Facebook Is Letting Users Go Anonymous (Sort Of)

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Mark Zuckerberg has made plenty of comments over the years about the increasingly public way in which we live (something he seems to be an outspoken advocate of). There was also the recent controversy over Facebook's nearly-enacted real name policy. So it certainly comes as a surprise that a site so anti-anonymity has just joined forces with the Web’s most anonymous network.

Wired reports that Facebook launched “a Tor hidden service, a version of its website that runs the anonymity software Tor.” The new site can only be accessed by users running the Tor software, which bounces their connections “through three extra encrypted hops to random computers around the Internet, making it far harder for any network spy observing that traffic to trace their origin.”

Before you get excited that you'll finally be safe from Facebook's prying eyes, know that even Tor users are not anonymous to Facebook itself. But Tor can now protect your identity from every other threat to your security and privacy you may encounter while liking the latest clickbait from Upworthy. “You get around the censorship and local adversarial surveillance,” explains former Tor developer Runa Sandvik, “and it adds another layer of security on top of your connection.”

Prior to this development, Facebook made it difficult for Tor users to access the site – sometimes even blocking their connections altogether. Because Tor users appear to log in from IP address all over the world, Facebook's security infrastructure often mislabeled them as potential attacks from hackers. According to the Tor blog, “a high volume of malicious activity across Tor exit nodes triggered Facebook's site integrity systems which are designed to protect people who use the service.”

Now Facebook plans to be friendly to the odd, international connections that were formerly causing problems, and Sandvik says it provides an extra layer of security beyond what running Tor on the user’s end alone can offer. “When both the user and Facebook are running Tor,” explains Wired, “the traffic doesn’t leave the Tor network until it’s safely within Facebook’s infrastructure.” That means there's no opportunity for outsiders to spy on unencrypted traffic or decrypt it themselves.

Over the past few years, SSL encryption has become the standard for major sites like Google, Facebook, and Twitter looking to protect their users’ privacy. Sandvik believes Facebook’s Tor hidden service may mean that Tor will become the next basic privacy protection leading tech companies will be expected to offer their users.

For more on this social network you can read our review of Facebook.