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Facebook isn’t something you’d normally associate with anonymous browsing. But last week they launched a .onion address for Tor users to access the site.

Users wishing to access Facebook over Tor can do so by visiting https://facebookcorewwwi.onion/ while connected to the Tor network.

The Tor protocol Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor Tor provides truly anonymous and untraceable browsing and messaging, as well as access to the so called “Deep Web”. Tor can’t plausibly be broken by any organization on the planet. Read More both anonymizes network traffic and circumvents ISP and local level censorship. It does this by bouncing communications around a geographically distributed network of nodes, with a diverse range of endpoints where the traffic exits the Tor network and enters the standard Internet.

Facebook has made assurances to users that visits over Tor will be safe, with connections secured with strong end-to-end encryption.

According to a tweet by Runa Sandvik, developer with the Tor project, this is the first .onion address with an SSL certificate that has been signed by a major issuing authority.

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This ensures that users will always be directly connecting to the Facebook data center. It also virtually eliminates the risk of someone intercepting and monitoring traffic in a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack.

A Break From Tradition

Facebook are known for their insistence on users registering with their real identities and this is widely considered to be a driving factor in the success of Ello Meet Ello: The Hip New Social Network You Need To Know About Meet Ello: The Hip New Social Network You Need To Know About It has been said that when a social network makes a small change, it cause a schism, sending users fleeing elsewhere. They're heading to ello.co. Read More ; an ad-free, privacy-friendly social network that allows anonymous-usage.

They’ve also been known to deactivate the the accounts Banned: What Happens When Facebook Doesn't Like You [Feature] Banned: What Happens When Facebook Doesn't Like You [Feature] When I interviewed Mark S. Zuckerberg, I thought that he was a charming, polite guy. When he talked, he did so with a typically Midwestern drawl. He has raised a large family and has a... Read More of users they suspect to be accessing the site under a fraudulent name; including an Oxford-based IT technician called Dan Q and an Indianapolis bankruptcy lawyer with the unfortunate luck to share a name with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Last month, Facebook had to backtrack on the banning of hundreds of drag performers, all of whom had registered under pseudonyms.

So, why is Facebook seemingly reversing on this particular long-standing policy?

Well, Tor isn’t just used by people looking to buy drugs on The Silk Road. It’s certainly unfair to typify the protocol as a tool solely used to access The Dark Web Journey Into The Hidden Web: A Guide For New Researchers Journey Into The Hidden Web: A Guide For New Researchers This manual will take you on a tour through the many levels of the deep web: databases and information available in academic journals. Finally, we’ll arrive at the gates of Tor. Read More . For many living in repressive regimes, Tor is used to access an uncensored Internet.

Similarly, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter were used extensively in the Arab Spring as platforms for organizing and co-ordinating dissent. One of the most iconic photos taken during the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was one of a protester holding a sign saying ‘Thank You Facebook’, in Arabic.

Facebook is seemingly aware of their social responsibility to those who live in authoritarian regimes. Enabling Tor access formalizes a secure, private way to access Facebook for such people.

How Do I Access Facebook Over Tor?

Not many people know how to use Tor. And yet, it is something that has became increasingly simplified in recent years. This is possibly in response to increased government surveillance of the Internet What Is PRISM? Everything You Need to Know What Is PRISM? Everything You Need to Know The National Security Agency in the US has access to whatever data you're storing with US service providers like Google Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook. They're also likely monitoring most of the traffic flowing across the... Read More , in addition to the passage of various Internet-unfriendly policies Internet Censorship In The UK - Why It Won't Work Internet Censorship In The UK - Why It Won't Work David Cameron's Internet filtering plans have started a stir. The contours of his plans are still not clear, but opinions are being formed as the debate rages across the U.K. and the world. I'm completely... Read More and laws.

Setting your computer to access Facebook over Tor can be done in a matter of minutes.

Download The Tor Browser

The Tor-Browser is a variant of Mozilla’s Firefox browser that is pre-configured to access Tor How the Tor Project Can Help You Protect Your Own Online Privacy How the Tor Project Can Help You Protect Your Own Online Privacy Privacy has been a constant issue with virtually all major sites that you visit today, especially those that handle personal information on a regular basis. However, while most security efforts are currently directed towards the... Read More . It is available for OS X, Windows and Linux, and is available in a variety of languages. It comes in a binary form that can run off a USB flash drive without any tweaking, like any portable app How Portable Apps Can Make Your Life Easier & Save Resources How Portable Apps Can Make Your Life Easier & Save Resources If you frequently switch computers and have cloud storage space or USB drives to spare, here's an idea: outsource your applications. Read More .

If you haven’t already, download the Tor-Browser to get browsing with less surveillance and access to Facebook.

facebooktor-torpage

Once downloaded, install it and open it. Tor Browser will ask you whether you wish you connect directly to the Tor network, or if you wish to configure bridge or proxy settings. The former will work in most cases, but if you’re not sure, there’s an email address to contact for support.

facebooktor-networksettings

Connect To The Tor Network

Once you click Connect, it will start to establish a connection to the Tor network. This can take a while.

facebooktor-connecting

Once connected, TorBrowser will look like this. Please note, your Tor connection is localized to that browser. Anything else (like a separate web browser or Bittorrent) will be connecting over the standard Internet.

facebooktor-connected

If you want to make double-sure you are connected, click Test Tor Network Settings.

Head To Facebook

In the address bar, type https://facebookcorewwwi.onion/ and hit return.

facebooktor-address

Tor isn’t necessarily the speediest protocol. Be patient while it loads. When it does so, it should look like the standard Facebook login screen.

facebooktor-login

Verify You’re At The Official Facebook Tor Page

You can verify you’re securely connected to the Facebook server by clicking the padlock icon to the left of the address bar. If the certificate is verified by DigiCert Inc, you know you’re in the right place.

facebooktor-cert

A Note On Security

To use Facebook, you need to have JavaScript activated.

However, TorBrowser has JavaScript turned off by default, due to the risk of it being used to track your browser across websites Canvas Fingerprinting Will Track You Everywhere You Go. Here's Why You Should Be Worried Canvas Fingerprinting Will Track You Everywhere You Go. Here's Why You Should Be Worried Read More . This form of monitoring is anathema to the purpose of Tor. When leaving Facebook, you are strongly encouraged to turn JavaScript off again, as a matter of routine.

Why This Matters

Facebook is currently banned in China, North Korea, and Iran.

These are countries with checkered human rights records, and endemic censorship of the free press. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss Facebook (and social networking in general) as a frivolity, it remains a relatively unencumbered and free platform for communication. One that Wired magazine (and many others) attribute to the Arab spring uprisings.

This unexpected move by Facebook will ensure the social network continues to be a free, open platform for all, regardless of where they’re living.

If you’ve got any thoughts on this article, I’d love to hear them. Drop me a comment below, and we’ll talk.

Photo Credits: JaysonPhotography / Shutterstock.com

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