“Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world,” according to the software’s Web site. “It prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.”
Facebook explained the collaboration via a post called “Making Facebook Connections More Secure” on Oct. 31. It’s available now via this magic URL, as Alec Muffett, a software engineer at the company, explained:
To make their experience more consistent with our goals of accessibility and security, we have begun an experiment which makes Facebook available directly over Tor network at the following URL:
[ NOTE: link will only work in Tor-enabled browsers ]
The goal is not keeping Facebook from tracking users’ activity. Tor won’t stop that — but it will help prevent evildoers from watching Facebook users use Facebook.
“No, you’re not anonymous to Facebook when you log in, but this provides a huge benefit for users who want security and privacy,” Runa Sandvik, a former Tor developer who Facebook said advised the project, told Wired. “You get around the censorship and local adversarial surveillance, and it adds another layer of security on top of your connection.”
Indeed, Tor could prove important in nations with “adversarial surveillance” such as China and Iran that have sought to limit access to Facebook. After Zuckerberg’s recent trip to China — where he showed off his Mandarin — a method to make his site accessible to more than 1 billion people who can’t currently use it seems much-needed.
“We are already in China,” Zuckerberg said in Beijing last month. “We want to help Chinese customers to connect to the world.”
Facebook and Tor are unlikely allies — the Oscar and Felix of Web 2.0. The social network’s security mechanisms were often fooled into thinking someone who accessed Facebook with Tor “appears to be connecting from Australia at one moment may the next appear to be in Sweden or Canada” and was the victim of hacking. Such users were often blocked.
No more. Now, the new platform works as well as the cassette-to-CD adapter in a 1990 Chevy Celebrity — though some commenters on Muffett’s post remained suspicious. When a company notoriously disinterested in privacy builds an anonymous platform and offers its hand in encrypted friendship, some look for the hand buzzer.
“Uhhh.. the purpose of using Tor is to be anonymous,” one commenter noted, “which absolutely runs counter to FB’s insistence that users only use their REAL NAMES. What gives FB, this is just more marketing BS, because I’d still be using my screen name if you were *really* interested in security and anonymity for your users.”
As another user put it: “It’s a TRAP!”