Tor Browser Pilot

Toronto Public Library is pleased to offer the industry-leading, privacy-enabling Tor Browser on our Learning Centre computers at North York Central library, for a six-month pilot launching in September. Learn more about why we’re offering this pilot and how to use it to protect yourself online.

Have questions about Tor Browser? Find your answers here.

Read our policies governing privacy at Toronto Public Library.

Tor Browser FAQ

What is Tor Browser?

Tor Browser is a browser software like Firefox, or Chrome, with the added benefit that it anonymizes a user's activity. With a traditional browser, any intermediary - the Internet service provider (ISP), the local IT department running the network, etc. - can view the contents of the users' activities (e.g. what websites they search for, which pages they click on, etc.). With Tor Browser, those intermediaries cannot (see “How does Tor browser work?” below). Additionally, any online advertisers, government or corporate trackers, etc. cannot link the user with their activity, and therefore cannot profile that person. Tor Browser offers the best privacy currently available for Internet users. Overall, Tor enjoys over 4 million daily users worldwide Tor Browser can be used much like any other web browser, with some important caveats.

Why is Toronto Public Library offering Tor Browser?

Public libraries have long been defenders of intellectual freedom - the right to pursue different ideas or research, without fear of judgment or reprisal. The prevalence of mass surveillance technology online today makes guarding intellectual freedom not only a policy question, but a technological one as well. Tor Browser is such a technological answer.

How does Tor Browser work?

In a typical Internet browsing situation, many different organizations handle a user's website request including the ISP, the owner of the local computer, the IT management of the local network and others. All those handlers can see what the user is asking for. Additionally, anyone else with access to the website (such as advertisers who pay to have their trackers on that website, other ‘data aggregators' like Facebook and Google, etc.) can see where the user's location, what browser and operating system they use, and other information. Online advertisers can then follow that user from site to site, building a profile of that person's habits and interests in order to serve targeted ads, and sell that profile to other parties.

Tor Browser prevents these activities by bouncing the users' request through three encrypted relays before it reaches the destination web site. Think of it as writing a letter and sealing it in three successive envelopes, each with a different address. The first recipient (relay) opens the 1st envelope and sends the letter on to the 2nd recipient, who opens the 2nd envelope and sends the letter on to the 3rd address.

It is only the third addressee that opens the final envelope who learns what the sender (user) actually wants (on the Internet, what the writer wants is the web site they are browsing to). The 3rd relay sends the request, and the website sends the page back through the same circuit, so the website site doesn't know where the user comes from.

Will Tor Browser make it easier for people to do illegal things on library computers?

Criminals already have many options better than Tor Browser for being anonymous online since they are willing to break the law. They can also pay for such services and have a strong motivation for guarding their privacy. The current landscape is that criminals have good anonymity options online and law-abiding citizens do not: this is the worst of all possible worlds. Tor Browser provides an easy, secure, and free option for lawful activity that maintains the user's privacy.

Is Tor Browser safe for children and teens?

Yes. Tor Browser is safe for all users. It looks and feels very much like the well-known Firefox browser, with added privacy/anonymity benefits. In fact, thousands of people use Tor Browser every day to protect their own activities, and to help their kids stay safe online.

Does this mean our regular browsers are not private?

No. Library patrons using Chrome, IE, or Firefox enjoy a secure environment provided by our professional IT department. This includes hardware, software and policy provisions to protect users. Additionally, those browsers all offer a 'private' or 'incognito' mode which do not store the user's history.

However, those browsers do not provide the anonymizing feature that is the principle benefit of Tor browser - even in private/incognito mode. Tor browser provides country-level anonymity for users, along with end-to-end encryption for all traffic within its network.

What are the best practices for staying anonymous on Tor?

Users should be mindful that best ‘digital hygiene' practices also apply when using Tor Browser. Don't share your personal information with insecure websites and understand that logging into social media through Tor will allow that platform to know who you are. Additionally, the social media site will place your login at the location of the exit relay and thus possibly flag your login as suspicious.

In order to enjoy the full privacy and anonymity benefits of Tor Browser, please read Tor's note on best practices at torproject.org.

Where can I get more information?

Tor Browser's project's website

How to use Tor for Windows, a guide by the Electronic Frontier Foundation: (an easy-to-follow set-up guide for you to try at home)

Need help? Toronto Public Library staff are always available for assistance. Please feel free to ask.