Risks: Things you should know before running OONI Probe
To our knowledge, no OONI Probe user has ever faced consequences as a result of using our software. Therefore, the potential risks described below are theoretical and quite speculative. If you are running OONI Probe from a “high-risk environment”, we strongly encourage you to read all of the documentation below.
Summary of potential risks
Anyone monitoring your internet activity (e.g. ISP, government, employer) will be able to see that you are running OONI Probe;
OONI’s Web Connectivity test connects to and downloads data from a broad range of sites, including provocative or objectionable sites (e.g. pornography), which might be illegal in some countries;
By default, all network measurement data collected by OONI Probe is published to increase transparency of internet censorship, foster public debate, and support research. However, sending local network information to foreign servers might not be viewed favourably by some governments. While the data published is restricted to what is necessary to identify cases of censorship (and we do our best to not publish IP addresses), motivated ISPs might attempt to identify OONI Probe users through public OONI data.
Therefore the potential risks associated to running OONI Probe depend on:
Your threat model. A high-profile activist already under a lot of surveillance, for example, might attract more attention when running OONI Probe.
The laws and regulations in the country that you are running OONI Probe from. Best to consult with local lawyers, and to learn whether that country has a record in prosecuting individuals engaging in similar types of activities.
The types of OONI Probe tests run. Not all OONI Probe tests carry the same weight in terms of potential risk. OONI’s WhatsApp test, for example, merely attempts to connect to servers that are already connected by more than a billion people around the world. You can choose which tests to run through the OONI Probe apps.
The types of sites that you test. You can test the websites of your choice through the “Choose websites” button in the OONI Probe mobile app, or by using the OONI Run platform. You can also contribute to test lists and suggest URLs to be added or removed.
Whether you have OONI Probe data published. You can opt-out from having your OONI Probe test results published through the OONI Probe app settings.
Understanding potential risks more comprehensively
OONI’s software tests (called OONI Probe) are designed to measure networks for signs of internet censorship and traffic manipulation. In some countries, using OONI Probe may result in criminal prosecution, fines, or even imprisonment. We therefore strongly urge you to consult with a lawyer licensed to practice in your country prior to downloading, installing and running OONI Probe, and to carefully read the documentation below.
Users run OONI Probe at their own risk. By installing OONI Probe, users agree to comply with OONI’s software license and Data Policy. Neither the OONI project nor its parent organization, The Tor Project, can be held liable, jointly or severally, at law or at equity, to OONI Probe users and other third parties, for any risks or damages resulting from the use of OONI Probe under any tort, contract, or other causes of action.
Note: The risks described below are quite speculative. To our knowledge, no OONI Probe user has ever faced consequences from the risks described below. Nonetheless, we strongly encourage you to read the following information regarding potential risks associated with the use of OONI Probe.
Potential Penalties and Sanctions
In some countries, any form of active network measurement may be illegal, or even considered a form of espionage.
Many governments have a lengthy history of subjecting digital rights activists to various forms of abuse that may make it dangerous for individuals in these countries to run OONI Probe. The use of OONI Probe may therefore subject users to severe civil, criminal, or extra-judicial penalties. Such sanctions can potentially include:
Placement on government watch lists
Targeting for surveillance
In view of these threats, we strongly encourage you to consult with a lawyer and to understand the legal risks prior to using OONI Probe. Potential risks of using OONI Probe are detailed below.
Risks: Detection of OONI Probe
Certain users may face severe penalties if these users are detected by third parties (such as governments) who view OONI Probe as a threat.
The use of OONI Probe may be detected by third parties through the following.
Third parties (such as your government, your internet service provider, or your employer) may be monitoring some or all of your internet activity. This may allow them to detect the web traffic generated by your use of OONI Probe and to link it back to you personally.
Many countries employ sophisticated surveillance measures that allow governments to track individuals’ online activities – even if they are using privacy- preserving services such as Tor, Psiphon, virtual private networks (VPNs), or proxy servers. In such countries, governments or third parties may be able to identify you as an OONI Probe user regardless of what measures you take to protect your online privacy.
The services OONI Probe connects to will be able to see your IP address and may be able to detect that you are using OONI Probe. You can view which services OONI Probe tests here.
Physical or remote access to a user’s device
As with any other software, the usage of OONI Probe can leave traces. As such, anyone with physical or remote access to your computer may be able to see that you have downloaded, installed or run OONI Probe.
