The use of proxy servers by web surfers to facilitate anonymous unrestricted internet access is becoming a growth industry.
Busnessweek reports on one such service, called AnchorFree.
David Gorodyansky started AnchorFree in 2005 to help make Web surfing free and private in coffee shops, airports, and other places with wireless hotspots. He never predicted that five years later his company’s biggest growth area would be people seeking ways to skirt government censors in China.
If the war on consensual “crimes” has taught us anything, it’s that it is almost impossible to eradicate an industry that is in high demand. Governments will go bankrupt before they will ever eliminate the sex, drug, or gambling industries. Likewise, the thirst for information is unquenchable. The free market is powerful and it always delivers eventually.
AnchorFree, based in Mountain View, Calif., runs a free, ad-supported proxy service called Hotspot Shield. Users download an application from AnchorFree’s website that connects them to the Internet via a virtual private network, or VPN, similar to what telecommuters use to log onto an office network. Most computers connected to the Internet are assigned a unique number, or IP address, to route users quickly to the right destination. AnchorFree’s software assigns an anonymous address that can be traced back only to the company and not to the user, according to Gorodyansky. “We send you on a virtual trip outside China,” he says.
The fact that the servers are located in the U.S. certainly puts them out of reach of the Chinese government, but it doesn’t make for a warm fuzzy feeling among U.S. web surfers given the government’s boundless enthusiasm for monitoring telecommunications traffic through legal and extra legal strategies. As internet censorship spreads in western democracies, foreign proxy servers will undoubtedly take on a more significant role in defeating governmental efforts to control information.