As the old saying goes, if you’re not the customer, you’re the product. This has never been more true than on the internet.
While you casually browse websites and connect with your friends on social media, information about you is being collected in ways that you never imagined. A great deal of it is used to personalize advertisements – for instance, Google keeps track of your searches and makes sure that you see ads of similar products every time you log in. However, as we have written in the past, there is always a risk that some bits of your personal information could fall in the hands of those who may wish to use it for nefarious purposes. If you truly want to be safe during your browsing sessions, you need to be thinking about what is happening to your data.
In some cases, internet users have opted for an entirely different way of securely accessing their favorite websites. Meet Tor, the network of servers that allows users to browse with anonymity.
What is Tor?
Tor, which stands for The Onion Router, was originally developed in the 1990s by the U.S. Navy as a way to allow individuals to hide their identity while online. Today, the network is a nonprofit that you can access by simply downloading the Tor browser.
Simply put, Tor uses its different servers to move your information across the network without giving away your identity. Since the traffic is encrypted, anyone who tries to intercept it would not be able to tell that it emanated from your computer.
The U.S. military initially took interest in such a service because of its potential for helping facilitate communication between individuals living in authoritarian nations. For instance, residents of Iran are not able to access Facebook through standard channels, so they use Tor to login without interruption from the government. Tor has also long been a home for hackers and activists to communicate with each other. Ultimately, however, the network is available to anyone who wants to use it.
How quickly is Tor growing?
Using Tor to access websites like Facebook has grown increasingly common in recent days. According to The Economic Times, more than one million people now connect to Facebook over Tor as of this year, compared to just 525,000 in June 2015.
Facebook has actually incentivized this option. In October 2014, the social networking giant created a dedicated address for Tor access. It has also boosted support for Tor use on Facebook for Android devices. In general, this means that all of these users can access their Facebook without fear that someone may intercept their data.
“When using Facebook website over Tor, Tor Browser is in charge of that data, so it is anonymous,” a Tor spokeswoman told The Economic Times. “Of course, someone may post a status update saying that they are at some restaurant, for instance, and that would de-anonymize them.”
However, as long as you are mindful of how you use Tor, you should be able to cut down on the number of personalized ads you see, as well as keep your data out of nefarious hands.
No matter what you use to secure your data when you go online, it's important to remember that identity theft can strike at any time. Make an effort to be proactive by investing in an identity theft protection service. Identity Guard can monitor your credit files, Social Security Numbers and public records and alert you to certain activity that could be indicative of fraud.