Over a million users use Tor to surf Facebook anonymously every month

Facebook has announced that one million people had used the “dark web” to connect to the social networking site in the past month. Facebook has preserved an “Onion” site that exists on the Tor network, which forms part of the so-called dark web, for about a year and a half.

Tor is a network technology that preserves users’ privacy by concealing their identity and location by bouncing web traffic randomly through a far-flung network of servers. (Tor – an acronym of “The Onion Router” – adds layers of anonymity to traffic that are difficult to be traced.) The Tor code is open-source and its servers are operated by volunteers.

Back in October 2014, Facebook created a dedicated onion address for Tor access that was aimed to make it simpler for users to connect via Tor, given that the way the network routes traffic can be flagged by site security infrastructure.

In June 2015, Facebook was already being visited by 525,000 total Tor users (measured over a 30-day period). Since then, traffic has grown in a “roughly linear” pattern, according to Facebook, meaning about 50,000 new users are have been accessing the social network via Tor each month.

“People who choose to communicate over Tor do so for a variety of reasons related to privacy, security and safety. As we’ve written previously it’s important to us to provide methods for people to use our services securely – particularly if they lack reliable methods to do so,” wrote Alec Muffett, a Facebook engineer in London who leads the company’s work on its dark-web presence. “It’s important to us to provide methods for people to use our services securely—particularly if they lack reliable methods to do so.”

“This is why in the last two years we built the Facebook onion site and onion-mobile site, helped standardise the ‘.onion’ domain name, and implemented Tor connectivity for our Android mobile app by enabling connections through Orbot,” he added.

Facebook added, “This [Tor] growth is a reflection of the choices that people make to use Facebook over Tor, and the value that it provides them. We hope they will continue to provide feedback and help us keep improving.”

However, you need to remember one thing. While you might be fairly anonymous when browsing Facebook via Tor, you will lose your anonymity once you start doing things that start recognizing you on the social network.

A spokesperson for Tor told TechCrunch, “When using Facebook website over Tor, Tor Browser is in charge of that data, so it is anonymous. Of course, someone may post a status update saying that they are at some restaurant, for instance, and that would de-anonymize them.”

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