Facebook has created the ability for users to start anonymously connecting to the social network via the ‘dark web’ service Tor.
Launched in 2002, Tor is an open source project that allows people to access the internet without having to share their identifying information such as their physical location and IP address with their service providers or websites they visit. Users can also publish websites whose contents are not visible to search engines.
Anyone who has downloaded the free Tor software can visit websites safe in the knowledge that their computer’s actual location, make and model are kept secret. Although Tor users could access Facebook previously, the social network’s security features had always treated Tor as a botnet, and thusly users often found that pages loaded incorrectly or even not at all.
Now, by visiting http://facebookcorewwwi.onion/ anyone with a Tor enabled internet browser can access a secure connection to Facebook’s servers with end-to-end encryption.
It is expected that this may well appeal to Tor users in some parts of the world who can now use the service to circumvent government censorship of Facebook, such as in Iran, China, Cuba and North Korea.
It is also true, however, that some countries – China, for example – have attempted to block access to Tor itself.
Facebook is the first internet giant to provide official support for Tor, and is likely to prove popular among those who favour the idea of their browsing habits and location being kept from being tracked. Although users would still need to log-in using a real name to access the site, the extra level anonymity the service provides is still very appealing to many users.
Talking to the BBC , Dr Steven Murdoch of University College London, said: "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."