Tor’s been available in Windows, Mac and Linux versions for years, but the appearance of Tor Browser for Android 8.5 is still an important jump towards the mainstream for a browser whose user base is still dominated by in-the-know privacy enthusiasts.
As the Tor Project release notes remind us:
Mobile browsing is increasing around the world, and in some parts, it is commonly the only way people access the internet. In these same areas, there is often heavy surveillance and censorship online, so we made it a priority to reach these users.
The point of Tor Android is that users should get exactly the same level of privacy and anonymisation they would when using the desktop versions.
Apart from a few gaps that need to be ironed out, the list of protections in 8.5 includes:
- Site isolation which stops third-party trackers from ‘following’ users from site to site.
- Anti-surveillance – anyone monitoring the connection (an ISP, say) can see the user is connecting to Tor but not which websites they end up viewing.
- Anti-fingerprinting – unlike most mainstream browsers, Tor for Android should make it a lot harder for websites to track users by noticing unique characteristics of their browser and device.
- Tor encrypts all traffic, routing it through at least three dedicated relays before it reaches its destination.
- The ability to visit sites an ISP might be blocking (a feature useful to countries where official censorship is an issue) and Tor sites with special Onion addresses.
- Tor also bundles extensions such as HTTPS Everywhere and NoScript.
As with desktop versions, Tor for Android is based on Firefox version 60.7, which does have some implications – as Tor users found out a few weeks back when a glitch at the Mozilla end temporarily disabled NoScript.
Using Tor for Android is also going to be slower than other mobile browsers both in terms of session set up, during which it establishes a connection, as well as browsing. While browsing websites, some page elements might not work, most obviously when the browser is configured via Security Settings to the ‘safest’ security level that blocks media, images and video.
Orfox and Orbot
Until now the only way to use the Tor network on Android was by using Orfox or Orbot.
Orfox will now be superseded by Tor for Android while Orbot, which offers slightly different features, will continue is separate development.