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Interview with Tox.im

by Joshua Gay Contributions Published on Jul 21, 2014 05:57 PM
This is the latest installment of our Licensing and Compliance Lab's series on free software developers who choose GNU licenses for their works.
Tox.im logo

In this edition, we conducted an email-based interview with David Lohle from the Tox project, an all-in-one communication platform and protocol that ensures users full privacy and secure message delivery. The Tox core library is licensed under the terms of GNU GPL version 3, or (at your option) any later version. The library implements the Tox protocol and provides an API for clients, such as Venom and Toxic.

Tell us about yourself

We're the Tox Foundation, creators of Tox, a secure and distributed multimedia messenger. Our core developer team consists of people from Canada, Germany, the US, and more. Though we speak different languages and represent diverse cultures, we are dedicated to working together on our common goal: to create a product we think is necessary in a world where our privacy is often overlooked.

What inspired you to create Tox?

After the initial leaks from Edward Snowden, we decided to take a look at what chat programs we could use that would respect our privacy. Unfortunately, at the time, all other existing implementations were either too convoluted to convince our friends to use or were proprietary, so we decided that Tox was a necessary project.

How are people using it?

Right now, people are using Tox to talk with their family in a more secure way than what other big-name, proprietary competitors offer. People from all over the world are joining group chats to talk about their favorite hobbies, and friends are getting together to discuss weekend plans. We even have plugins that allow for Tox-to-IRC and vice versa conversations. Audio calling is available in a select few clients right now, so people are even using Tox to perhaps speak with one another while they play a video game. Tox itself is a protocol, so it can be adapted to anything you can imagine. Some people have even used Tox as a file sync, safely synchronizing between their computers.

What features do you think really sets Tox apart from similar software?

Perhaps it's not so much a feature as an ideology, but Tox focuses on simplicity and security without compromise. There are a lot of great privacy-minded instant messengers out there; unfortunately, they really fall short in the user experience department. If Tox's goal is to get secure messaging in the hands of the masses, then we need to develop a set of software with a minimal learning curve. Cryptography and security are complex tasks that require special care, and Tox takes it a step further by hiding most of the configuration and other steps it usually takes to set up a competing messenger program. However, this does not mean we prevent tinkering. We're excited to see more advanced users toy around and customize Tox to their own liking, but we're also excited to see that beginners can pick up Tox and not have to sit through a video tutorial detailing how to add a friend.

When we near a finalized product, we're not going to market Tox as a secure messenger as much as we do on it's simplicity and ease. By focusing on what people care about, such as group chats and a streamlined experience, we can achieve our goal of a safe, eavesdrop-free messaging platform for all.

Why did you choose the GPLv3 as Tox's license?

When we started Tox, we wanted a platform that was easily modified, shared, and redistributed—a community is a project's strongest asset. Since most of us already supported free software, our initial discussions wavered between using a permissive license versus a strong copyleft license, and we ultimately chose GPL Version 3 in the end. Its simplicity, clarity, and strong patent protection affords our community large freedoms in changing our software, while protecting us from malicious intents.

How can users (technical or otherwise) help contribute to Tox?

We greatly appreciate all efforts, no matter how small (we're even grateful for the grammar-related commits). If you know a programming language, and wish to help develop a client, you can visit https://wiki.tox.im/Clients and see what you can offer. If you fluently speak a language other than English, and want to help translate Tox clients into other locales, browse our wiki at https://wiki.tox.im for projects you could contribute to.

We're also very interested in other's constructive criticism, as no project is ever perfect. Feedback is what fuels Tox, so if you have something to say, drop us a comment at comments@tox.im and we'll try our best to incorporate suggestions and improve from critique. Everyone can have a role in helping to push Tox forward, even if that just means telling your friends about us.

What's the next big thing for Tox?

We're currently working on implementing audio and video in all of the main Tox clients. It's a fairly momentous task, so it might take some time, but we feel it's imperative to have proper video calling in order to move forward. Due of the nature of Git and a large community, we're able to work on multiple tasks at once—group chatting, for example—but we're trying to focus most of our efforts on A/V.

Enjoyed this interview? Check out our previous entry in this series featuring Ciaran Gultnieks of F-Droid.

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