collective that works on online privacy and security.

In 2014 he was trying all the privacy tools he and his friends could found, and then he started using Tails. Sometimes he doesn't use Tails very often, and only as a way to use other people's computers: he keeps his passwords is a KeePassX database, along with some personal files and his Thunderbird configuration on the Tails persistent volume. And sometimes he uses Tails more intensively, for example when dealing with sensitive material. Miguel identifies himself as an intermediate level Tails user, although he helps others use Tails and does not need other people's help himself.

What he likes:

  • the new Installation Assistant
  • the amnesic property, that allows him to use other people's computers
  • the fact that Internet connections are routed through Tor
  • he finds Tails easy to use, e.g. the persistence setup
  • the set of bundled software

What he does not like:

  • GNOME is heavy on older computers
  • the website translation workflow is hard
  • he misses the ability to install Tails on the command-line with dd (and was surprised when I told him it still worked)

Sophia, May 2017

Sophia is 30 years old, lives in Brazil and has two jobs: she is a teacher and a system administrator.

In 2015, she was looking for an operating system that would be safer than macOS, and discovered Tails. She had been using Linux for 2 years already, but found it vastly easier to use Tails than to configure software to use Tor on a regular Linux distribution. Since then, Tails is her only OS and she uses it every day; she feels very comfortable using it, although she has not tried everything.

What she likes:

  • Tails is plug'n'play and it "just works"
  • Tor Browser
  • MAT

What she dislikes:

  • having to configure Tor Browser to match her security requirements (security slider set to "High", JavaScript disabled by default) every time she starts Tails; she would like a persistent setting for these settings
  • Totem is buggy with some subtitles (buggy delay after pausing and resuming), so she misses VLC
  • she misses a set of LibreOffice Impress templates/themes that could be installed by default

Isabella, May 2017

Isabella is a 50 years old Debian user living in Brazil. She used to be a journalist at a magazine that talked a lot about FOSS (among other things), then got in touch with people working on privacy enhancing technologies (PET) and switched jobs: she now works with a collective that defends freedom and privacy online, learns about privacy tools and does advocacy for them.

She has been demonstrating Tails to people since 2 years: she finds it easier to advocate for than Debian since it's easy to try (without replacing one's current OS) and is pre-configured for privacy. She started using Tails herself 3 months ago. She found it easy, and doesn't need to ask for help anymore. She uses Tails about twice a month, mainly to upload sensitive material and for web browsing.

What she likes:

  • "the bundle", i.e. everything pre-configured shipped in a box
  • She found Tails very didactic and liked how she could understand how to use it.

What she dislikes:

  • upgrades are painful when using Tails not so often

Bernardo, May 2017

Bernardo is a 37 years old public administration teacher and social science researcher in Brazil. He studies the way social movements use Internet communication tools. He discovered Tails after the Snowden leaks, via a hackers collective and the homepage of the Tor website.

He uses Debian and GNOME (and has some basic knowledge of the command line interface) so he felt comfortable using Tails, and found it easy to get started with. He advocates using Tails and started using it himself since the coup; he uses it about once a month, primarily to release and distribute material against the government.

What he likes:

  • everything is torified by default
  • the amnesic property: everything goes away when turning off the computer
  • Windows Camouflage (when it was there…)
  • Pidgin

What he dislikes:

  • he had some trouble with the Unsafe Browser

Pedro, May 2017

Pedro is 23 years old and studies applied mathematics in college in Brazil. He has been a Linux user since 11 years; Qubes OS is now his main operating system.

He learned about Tails via the homepage of the Tor website before the Snowden leaks, and got interested by the amnesic property of Tails. He feels he knows his way around Tails and uses it once or twice a week to browse hidden services websites and for encrypted chat (that he finds easier to use on Tails than elsewhere).

What he likes:

  • carrying a computer environment in his pocket
  • OnionShare
  • easy to use, practical
  • how the project cares about people and security

What he dislikes:

  • GNOME is heavy and slow on old hardware
  • the end of 32-bit support
  • no more Windows Camouflage

Margarita, March 2017

Margarita is a digital security consultant in Latin America. She used to develop autonomous communication infrastructures and is now focusing on training human-right defenders and organizations in digital security. She has been presenting Tails mostly to two different public:

  • Family members of missing people. For example working on building lists of missing people and DNA databases. People often disappear while traveling on roads and, as a consequence, people are sometimes refraining from moving. So it's a challenge to transmit information from one place to another or to be able to travel without carrying sensitive information. For example, someone wanted to train people on how to build a list of missing people in a community and decided to travel to the community without a computer and only use Tails there.
  • Women sharing abortion techniques and resources. They are often women who cannot turn to their families to ask questions and look for solutions and otherwise go and ask Google.

