Facebook accommodates Tor users and protects privacy
Facebook recently introduced an update that allows better access for Tor users. Many Facebook members use Tor to connect to the social network without being tracked.
What Tor does for Internet users
According to the company website, Tor was developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and its primary purpose was to protect government communications. Today it is used by citizens, the military, journalists, activists and others. Tor is essentially a network that allows people and groups to improve their online security by encrypting communications. Tor works in conjunction with other applications and allows for the sharing of information over public networks without compromising privacy.Tor's hidden services allow users to post information without revealing their location. Journalists use Tor to communicate safely and avoid government intervention and privacy breaches.
Facebook users can now use Tor more effectively
Under the new setup, Tor users can connect to the site, their data will be encrypted and Facebook will not mistake them for hacked accounts. Users will not lose "the cryptographic protections" of Tor, Facebook announced, according to BBC News.
Tor is especially useful in countries where governments block access to popular social networking sites. Cuba, North Korea, Iran and China have measures to prevent citizens from accessing certain sites or disseminating certain information. China in particular has tried to disrupt access to the Tor network, according to the news source.
Facebook is the first tech company to provide official support for Tor and allows people to visit its site without being tracked. It is likely that other tech companies will follow suit.
The social networking site consulted with Dr Steven Murdoch from University College London on the idea of facilitating Tor access. Murdoch explained that users would still log-in to the site normally, but their communications would be encrypted.
"It's quite hard to use a social network completely anonymously, it somewhat defeats the point, unless you're just reading information … But just because you want to tell Facebook your name, doesn't mean they should be able to find out your location and your browsing habits," Murdoch said, according to BBC News.
How it works
Tor requires software, known as the Tor Browser bundle, in order to use it. The name stands for The Onion Router – because there are many layers of encryption involved in protecting user data.
Tor hides a person's actual location by sending data across the Internet in circuitous ways, using various computer servers as connection points, to essentially cover the tracks. Encryption is applied at each point, which makes it difficult to connect person to online activity.
Journalists in foreign countries are frequent users of Tor because it provides a safe way to communicate and keep their browser activity confidential. Unfortunately, Tor is also associated with unlawful activity, because it allows users to visit certain sites and access illegal content without being traced.
Why Facebook addressed the Tor issue
It has been discussed in recent news that Facebook, Twitter and Google are approached by governments with requests for user information. According to Reuters, Facebook recently disclosed that requests for user information rose by 25 percent in the first half of 2014.
"We're aggressively pursuing an appeal to a higher court to invalidate these sweeping warrants and to force the government to return the data it has seized," the company said in a blog post, according to the news source.
While Tor may not protect users from having their information handed over to the government as part of a measure to protect national security, it is clear that popular websites understand the importance of privacy and anonymity online.