Tox: Skype With Privacy

Category: Telephony , Telephony

In an age where online security seems broken, and online privacy an illusion, we need new tools to empower communication without fear that someone is listening, recording, or transcribing every word we say. Tox is one such effort, an alternative to Skype, without all the corporate tentacles. Read on to learn how it works...

What is Tox?

As I explained in an earlier article, Edward Snowden has inspired a slew of data privacy initiatives. One of them, Tox, is a privacy-focused replacement for Skype. Interestingly, it’s being developed by a group of hackers who hang out in the Internet’s most notorious forums.

4Chan is noted for its juvenile and profane rambunctiousness. But there is a tech community there that takes coding, security, and privacy quite seriously. A group of these geeks got together and decided the world needed a more secure alternative to Skype that isn’t under Microsoft’s control and therefore subject to pressures from governments. They created a chat room in which to discuss the project and soon started uploading code. They’ve come up with a novel solution:

Tox: Skype with Privacy

Tox requires no servers to relay communications between its users, not even servers hosted by the users themselves. Instead, it relies upon the same technology as Bittorrent, the peer-to-peer networking protocol that spreads bits of files across all the sharers of said files in a way that makes it impossible to say who owns a file, or controls the network. There is no person, human or corporate, for government agents to serve with subpoenas or “national security letters.” Better still, all connections between Tox users are encrypted, so outsiders cannot tell what they are sharing.

Like Bittorrent, Tox is not a concrete program that does only a few specific things; it’s a protocol, like HTTP, that can be implemented in programs wherever they need encrypted, peer-to-peer connections between users. Tox client programs for Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, and Linux can be downloaded at the Tox Wiki site. They have names like uTox and qTox to distinguish them from the protocol.

These clients are in the very early stages of development; they are guaranteed to crash frequently. But if you enjoy being in on the messy part of childbirth software development, you can help develop Tox by playing with the client software and filing bug reports.

The uTox client is recommended by the Tox developers as the “bleeding edge” client that’s furthest along for the Windows environment. When you download and install it, uTox automatically creates public and private encryption keys for you, eliminating the geeky chore that keeps many users from encrypting their communications. From there, it works a lot like Skype.

Connecting With Other Tox Users

You can add friends to your contact list if they, too, have uTox installed. One thing that was not obvious to me was the difference between my Tox usernyname and my Tox ID. When you first start Tox, your username will be "Tox User". Open the settings panel by clicking the gear icon, and you can give yourself a more suitable name. Next, click the green Copy button to copy the string of numbers and letters which is your Tox ID. To connect with another Tox user, send them your Tox ID, so they can send you a friend request. (Alternatively, you can ask a friend to send you his/her Tox ID, and then send them the friend request.)

Once you're connected, just click on a contact to send an instant message, share a file, or place a VoIP call. If you want to move uTox to another computer, you just have to copy one file that contains your private encryption key and contacts, then install uTox on the new machine.

uTox does group text chat but does not yet support group voice chat (conference calls). Other Skype features are missing, too, and there’s no telling when or if they will be added. The Tox developers are all unpaid volunteers so development will be haphazard. But inexorably, the open-source community will close a lot of the holes that currently enable the NSA (and perhaps other government and non-government entities, both foreign and domestic) to poke their noses into our business.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Tox: Skype With Privacy"

Posted by:

26 Sep 2014

Finally, hackers doing something good.

Posted by:

26 Sep 2014

Great article Bob! I count on you to inform us of just this kind of SW out there.
One quick question (since I'm at work) - is there a client for Macs, and could you communicate between a Mac (my son uses it) to my Windows machine?

Posted by:

26 Sep 2014

I truly value my privacy and do not want it lost to agencies like NAS, CIA, FBI, etc. BUT, when we have SOB terrorists communicating to make plans to harm others, I may need to consider relinquishing some of my privacy. I would trust a righteous American hacker rather than the government to monitor TOX.
An evil hacker looks to get or steal money, there won't be any financial transactions on Skype of Tox. Only information that is useless to anyone other that to the one it is intended for. I'm sure some of these terrorists use Skype to communicate, coded naturally. If they have privacy... well, I'll leave that to your imagination.

Posted by:

Elizabeth Landry
26 Sep 2014

Privacy does not exist any more. We have to pass laws that have penalties for interfering with our lives by using our info to
cause us difficulties. Peace, E

Posted by:

26 Sep 2014

Sounds very good go me, I hope they continue in their development and it is very successful in the days to come. Privacy is very important and I think it is time the many in government learned that also.


Posted by:

Elizabeth Landry
26 Sep 2014

There is no privacy. We have to pass laws with strict penalties for using our information to interfere with our lives and cause us difficulties. Peace, E

Posted by:

27 Sep 2014

Been doing Skype video calls for over six years now. I've used it through a progression of audio and video quality issues on computers and tablets (though not on any mobile phones)... pre and post-Microsoft. Guess many of us have just assumed the calls and our IMs, are almost as publicly available as most YouTube content. Truthfully, having a "private" conversation is altogether new to my way of thinking. Though not an adverse thought, am wondering how this process might might affect the quality? (Remember the quality issues with the now defunct Joost video service, that was based on peer-to-peer networking ?)

Posted by:

27 Sep 2014

Surprised you would lend legitimacy to something like this. I know you are not naive enough to think a bunch of immature "hackers" from 4Chan really gives two flips about Average Joe's privacy...

This is nothing but a front to provide the pedophiles and other criminals with yet another way to do their disgusting business and not get caught.

Posted by:

Robert Hall
27 Sep 2014

In this, who is monitoring the software at a high enough level to see if most of us are being served or served up?

Posted by:

27 Sep 2014

I guess for many people it would be great if they can be 100% sure that Governments cannot track the conversations.
Personal I have nothing to hide so if the Government like to track me, well let them.
On the other-hand; I'm pretty sure that all the terrorists will welcome this program as the greatest gift Allah could give them.
Privacy is a important thing to most of the people for sure, *but* safety too.
I'm sure that in the last 10 years the Governments did prevent many deadly attacks just because of being able to spy on terrorists.
So maybe a program like Utox is making the world less safe.
Greetings ~Henk

Posted by:

27 Sep 2014

Thanks for the article. The idea of using torrents is ingenious. I've been using torrents programs for years and they have been getting better and faster. I'd love to try it out but I don't have anyone to communicate with. Most of my generation is still using Windows XP!

Posted by:

27 Sep 2014

Interesting article about a Skype replacement.

I'm just a little concerned about using an app or program "developed by a group of hackers who hang out in the Internet’s most notorious forums."

so instead of having the government nosing in our private communications, we have this group who would have access to our private communication and probably anything else on our computers! While isn't THAT just convenient?

EDITOR'S NOTE: No, that's not right. Because this is an open source project, anyone can examine the code to make sure that there's no secret back door. All communications between Tox users are encrypted.

Posted by:

28 Sep 2014

Anyone CAN examine the code to verify it's private but who has or will? As the old saw says: what everyone's responsible for no one does.

Posted by:

24 Oct 2014

@ Watashi - " He who gives up liberty for security, has neither" - Ben Franklin.
I have nothing to hide, but it's a very slippery slope. I'm not worried about the government - in the real world, they simply don't have the resources to watch people who haven't given them a reason to watch. However, the problem comes with the fact that the government employees who do the watching are human - they've been caught using their position to stalk exes, etc - who watches the watchers? "What everyone is responsible for, no one does" - Reg. :-)

Posted by:

16 Mar 2020

Tox as a Skype alternative is good. Additionally, one may also have a look at secured and encrypted tools like Webex, R-HUB web conferencing servers etc. They are easy to use and work well.

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