Things she likes:

  • In the case of documenting missing people, they find the learning curve worth it.
  • It's portable: you keep it in your pocket and you don't have to install anything else.

Things she dislikes:

  • Tails became harder to boot on newer computers.
  • In the case of women sharing abortion techniques, the learning curve made it harder to adopt.

Helen, March 2017

Helen is a digital security trainer working in an organization defending the right for free speech in North America and working with both large news organizations and freelance journalists.

She uses Tails for her work, especially since some of the news organizations they work with use SecureDrop to exchange files and communicate with sources. These news organizations have dedicate machines running Tails as their primary OS. She also uses Tails for personal use several times a week. For example she always has a Tails USB stick when she travels and doesn't want to carry her own equipment. It's lighter and for example she can use the computer in the lobby of her hotel or plug her Tails on the big TV screen in her room.

Things she likes:

  • She likes the feeling of security. Tails allows her to keep her regular computer (Ubuntu, Debian, or Mac depending on the day) — the one where she stores her most important data — clean from phishing. Tails is good for surfing around, gossiping, etc. It feels like the early experience she had on the Internet when she was younger which was free from worries. She actually prefers Tails to Tor Browser for that kind of browsing.
  • She uses Tails a lot for note taking (gedit, LibreOffice).
  • She like KeePassX and going on IRC over Tails.

Things she dislikes:

  • She doesn't like Icedove so much and would prefer using mutt.
  • She is frustrated not to be able to save a custom background in Tails. She feels like Tails is one of her computer and she likes to customize her things.
  • She likes the automatic upgrades in general but she always have to go back to the documentation when the upgrade fails. As part of her work, she also sometimes sees infrequent users struggling with accumulated upgrades (for example upgrading from 2.6 to 2.10).
  • She finds the Installation Assistant inferiorating for expert users like her when she only wants to download the ISO. But she recognizes that it otherwise works really well for new users.
  • She wants a minesweeper game in Tails.
  • Once she had troubles debugging a firewall from Tails because the router was not giving a DHCP lease and the Unsafe Browser wouldn't start without one.

Ernesto, March 2017

Ernesto is working in the social science department of a University in Latin America where he does communication, web development, and video. He is also active in a local hacklab where he has a community TV and does video editing with free software.

He uses Tails to be able to have a secure access to his personal data from the work computer that he has at the University or when he wants to travel light.

Things he likes:

  • Have a full OS on a USB stick is cool!
  • All the connections go through Tor.
  • Keeping his email configuration and encryption keys in the persistent storage.
  • Tails comes with everything you need already. It even has a video editor.
  • He liked meeting the developers in person and seeing that we share similar ways of doing things. Now he wonders how he could help back.

Things he dislikes:

  • The fact the upgrade mechanism is sometimes automatic and sometimes manual. You never know what to expect.
  • The new installation instructions are good for new users but he feels a bit lost when looking for the command line instructions only.

Ray, March 2017

Ray is a security consultant and trainer in Africa.

From the 10 journalists that he trained in using Tails at the end of 2015, he knows of 2 who are still using it actively. They were the people with higher risks. For example a blogger with high risks that uses Tails as her regular operating system for her blogging activities, for example while traveling, and be able to use shared computers.

Things he (and the people he trained) like:

  • Tails has low hardware requirements and this is useful when traveling to be able to use it anyway on the computers that are available.
  • The persistent storage.
  • MAC spoofing. Using MAC spoofing in a news room, one of the journalist he trained realized how his activity on the network could be monitored because the IT person, not seeing his computer as being up on the network, came and checked if everything was ok.
  • The Windows camouflage.
  • Having a set of tools already installed in Tails makes it easy for less technical people to get started.

Things he (and the people he trained) dislike:

  • Tails doesn't work well on Chromebooks but these are picking up in Africa because they are cheap.
  • Tor often fails to connect on networks with low bandwidth.
  • Looking for applications is hard for people who are use to their proprietary equivalents (Excel is Calc, Thunderbird is Icedove, etc.).
  • After the training and the participants had to repeat the process of installing Tails again, some failed to carry out this process on their own and the one running on a Chromebook totally failed even during the training.
  • Removing support for 32-bits computers will be problematic for them because they often rely on old machines.
  • When working with a low bandwidth or connecting through a captive portal, after people started the Unsafe Browser, they tend to trust it more than they should because it's running from Tails.

Adam, March 2017

Adam is an investigative journalist working in an organization raising awareness around State surveillance and digital freedom in Western Europe. He has been using lots of Tor in different environments for years.

As part of his work, he uses Tails both fully amnesiac and with persistence. He has dedicated hardware for running Tails: a modified ThinkPad X60 with many parts removed and only minimal input and output interfaces.

He uses Tails to create, edit, and sanitize sensitive documents before sharing them with other people or publishing them. He doesn't want to open these documents on his regular operating system. Sometimes he doesn't use Tails for 3 months and then use it everyday during 1-2 weeks to work on a specific story.

He also shares his secure machine with other people by his side to review or edit these sensitive documents instead of having to send these documents online. All-in-all he uses little Tor from Tails and use it more for data isolation.

Maybe Qubes OS does more than Tails against exploits but Tails is a cheaper and more practical way for him to create a secure machine: it's cheaper hardware and has an easier learning curve. He also feels better having a hardware isolation instead of the virtual isolation provided by Qubes OS. When he wants no network activity on his X60 he unplugs the Ethernet cable and that's it.

Things he likes:

  • He trusts Tails because he knows personally some of the developers; the same could apply to Debian.
  • Tails has been around for a while and is widely uses. It is well connected to the rest of the Tor community and has received more exposure.
  • He is used to Debian and feels comfortable hacking on the Debian base of Tails when needed. He doesn't really know RPM and that's another drawback of Qubes OS for him.
  • He's happy to see OnionShare in Tails now.

Things he dislikes:

  • His hardened X60 has a 32-bit processor and he won't be able to run Tails 3.0 on it anymore.
  • He finds it painful not to have the keyboard for his language listed in the short list of keyboards in Tails Greeter.
  • He had troubles trying to install additional packages in Tails and instead reinstalled them every time. He wanted to use scantailor, a post-processing tool for scanned pages, and tesseract-ocr, an optical character recognition tool.
  • He had troubles displaying local files in Tor Browser and thinks that it's impossible to browser for anything under file:/// in Tor Browser.
  • He had a hard time finding a direct download with the new Installation Assistant: "I want a nerd link!"

Alex, March 2017

Alex is a journalist working for a big news room in Western Europe.

She got an authorization from her network administrator to have two machines at work: the official Windows machine from where she can access the company's back office and her own machine running Debian and sometimes Tails.

They have a partnership with a whistleblowing platform and when working on their documents they do everything from Tails.

Things she likes:

  • The fact that Tails is all-in-one. For example, she sometimes sets up a Tails USB stick for a few colleagues in the "war room" while working a sensitive paper and they have all they need to review and edit documents or do some additional research.
  • Qubes OS is a nice idea but Tails remains more straight-forward and you can use it immediately. You can clone a new key for someone and that's all they need.
  • Tails Installer in Debian! For example it's super useful to manually upgrade a relatively old version or to install a new USB stick for someone without having to restart on Tails.
  • The installation documentation is much better now.

Things she dislikes:

  • She misses a screen locker. For example, to have a break during long working sessions while working on sensitive documents.
  • GMail doesn't work with Icedove and TorBirdy. So you have to switch to the Unsafe Browser to connect to GMail.

Jeanne, February 2017

Jeanne has been working as an independent journalist for 5-6 years in Western Europe. She writes stories that she sells to many different newspapers. She is also active in a not-for-profit resource center and coworking space for independent journalists in her city where she advocates for privacy to the local press. She runs Ubuntu on her PC and can handle it all-right with some help from her geek friends.

She started using Tails about one year ago, helped out by a local privacy and free software advocate from which she cloned a USB stick. One of her colleague got his computer seized and she realized that having at least her hard disk encrypted was a way of guaranteeing her rights to privacy as a journalists in front of the police. Some of her sources were also scared of being monitored and explicitly asked for security protocols. She decided to get herself trained in privacy tools to be able to "lead the dance" and propose reasonable protocols to sources in the future herself.

She uses Tails occasionally when the story or the source requires it. She is not using Tails outside of her work.

Things she likes:

  • Tails comes as a package of privacy tools with no need to configure things manually. She had bad experiences and misconfigured some privacy tools on her computer in the past. Tails is like a "paranoid mode" by default.
  • MAT
  • She hopes that she could could do better at segmenting her time and use Tails to help her focus on a specific task.

Things she dislikes:

  • The terminology around "persistence" was difficult to understand. She talks about "storage area" ("zone de stockage" in French).
  • She had trouble learning how to start Tails from her PC.
  • She finds it very hard to combine the use of Tails with the heavy multitasking implied by her work: during a single day she works in parallel on many different stories with many different clients and sources. She runs on a very short budget and cannot afford having a second computer dedicated to Tails.
  • Once, she had troubles opening her persistence because the keyboard layout was different than when she configured it.
  • Once, she lost the draft of a story because she had no persistence.
  • Once, she tried to use Tails for communicating with a source but failed in doing so.
  • When getting started she found the documentation on the desktop hard to apprehend because it was using too technical terms (like "ISO"). She thinks that the documentation should be more accessible to less technical people as a pedagogical tool: since she is making the effort to getting into Tails, she is ready to read and learn.