It’s been 15 years since the first public release of Tor, the private network software, and the need for anonymous web browsing has likely never been greater, given the amount of online surveillance by governments as well as advertisers and social media companies. And now that a large fraction of web browsing is done on mobile devices, it’s an opportune time for the Tor Project to release its first browser for Android.
The project, which maintains the Tor Browser and other software, on Friday released an early version of the browser for Android, its first mobile browser for any platform. There have been other apps that would route mobile traffic through the Tor network, such as Orfox, but the Tor Project has been working on a standalone browser for Android for some time.
“Mobile browsing is on the rise 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 in the past year, we’ve focused on better supporting these users. There’s never been an official Tor Browser on mobile,” the Tor Project said in an announcement of the release.
Like the desktop version of its software, the Android Tor Browser uses the Tor network to anonymize and protect users’ traffic and browsing information. The network comprises a series of servers that route traffic through protected connections between the user and her destination. The connections are encrypted and the routes are random, allowing users to avoid tracking and evade censorship in countries where the Internet is filtered.
The Tor network has been an important tool for many groups of users over the years, including political dissidents and activists, journalists, researchers, and others who need to protect their browsing habits from various kinds of surveillance. Many of the people who need that kind of protection are in countries where mobile devices are the main--or only--way that they can access the Internet, so bringing Tor to Android gives those users a reliable, secure tool to protect their web traffic.
Android is far and away the most popular mobile OS, so it’s a natural first step into the mobile realm for Tor. There’s no iOS Tor browser at the moment, although there is an iOS app called Onion Browser that connects to the Tor network and provides much of the same functionality. The Tor Browser for Android is an alpha release, so it's early days and there may well be some small issues with it before it hits a stable release date.