Publication of measurements
By default, all measurements generated through OONI Probe are sent to OONI’s measurement collector and automatically published through:
Consequently, the public - including third parties who view the usage of OONI Probe as a threat - will be able to see all user measurements, unless users opt out via the OONI Probe app settings.
Published data will include your approximate location, the network (ASN) you are connecting from, and the time when you ran OONI Probe. Other identifying information, such as your IP address, is not deliberately collected, but may be included in HTTP headers or other metadata. The full page content downloaded by OONI Probe may include such information if, for example, a website includes tracking codes or custom content based on your network location. Identifying information could potentially aid third parties in detecting you as an OONI Probe user.
Risks: OONI Probe tests
OONI has developed multiple free software tests, each one of which is designed to perform a different function. Therefore, these tests potentially entail different types of risks to the user.
Generally, OONI Probe is designed to:
Measure whether websites are blocked;
Measure whether instant messaging (IM) apps (such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger) are blocked;
Detect the presence of systems (“middleboxes”) which may be responsible for censorship, surveillance, and traffic manipulation;
Legality of tested websites
When running OONI’s Web Connectivity test you will connect to and download data from various websites which are included in the following two lists:
Country-specific test list (search for your country’s test list based on its country code)
Global test list (including a list of globally accessed websites)
Many websites included in the above lists are controversial and may include pornography or hate speech. This content may be illegal to access in your country. In some countries, accessing illegal content has severe consequences, such as imprisonment. We therefore recommend that you carefully examine whether you are willing to take the risk of accessing and downloading data from such websites through OONI Probe tests.
If you are uncertain of the potential implications of connecting to and downloading data from the websites listed in the above lists, you can choose which websites to test through the “Choose websites” button in the OONI Probe mobile app, or by using the OONI Run platform.
Legality of OONI Probe tests
Some network tests performed by OONI Probe may violate your country’s computer misuse laws or terms of service of your internet provider.
Specifically, the operators of network components affected by OONI Probe tests may view these tests as attacks. OONI’s HTTP-invalid-request-line test, for example, might trigger suspicion when sending out-of-spec messages to an echo service and could be viewed as a form of “hacking”. If network components affected by this test view these out-of-spec messages as attacks, you may face severe consequences, such as prosecution under computer misuse laws.
Our Network Diagnostic Test (NDT) is a general-purpose performance test conducted against third-party servers provided by Measurement Lab (M-Lab). M-Lab’s NDT services require the retention and disclosure of IP addresses for research purposes. For more about M-Lab’s data governance, see its privacy statement.
Seeking legal advice
The legal risks of downloading, installing and running OONI Probe can vary from country to country, which is why we advise you to consult with lawyers who are licensed to practice in your country.
Some questions you may want to ask your lawyers relating to the use of OONI Probe include:
Does my country prohibit me from using:
network measurement software?
censorship detection software?
censorship circumvention software?
Is it illegal for me to access certain websites?
Are there laws in my country that require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to track my online activity?
Has anyone in my country ever been criminalized based on their internet activity? (This does not necessarily need to be specific to network measurements)
Note, this is not an exhaustive list of questions to ask your lawyers.
Additionally, while many countries do not have laws specifically prohibiting the use of network measurement software, the use of OONI Probe may still be criminalized in certain countries under other, broader laws. For example, using OONI Probe may be viewed as illegal or anti-government activity. OONI Probe users may also face the risk of being criminalized on the grounds of national security if the data obtained and published by running OONI Probe is viewed as “jeopardizing” the country’s external or internal security. You may want to consult with a lawyer about these matters as well.
In addition to consulting with a lawyer, you can also reach out to us with specific inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that we are not lawyers, and any information we give you does not constitute legal advice. Additionally, your communication with us is not protected by any legal privilege so law enforcement may subpoena and obtain any information you give us. However, we may be able to put you in touch with lawyers who are capable of addressing your questions and/or concerns.
Some relevant resources include:
Note: These resources do not constitute legal advice and may be out of date. Please confirm you are reading the latest version before relying on any advice.
Again, users run OONI Probe at their own risk. By installing OONI Probe, users agree to comply with OONI’s software license and Data Policy. Neither the OONI project nor its parent organization, The Tor Project, can be held liable, jointly or severally, at law or at equity, to OONI Probe users and other third parties, for any risks or damages resulting from the use of OONI Probe under any tort, contract, or other causes of action.