Facebook has made developments to allow their users access to the site without disclosing their identity or personal information. This has raised concerns regarding the safety of Facebook users, whether their personal information will be visible to unknown users and will the unidentified users be held accountable for their online behaviour. However, Facebook argues that this decision is allowing the site to develop further and become even more globally accessible.
Previously, Tor users could access Facebook via Tor, however the recent changes are allowing Tor users to use the service and continue unidentified, as opposed to previously, when they were recognised as hacked accounts and blocked.
In order to allow Facebook users access to the site whilst withholding their name, email address, personal details, Facebook has launched an .onionaddress. This development has been described as an, ‘experiment,’ by the social network, recognizing that the development is going to have flaws with regards to privacy, and that this first step will be one of several to achieve complete privacy for Facebook users.
The decision to allow complete anonymity has sparked controversy to those that find comfort in the safety and security of the service. Making the site available to anonymous users opens the door to the unknown and potential danger. This begs the questions what is Tor? And what are Tor users hiding?
Tor is an open network and free software, known as the Tor Browser bundle, which can be downloaded online. Tor prides itself on providing a service that can protect a user’s privacy and, ‘defend against network surveillance and traffic analysis.’ It anonymises users, through routing a user’s traffic in a series of other computers. It attempts to hide a person’s location and identity by sending data across the internet via a very circuitous route involving several “nodes” – which, in this context, means using volunteers’ PCs and computer servers as connection points.
This creates difficulty when trying to access Facebook because Facebook enforce security measures when a user attempts to log-in from an unexpected location. They ask a series of security questions to ensure that the account is not being used by a hacker, for example holidaymakers often find they must go through additional security steps, such as naming people in pictures, before being able to log-in while abroad. Furthermore, for a service that’s prime function for many is to socialize, and express yourself and your identity; withholding your identity and information somewhat defies the concept of social media.
Tor users continue to show as having various locations and consequently accounts were being locked out. This and several other difficulties such as fonts not displaying correctly, spurred Facebook to converse with Tor and establish ways for the two to work together, despite the concerns regarding Tor’s involvement with, ‘the dark web.’ There has been speculation that Tor has been used as a tool to pursue criminal activity; making illegal trades of arms, drugs and child abuse images accessible. However, the creators of the service argue that the service is for legitimate users that require confidentiality in their profession, such as journalists, activists, law enforcement etc.
Despite this reputation, Facebook and Tor have found common ground with regards to them both pushing for permission to be more transparent to its users about the amount of government attention they receive. The Tor project is a non-profit organisation that conducts research into authorities and large corporation involvement with social media, and the information that these bodies have access to.
Very recently this growing concern regarding online privacy has been the topic of conversation in the tech community with it being core to the debate at the Yorkshire Digital Summit. Key speakers such as Gareth Cameron, Information Commissioner’s Office, Paul Berwin, senior partner of Berwins Solicitors, Alex Craven, the chief executive of Bloom, argued a spectrum of ideas on the continually growing concern of our privacy as a result of social media and the World Wide Web. Cameron, argued that it is essential we take a grasp of our information and ensure that it does not fall into unknown or unsavoury hands, and then on the opposing side was Alex Craven. Craven convincingly argued that online privacy is a concept of the past and that being online does leave us open to the dangers of the web.
In conclusion, there are two core reasons to why Facebook has made the controversial decision to work with Tor, allowing Facebook to be easily accessible from their page. Firstly, Facebook’s alliance with Tor makes them accessible to people where the network is blocked. Facebook’s decision will prove popular to those that want to stop their location and browsing habits from being tracked should they be located in nations where social media is not permitted, e.g. China, Iran, North Korea and Cuba are among countries that have attempted to prevent access to the site. Secondly, it would be beneficial for Facebook to further spread its net to the professional users of Tor. Tor is regularly used by professionals such as journalists, the military and law enforcement officers; they use Tor as a means of connecting with individuals exposing information that could put them in danger, members of the public that wish to keep their identity unknown for a variety of legitimate reasons.