What we owe to each other: a user focused model of tool development – TBP at RightsCon

We presented our learnings on the usability of Tails in a country with heightened surveillance and reduced freedom of expression, where many users struggle with unreliable internet connectivity. We hope with this  and other efforts we can encourage tool builders to do similar work on their tools to see if they are being built to suit the needs of their users.

TBP at UX Forum 2022

Members of  our collective  participated in the UX Forum 2022 held from  25th April to April 30th 2022. The UXForum  is an effort to bring together human rights defenders, digital security  trainers, auditors, software developers, designers, and funders for exploring  human-rights centered design in the open source privacy and security  community.

The members of our collective hosted the following sessions on Day 1 of the UXForum

  1. Tailormade? – Chinmayi S K and Vasundhra Kaul delivered a lightning talk on learnings from the usability study of Tails in India. This was based on the study “Tailormade? A study of usability of tails in India ”.
  2. Low Connectivity UX – Chinmayi S K hosted this session along with Evie Winter. This workshop focused on experiences from  practitioners in low-connectivity regions. There were discussion around tools and platforms and their effectiveness in low-connectivity regions. There were also conversation on this could be improved further.

To  read more highlights from day 1 discussions at UXForum please check this Internews blogpost.

Tailormade? A study on usability of Tails in India

Ordinary citizens are more conscious now, of the need for additional security. They’ve also started thinking about privacy in more concrete terms. The need for accessible tools and training becomes more evident among those who use shared devices and want to keep their time on the device secure and private. There are also other more vulnerable groups of persons. Tools for anonymous and secure conversations, especially when used on shared devices, can be of benefit to these users.

Keeping in mind the varied needs that will arise from a multifaceted population, we decided to train a selected group of persons to use Tails for their work. In this process we also conducted a study to document the usability of Tails.

Our study participants came from different backgrounds, there were a few unifying factors; they were all non-technical or casual digital users. Over four months, we familiarised participants with the basics of Tails and recorded their usage of the platform for their work.

In our study we found that tails is a great platform for non-technical users in most instances and has significant potential for use in a country like India. However, adaptability will depend on how well Tails adjusts to the local circumstances. As a result of our study we made the following recommendations

  1. Chipset Support

Participants with the Apple M1 processor chips were unable to install or run Tails on their systems. We recommended that this be provided in the future

  1. WiFi

Multiple participants faced problems while connecting to the internet, two of whom ended up not being able to connect at all. We recommended that documentation support troubleshooting for wifi connects and that wifi symbol appears even when there is no connection

  1. Search feature

Participants wanted an easily visible search bar to filter through files and folders.

  1. Keyboard shortcuts

The participants requested more shortcuts that are commonly found in other operating systems. These included the option to cut, copy, paste, undo, redo, switch between applications, select all, etc.

  1. Glossary or basic technical information to the Tails documentation (preliminary sessions)

We got feedback requesting a separate session to go over basic concepts before the actual training began or for additional resources for reference.

  1. Verified Tor Bridges

There is a need for more verified bridges for this region. The bridges obtained from https://bridges.torproject.org/ failed to connect on Tails Platform. We also obtained bridges from the Tor Team for the study participants, which failed to connect too. We recommended that more verified bridges be available.

  1. Video conferencing or chat support

Across the participant group, several spoke about the need for having a chat platform (Signal as an example) and videoconferencing support.

  1. Graphics

There was a persistent concern that using Tails on a public computer would make the user stand out as it looks considerably different from current operating systems. We passed this along to the Tails team.

  1. Startup tutorial

While circulating training material is a possibility, some participants wondered if it would be possible to have a tutorial option on the screen. This tutorial could take the user through some of the features we covered in the training sessions and make the initial use of Tails less intimidating.

  1. Localization

Additional translation for at least five commonly spoken Indian languages would be a good start to introducing Tails to more regional users.

Once the draft report was ready, we shared it with the Tails team. We then had a conversation with Sajolida, a Tails team member, to discuss the recommendations. Some of our comments were related to topics that had already been flagged by the Tails team earlier, and were issues they were working on. These included making the documentation more relevant to non technical users and localizing the material to India. They were open to including a glossary to their documentation, and look into on boarding. We discussed the possibility of introducing custom themes and backgrounds, incorporating keyboard shortcuts across applications into the documentation, and working on other general usage issues. They expressed hope at being able to work on running Tails on M1 chips, once the Linux community takes the lead.

 

Tailormade?A study on the usability of Tails in India

The complete report can be freely accessed here under CC-BY-SA 4.0