In countries like China or Iran where State censorship is strict and bans access to mainstream websites and social media, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) has found a way. At the moment, the update that lets users connects to Facebook is only available for Android users but it’s a huge step towards freedom of information for millions, if not billions, of users. How did this happen?
A Facebook summer intern worked on a project that entailed the use of Tor, the dark web, where only extremely secret groups operate and find a way to communicate. All this borders the illegal since we are referring to freedom fighters, pedophiles, terrorists and all those who need hidden channels to bypass state-run censorship.
The Tor dark network hides and then “shoots” out Internet signals everywhere in the world, thus making it impossible to locate the Internet-connected source: it does make it easy for whoever wants to evade censorship – for legal purposes, when living under an authoritarian regime, or illegal purposes, when having to hide criminal activities from state authorities – to connect to the world.
Orbot is the mobile app for Tor and that’s what Facebook’s update is all about: it’s intended to allow users to change their settings so as to enable the Facebook app to launch via Orbot. Once connected, the user will be protected from state-run censorship since he will be untraceable.
The project has yet to be tested and it’s not easy, at this stage, to forecast its failure or success. What’s certain is China’s extreme efforts on censorship, in order to discourage users to even attempt to connect to the Internet. The “Great Firewall of China” has been set up for this very purpose: a barrier to freedom (?).
The relationship between Facebook and Tor dates back in 2014 when Tor was used to allow desktop users to be able to connect to world servers and freely browse the Net. But Facebook’s recent move has been decided on the basis of its users’ demographic, the majority of whom (88%), uses their mobile to access the social media network.
Is this a freedom call from Facebook or a way to extend its outreach, therefore increasing its revenues in the long run? Opinions collide on this matter.
The move certainly gives some credit to Tor, that can be now seen as a way to exercise a human right such as freedom of information, rather than always been associated to the Dark Web and its shady features.