“The Great Firewall of China”. “The Golden Shield”. These are just a couple of terms that have been used to describe the methods used by the Chinese government to regulate and censor the Internet. A vast array of websites and services readily available in the United States, United Kingdom, and less restricted areas of the world are routinely blocked in China. One of these applications is the standard-bearer of networking platforms, Facebook.
China’s primary issue with Facebook has always been that it is simply too hard to prevent what is shared among users of the social network. Literally millions of posts, messages, photos, and status updates each day make Facebook a very hard platform to regulate. The far easier solution, at least in the eyes of the Chinese government, is to simply block access to the website.
The TOR Solution
In late 2014, Facebook announced that it would begin using a dedicated Tor hidden service located at the web address https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebookcorewwwi.onion in order to offer a safer alternative for its users, especially journalists and expats that often find themselves needing to circumvent Internet restrictions.
Tor is a software application that goes a long way toward anonymizing Internet access. The name Tor stands for The Onion Router. Tor was originally developed within the US Navy and its intended purpose was to protect government communications. No longer specifically restricted to military use, Tor is now used by millions of people who want to protect their online privacy. From everyday web surfers to journalists, expats, and even activists, Tor has become very popular for anonymizing Internet traffic. Along the way, Tor has also incurred criticism for being an access point to sites like The Silk Road which have tread among the darker shadows of the online world.
Tor works this way. The software uses a network of encrypted tunnels called “nodes” which essentially distribute your network traffic over multiple locations making it impossible for someone to pinpoint your precise location. Think of it as a means of taking numerous twists and turns to prevent yourself from being followed while all the while erasing your digital footprint.
Many hidden Internet services and websites are provided via the .onion address and are only accessible through a Tor-enabled browser. Facebook’s decision to create a version of their platform accessible via Tor has been hailed as a victory for personal privacy and Internet Freedom on several fronts. First, Facebook’s willingness to offer a hidden service via Tor goes a long way toward legitimizing the Tor software. Thanks to Ross Ulbricht’s arrest for running the underground drug trafficking network The Silk Road via a .onion domain, the perception of the average citizen where Tor is concerned is that the software is primarily used to conceal illegal activity.
Facebook being made available through Tor should help others to realize that the need for anonymous web browsing is not restricted to individuals that are behaving badly online. Expats use services like Facebook and Twitter to stay connected with relatives and informed on local news. Restricted access to these sites can be troublesome. Anonymity is also important for journalists who may need to protect sources and get information out of a restricted area so that it can be reported in the US or UK. Clearly, Internet privacy is something that is important to everyone who surfs the web.
Can a VPN be used to unblock Facebook in China?
For whatever reason some individuals may simply not be comfortable with using Tor. They may not be able to get past Tor’s association with illicit websites or they may not want to download the software. A VPN can provide the exact same access to Facebook in China without causing undue concerns on the part of the user.
First and foremost, a VPN is secure. Whether it is Tor or a VPN, encrypted tunnels are the hallmark of anonymous Internet browsing. Granted, a VPN doesn’t bounce around between various access points, but that really isn’t necessary if you simply want to unblock Facebook in China. All you need to do is represent that you are not in a restricted area. You can choose a VPN server in the US, UK, Germany, Canada or many other areas where Facebook is available and tunnel your access to the social network through the VPN server.
There is no software download required for the VPN solution, either. Your Internet-ready device whether it be a mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop is probably already equipped with a VPN client. All you will need to do is provide the VPN credentials supplied by VPNaccounts.com and you will be browsing anonymously in a matter of minutes.
While we applaud the effort of Facebook to offer additional options when it comes to their users’ privacy and anonymity, and we certainly have no beef with Tor or those who use it, a VPN can be every bit as effective for evading the Great Firewall of China and unblocking Facebook, Twitter, and even media services like Netflix. If you are in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or another city you can click here to buy a VPN.
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