What is Tor? Why is it important? Here are the answers you need.
Ever since Sir Tim Berners-Lee devised the World Wide Web in 1991, there has been a debate regarding how online privacy should be protected and regulated. The conflicting demands of freedom of speech versus the prevention of extremism or abuse has become a hotly debated topic. This is particularly significant in a year when governments around the world have begun introducing or approving laws that enable them to track the digital footprints of their citizens.
Privacy To The Max
Given the slow yet seemingly inexorable erosion of online privacy, more and more people are channeling their web browsing through the Tor network. An acronym for The Onion Router, Tor is a browser that encrypts data before passing it through numerous nodes across the web. These are the layers that inspired the onion analogy.
By the time information reaches a destination device, it is extremely difficult to determine who is viewing what, or even where they are. This is far removed from the detailed trails we leave when going online through conventional web browsers. Therefore it effectively ensures user anonymity.
Why All The Fuss?
Tor is a controversial platform, mainly because of its associations with the Deep Web. This is the murky world of illicit activities and illegal services whose domain names are lengthy strings of alphanumeric gibberish, most of which are impossible to find without insider knowledge. While few of us wish to employ a hitman or buy assault rifles (all paid for with the equally untraceable Bitcoin currency), the Deep Web is where we’d go if we did. For people who argue you have nothing to hide if you do nothing wrong, that fact alone is enough to condemn Tor and its users.
How Do You Access Tor?
Nonetheless, legitimate concerns about personal privacy and the monitoring of our search histories are encouraging the widespread adoption of Tor, whose installation is no more complex than mainstream search engines. To download it, visit the Torproject.org website and choose the installation platform you want. The browser will install in a few minutes, before asking whether the computer in question has a censored or proxied internet connection.
If you’re happy to connect directly, the Tor Browser will then load with a home page whose contents include tips on browsing anonymously and an invitation to host a relay node (which accelerates global data transfers by harnessing your device’s spare bandwidth). The built-in Start Page search engine won’t give Google any sleepless nights, but it has been designed to anonymize results – and you can always use Google or Bing without logging in.
Tor does have its cons, of course. The process of routing data through so many nodes slows web traffic considerably. It can be difficult to stream video content or pursue other data-intensive activities. Tor is also slow to boot up, some websites won’t display properly, and its lack of functionality feels like a throwback to Netscape Navigator compared to Chrome’s handy shortcuts or Edge’s slick interface.
However, the ability to go online anonymously is appealing to growing numbers of people. Tor has been used to plan the toppling of corrupt governments, bring unreasonable behavior to account in the public domain, and give a voice to people who may otherwise find themselves punished for speaking out. Despite those controversial Deep Web associations, The Onion Router is likely to enjoy an ever-higher profile as our political leaders attempt to increase levels of online surveillance.
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