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Summary:

AnchorFree’s ad-supported VPN, Hotspot Shield, has been on a tear in the last year. The tool, which people use to protect their browsing privacy and also to access web content that has been blocked, tripled its userbase in 12 months to 7 million.

AnchorFree’s ad-supported VPN, Hotspot Shield, has been on a tear in the last year. The tool, which people use to protect their browsing privacy and also to access blocked web content, now has more than 7 million monthly users and 1.3 billion pages encrypted per month. Hotspot Shield’s userbase, which tripled in the last 12 months, is filled with expats — such as U.S. Army soldiers and businesspeople in China — according to CEO David Gorodyansky, who stopped by GigaOM today for an interview (see video below). More than 80 percent of Hotspot Shield users are browsing in English, while more than half of users are international. With that geeky, globetrotting demographic, the most effective ads on the service are tech and travel.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AnchorFree has raised $11 million in rounds led by Renaissance Capital, and has been profitable since May 2009. It has just 18 employees but a handles an immense amount of bandwidth, given it encrypts every page to which its users browse.

We spoke to Gorodyansky about the paradox of behavioral targeting to a userbase that explicitly wants to be anonymous and other topics in the 10-minute interview embedded here.

By Liz Gannes
  1. Well, the Mac version is pretty much unusable.

    Perhaps they should use some of that $11m to create a website with, you know, instructions or a FAQ or forums or any form of support at all.

    There’s something very fishy about this feature, especially that fact that your link goes straight to the download.

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    1. Nothing fishy going on from my end, but I agree that their web site could use a major upgrade.

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      1. I accept that you’re not getting a backhander, or a Macbook Air :)

        … but it is unorthodox to link directly to the product download rather than the download page or, better, the product page.

        Anyone clicking that link will be surprised to see the download immediately start and a page saying “Thanks for downloading”.

        At the very least, it seems pushy although, again, I accept that you’re not getting paid per download.

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      2. That’s fair; I’ll find a link to another product page.

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    2. My name is Ilya Perlov and I work at AnchorFree. I’d like to address the first comment about Hotspot Shield automatically downloading to users computer.
      Both links that are provided in this article do not trigger any unwanted downloads. It could be that the user has accidentally clicked on the “Download” button and triggered the download manually.
      If anyone would like to learn more about AnchorFree, please visit our website: http://www.anchorfree.com
      For information about Hotspot Shield, please visit: http://www.anchorfree.com/downloads/hotspot-shield/
      Please feel free to contact me with any other questions or concerns.

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      1. Great!

        So, essentially, you are saying that we either imagined that the download started automatically OR that we are so stupid that we “accidentally” clicked the Download buttton.

        If you had taken the time to read the other comments, including the one that the author of this piece, Liz, made two days ago, you would have read that she CHANGED the link that she was previously using because it did, indeed, go straight to a download.

        With this level of attention to detail from it’s employees, I now understand why AnchorFree has one of the most inept websites currently online and a product that doesn’t work. Well done.

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  2. This is nothing new. Also projects such as the Tor project allow this kind of service without the targeted ads: http://www.torproject.org/.

    In order to place contextual ads, the provider is still mining your data, although it’s not personally identifiable, which is questionable.

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    1. Unlike HotSpot Shield, though, Tor is gawd-awful slow, if you can even get connected, and a huge pain to set up.

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  3. TOR is too hard and slow to use, even with firefox’s TOR addon.
    Hulu,instead, figured out to block hotspot shield fully.

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  4. I’ve tried Hotspot Shield in a few incarnations… totally unusable. Odds are 90% of the users are using this to surf porn anonymously.

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    1. Judging by the amount of interest we’ve had in our posts about using HSS to watch Hulu abroad, and then Hulu blocking access to HSS, I think that’s a pretty big use case.

      http://newteevee.com/2009/05/04/how-to-watch-hulu-around-the-world/

      http://newteevee.com/2009/05/06/hulu-blocks-hotspot-shield-users/

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  5. [...] The Man Behind Hotspot Shield By HideIP Admin | Published: February 15, 2010 Liz Gannes, from GigaOM, spoke to David Gorodyansky, the creator of Hotspot Shield, about the paradox of behavioral [...]

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  6. I travel few times a year and do enjoy accessing US based content while overseas. While on my recent trip to Germany, damn Yahoo didn’t allow me to see US Yahoo site and kept pushing me to their German homepage. After installing and activating Hotspot Shield, I was excited to see my “local” Yahoo site.

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  7. Thank you! Those of you who suggested we improve our website, and ease of use are absolutely right. We are in fact working on that now. In the coming weeks/months you will see changes to our interface, both online and to the application itself. The goal is to provide more intuitive function and control.
    I am a Mac user as well, had problems with our last version and now have a fast, trouble free version with our latest Mac release, 1.341
    Donnacha, this may well solve any problems, but please feel free to email me directly regarding any issues you are having with the software.
    andrew@anchorfree.com

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  8. The problem with this kind of anonymity was made pretty clear when AOL released a bunch of “anonymized” user data keyed to user number in 2006. Most people can be identified from log files of their web searches.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AOL_search_data_scandal

    It’s probably fine if all you need is circumvention, though.

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  9. Does Hotspot Shield work with every online application (Outlook, Yahoo messenger, ect.) or just web browsers like firefox and internet explorer?

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  10. I started using HotSpot Shield while I was vacationing in Cancun so I could continue to watch my favorite programming on Hulu and it worked perfect. Even over wi-fi the videos streamed perfectly. I don’t see why Hulu or their sponsors would be against it. I’m an American and all the ads are still relevant to me. Actually, since Cancun is very “Americanized”, most of the products I saw advertised on Hulu were available in the local market.

    I also make purchases online and like the extra security : ) Here are some other good features:

    Free to use.
    Unsecured locations are better protected.
    Can help protect you.
    Knowing you’re safer.

    Thieves can’t steal your identity.
    Helps you to surf safely.
    Explorer compatible.

    New features are cool.
    World access to your favorite sites.
    Order products online safely.

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