Compliance Management, Privacy

Facebook integrates Tor into Android app

In a step forward for privacy, Facebook has integrated Orbot, essentially Tor for Android, into the most recent release of Facebook Android, which is set to be available in a matter of days.

Inclusion of Orbot, a free proxy app developed by the Guardian Project, will ensure that a user's location remains private.

Facebook decided to offer “experimental support for using Facebook over Tor” via Orbot for Android after it received repeated requests to provide “additional platform support beyond the browser,” the company said in a release.

The social media giant had created a Tor onion address in 2014 so that Facebook users could have secure connections from Tor-enabled browsers. That effort “increased the security of Tor connections to Facebook by eliminating steps that required traffic to travel beyond the cryptographic assurances provided by the Tor network,” the company said.

"By integrating support for Orbot and the Tor network into their app for Android, Facebook is pointing out that Tor is truly for everyone,” Nathan Freitas, founder of the Guardian Project and developer of
Orbot, said in a statement emailed to “A billion people have installed Facebook for Android, and we are happy they have an easy way to use Tor now."

Facebook's move drew praise from Shari Steele, executive director of the Tor Project, who told, “I think it's wonderful that there is going to be widespread deployment of this app and attention to the Tor Project.”

Steele said the initiative was “Facebook-driven” and gave the company the nod for wanting “to provide additional security to its users.”

Tor in the past has gotten a bad rap from critics who have cast it as a tool of those who ply the dark web. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has, as Steele said, “done a good job” hammering its message that Tor is used by criminals and terrorists to avoid detection. But the onion browser has long been used to protect communications and activities of those, such as journalists and researchers, who simply want to maintain their privacy. Getting public support for Orbot from Facebook could be a game-changer for Tor and for user privacy. “I'm excited to see a player as big as Facebook do this for their users,” said Steele.

Orbot: Proxy with Tor is available through Google Play or at the Orbot F-Droid repository.

Once the proxy app is installed, users must enable it via a new preference switch found in the Facebook “App Settings” menu. 

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