When Facebook announced its own .onion address, many people were skeptical because they thought that for one, Facebook can’t be trusted with privacy issues, and second, that it wouldn’t make sense to use Tor when you’re using your real name anyway. The use of a real name would obviously eliminate whatever anonymity Tor might offer.
However, the people who use Facebook over Tor likely do it in part to avoid the censorship of the site in their own countries, even if they may continue to use their real names. Others could also use Facebook either to promote a cause or to have conversations within certain groups while staying anonymous and not revealing their real names.
Clearly, there are good uses of Facebook even when not using your real name, as many people already use fake accounts on Facebook. However, these people don’t benefit from real anonymity.
As we’ve seen with certain lawsuits against Facebook, the company can track users across the web, even if they aren't logged in to the social media network. Facebook can also track people who have never even made an account through shadow profiles built around the sites you visit that have the Like button on them. However, all of this tracking is much harder to do, if not impossible, if people use Tor.
Over the past year, Facebook also enabled Tor connectivity for its Android app for people who use Orbot, a Guardian Project app that encrypts all traffic through Tor as if it were a VPN.
Facebook also played an important role in standardizing the .onion domain name for the Tor network through the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). This means that .onion addresses can now also benefit from HTTPS encryption, as an added layer of protection.
Facebook isn’t known as the most privacy-friendly company, but its adoption should make Tor more mainstream as a go-to tool for real privacy. This announcement shows that it may already be working.
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu.