Facebook is making it easier for users to log on while using anonymising network Tor.
Tor is a tool to help hide your tracks online. It bounces users’ data over several relay servers across the globe, disguising its origins. A user from Sweden might appear to websites like they’re in Mexico while using Tor, or a user really in Portugal might look like they’re from South Africa.
Because of this uncertainty, some websites and services choose to block users who try and access their services using the Tor network. But it’s also possible to launch websites that are only accessible while using Tor.
Back in 2014 Facebook launched one of these sites to serve its users who want to use Tor. But to access it you need to have a Tor-enabled browser installed, and it doesn’t work with the popular mobile app.
On Tuesday, the social network announced that it is adding support for Tor to its mobile app for Android.
Users have to install the Orbot app for it to work — but when that’s done, they can use the Facebook Android app as normal, with their true location disguised. (They will still have to provide their name to sign up, and the social network will operate the same as it usually would.)
This is unlikely to be a popular move with law enforcement. Tensions between the authorities and tech companies are running high over encryption. Some are calling for companies to introduce backdoors into the tech to help catch criminals, but techies and privacy activists counter that any attempt to do so will make ordinary users less safe.
Facebook making it easier for anyone to access the social network without their true location being recorded would — arguably — help criminals to communicate.
However, Tor is used by a huge range of people. Yes, it is used by some people for nefarious purposes. But it’s also utilised by journalists, activists, dissidents living under authoritarian regimes — and anyone else who needs to communicate securely and anonymously.
Being able to use the Facebook app for Android — the most popular mobile operating system — via Tor could be a godsend for people living in countries where access to the social network (like China) is blocked, but want to stay in touch with their loved ones.
If you have the Tor browser, you can access Facebook through Tor at the following address: