Will Knight

A View from Will Knight

Anonymizing Android Devices

Tor–a networking scheme that hides users’ online activities–is going mobile.

  • September 16, 2009

A good way for political dissidents (and anyone else) to hide their online activities is going mobile.

The Tor networking protocol hides users’ activities by relaying requests for information through a random selection of nodes (made up of other Tor users) until it’s near impossible to tell who originally made the request. Now Connell Gauld, an engineering student at Cambridge University in the UK has created a version of Tor for Android-powered mobile devices.

As this recent TR feature article explains, Tor can help those living under oppressive regimes find information and express their views without fear of persecution or retribution. But it can also help ordinary users protect their privacy.

It’ll be interesting to see how popular the mobile version of Tor is. After all, it’s possible to collect much more personal information via a phone–not just what you’re browsing but were you’re browsing from. Then again, plenty of people are happy to give up their anonymity in return for location-specific search results. And companies are keen to use this information to deliver targeted advertising and local recommendations.

Sandy Pentland, a professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, has pioneered an approach that involves mining the aggregate information from many mobile devices–what he calls “reality mining”. His startup, Sense Networks, is exploring this, but it also anonymizes personal data to protect the privacy of individual users.

Recently, we covered a more controversial idea: building anonymity into the internet itself.

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