Facebook Compartmentalization

I don't always use Facebook, but when I do, it's over a compartmentalized browser over Tor.

Whenever people talk about protecting privacy on the internet, social-media sites like Facebook inevitably come up—especially right now. It makes sense—social networks (like Facebook) provide a platform where you can share your personal data with your friends, and it doesn't come as much of a surprise to people to find out they also share that data with advertisers (it's how they pay the bills after all). It makes sense that Facebook uses data you provide when you visit that site. What some people might be surprised to know, however, is just how much. Facebook tracks them when they aren't using Facebook itself but just browsing around the web.

Some readers may solve the problem of Facebook tracking by saying "just don't use Facebook"; however, for many people, that site may be the only way they can keep in touch with some of their friends and family members. Although I don't post on Facebook much myself, I do have an account and use it to keep in touch with certain friends. So in this article, I explain how I employ compartmentalization principles to use Facebook without leaking too much other information about myself.

1. Post Only Public Information

The first rule for Facebook is that, regardless of what you think your privacy settings are, you are much better off if you treat any content you provide there as being fully public. For one, all of those different privacy and permission settings can become complicated, so it's easy to make a mistake that ends up making some of your data more public than you'd like. Second, even with privacy settings in place, you don't have a strong guarantee that the data won't be shared with people willing to pay for it. If you treat it like a public posting ground and share only data you want the world to know, you won't get any surprises.

2. Give Facebook Its Own Browser

I mentioned before that Facebook also can track what you do when you browse other sites. Have you ever noticed little Facebook "Like" icons on other sites? Often websites will include those icons to help increase engagement on their sites. What it also does, however, is link the fact that you visited that site with your specific Facebook account—even if you didn't click "Like" or otherwise engage with the site. If you want to reduce how much you are tracked, I recommend selecting a separate browser that you use only for Facebook. So if you are a Firefox user, load Facebook in Chrome. If you are a Chrome user, view Facebook in Firefox. If you don't want to go to the trouble of managing two different browsers, at the very least, set up a separate Firefox profile (run firefox -P from a terminal) that you use only for Facebook.

3. View Facebook over Tor

Many people don't know that Facebook itself offers a .onion service that allows you to view Facebook over Tor. It may seem counterintuitive that a site that wants so much of your data would also want to use an anonymizing service, but it makes sense if you think it through. Sure, if you access Facebook over Tor, Facebook will know it's you that's accessing it, but it won't know from where. More important, no other sites on the internet will know you are accessing Facebook from that account, even if they try to track via IP.

To use Facebook's private .onion service, install the Tor Browser Bundle, or otherwise install Tor locally, and follow the Tor documentation to route your Facebook-only browser to its SOCKS proxy service. Then visit https://facebookcorewwwi.onion, and only you and Facebook will know you are hitting the site. By the way, one advantage to setting up a separate browser that uses a SOCKS proxy instead of the Tor Browser Bundle is that the Tor Browser Bundle attempts to be stateless, so you will have a tougher time making the Facebook .onion address your home page.


So sure, you could decide to opt out of Facebook altogether, but if you don't have that luxury, I hope a few of these compartmentalization steps will help you use Facebook in a way that doesn't completely remove your privacy.

Kyle Rankin is a Tech Editor and columnist at Linux Journal and the Chief Security Officer at Purism. He is the author of Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting, The Official Ubuntu Server Book, Knoppix Hacks, Knoppix Pocket Reference, Linux Multimedia Hacks and Ubuntu Hacks, and also a contributor to a number of other O'Reilly books. Rankin speaks frequently on security and open-source software including at BsidesLV, O'Reilly Security Conference, OSCON, SCALE, CactusCon, Linux World Expo and Penguicon. You can follow him at @kylerankin.

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