Facebook isn’t known as a staunch defender of privacy. Indeed, quite the opposite could be said: Facebook has always wanted its users to be as gushingly public about everything they think, say, and do as much as is humanly possible which makes what I’m about to tell you seem, well, implausible: Facebook has set up shop on the Tor Network.
“Tor” was an acronym for “The Onion Router”. Onion routing was originally developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory and today’s Tor Project, launched in 2006, was financed by a wide variety of sources including “the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau, Internews, Human Rights Watch, the University of Cambridge, Google, and Netherlands-based stichting.net.”
If you need evidence for how important people generally consider Tor to be in helping protect privacy and anonymity just consider that as of writing the Tor Network Status page shows the Tor Network to consist of 6,703 routers.
While you can, in principle, access anything on the Internet via the Tor Network you’ll find that the performance routing through Tor can be depressingly slow. On the other hand, servers “in” the Tor Network (they have the domain name “.onion” which only resolves when running the Tor client software) often have a much better response.
Facebook on the Tor Network
By Facebook having an address on the Tor Network, https://facebookcorewwwi.onion/, the company can provide a much better experience for users who wish to access the service anonymously … which really does seem odd but may be more about Facebook looking to new markets in countries such as China where avoiding censorship has become a national pastime.
To make Facebook more usable from Tor the company has modified some of the security and verification techniques they used which means that supporting Tor access wasn’t just a matter of having a .onion address.
Facebook supporting Tor is good for both services both in terms of popularizing Tor and making Facebook more privacy-friendly; we’ll have to wait and see what the unintended consequences turn out to be because you know they’ll turn up …