Having a chat with Adrian Wade about Cloak and privacy

We managed to sit down with Adrian Wade, project lead for the Cloak router, a basic router developed so that ordinary people can use the protection allowed by the Tor community for their own privacy without needing to know a massive amount about technology. From your browsing behaviour to keeping your dissent-filled website up.

Q. Do you have a political agenda?
A. We make electronics. Our agenda is professional but we sympathise with customers who will pay for a tool that helps them enforce their legal right to privacy. Helping people make sure the law is respected isn’t really a political agenda.

Q. But do you think a success will have political repercussions?
A. Quite possibly. You can argue that a lot of ordinary people anonymising some of their communications some of the time demonstrates that extra judicial surveillance can be rendered ineffective. A success for us would seem to require a change in government behavior or a change in the law.

Q. What about politics in Malaysia?
A. My Malaysian friends are talking a lot about the recent cases of Adam Adli, Muhammad Safwan Anang and the rest who were sentenced for sedition. Clearly some opinions can get you into a lot of trouble in Malaysia and there will be individuals who see the benefit in keeping their more contentious political opinions anonymous.  Tor hidden services also offer a way for non mainstream media companies to stay available to Cloak users come hell or high water – Ddos attacks that have plagued some of them in the past don’t work on the Tor network. This seems to be an obvious use in a country where the government keeps media communications on a pretty tight leash.

Q. What about your personal politics?
A. I am a great believer in respect for rights and civil liberties. I don’t think the important debate about our relationship with technology has even begun and would like to see more grown up dialogue. Technology giants are now going beyond your document cabinet and starting to stream data directly from your living environment with products like Nest and Glass. People need to be mindful that “Googlesque” business models rely on ordinary people being willing to sign legal disclaimers they never read (and wouldn’t understand if they did) that give corporations the right to sell information about them. I think that’s wrong.

Q. Why did you take on the Cloak project?
A. Because it’s hard. The concept has been around for years but the technology cost has only recently made it possible to deliver a user friendly hardware solution cheaply.

Q. The Cloak software is open source – won’t others simply copy it?
A. Yes they will and they are welcome to – its free. We make low cost electronics that are optimized to run the Cloak OS and are fully aware that the open market will keep us honest from a pricing point of view. We hope that our willingness to work completely in the open will give us an advantage of trust that will be hard to compete with.

Q. What is different about Cloak as compared to other anonymity routers on offer?
A. There is only one other project left that we are aware of that is designed to address the broad consumer market, the rest have already failed. The one that is still running is based on flashing off the shelf technology and we think it will be impossible to maintain customer trust when you don’t control the entire manufacturing process. We also think that it will be hard to get it to work well enough on standard hardware to keep the critics happy – we couldn’t.

Q. What about PORTAL?
A. It isn’t for ordinary consumers. As far as we can tell it’s an honest high quality offering but you need to know a lot more about networking than the average person does to use it.

Q. Why are you all spread across the world?
A. There are no borders on the internet and that’s where our business is. More practically, we are in the process of establishing an IoT company called Bright Things in the UK. Many of our business opportunities and key partners are in developing Asia but the UK is coming out of recession and offers a good investment environment and produces a lot of world class knowledge workers.

We wish Adrian and the rest at Cloak the best of luck with their endeavour.


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