Users of Facebook Inc’s Android app can now privately browse the world’s largest social network through the anonymity service Tor, the company said on Tuesday.
The feature expands a collaboration that allowed Facebook users to directly access its site via Tor’s browser on personal computers. It comes as policymakers and technology companies debate whether digital privacy should be curbed to help regulators more easily thwart hackers.
Kate Krauss, a spokeswoman for the Tor Project, a group of developers that oversees development of the anonymity software, said Android support could help expand Tor due to Facebook’s large following. Facebook has more than 1.5 billion monthly active users.
“Everybody in the world needs more privacy online and almost everybody is on Facebook, Krauss said via Signal, an encrypted messaging service. “This will allow people to choose whether to share their location or not. For some people, this is convenience. For others it is lifesaving.” Tor has no plans to support Facebook’s mobile app for Apple Inc’s iPhone, Krauss said.
Facebook said in a blog post that a “sizeable community” has grown around its feature launched in 2014, which allowed users to access its site via Tor on PCs. That has prompted calls for additional Tor support, it added.
Tor is used to hide computer IP addresses, typically by concealing the identity of an Internet user. Its popularity has grown following revelations of U.S. spying on the Internet by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.
Tor was funded by the U.S. government as a communications tool to be used by dissidents in oppressive countries, but it has increasingly drawn ire from U.S. spies who are frustrated by how difficult it is to monitor the platform’s users.
Using Tor on Android requires a download of Orbot, an app that is used to connect to Tor, and updating Facebook’s app settings.