Concerns over privacy on the web seems to be reaching a boiling point, with federal agencies and legislators looking into the policies and practices of Facebook, Apple and Google. Today the Brooklyn based startup Spotflux is announcing a $1 million funding led by New Atlantic Ventures and taking the beta label off its product in time for SXSW. And if you had any doubt about what a hot button issue privacy has become, Spotflux is currently leading the voting in the SXSW people’s choice awards.
Spotflux is a desktop application for Mac and PC, so any service, from Skype to web to browsing, that encrypts your connection through a virtual private network (VPN). It also keeps your personal activity from being tracked and your browsing history away from prying eyes. Finally, it checks for inbound threats like malware and spyware.
“There is a large gap between what consumers are willing to share online, and what’s actually being shared without their consent,” said co-founder Dean Mekkawy. “We created Spotflux to give consumers the opportunity to take back control of their privacy online. We don’t break the basic functionality of the web, our goal is to stop tracking cookies from harvesting your information when you are on third party.”
An example of Spotflux in action? When the government of Iran tried to block Internet access for its citizens last month, the more than one thousand Spotflux users in Iran were able to continue accessing the web, while remaining safe from the sort of deep packet inspection that might tip off the repressive regime. “We’re not trying to liberate any particular part of the world, but another big part of our mission is making sure the web is open to everyone.”
How big of a market is this? “Everyone online today has lost control of their privacy. Big companies like Facebook, advertisers, employers and governments look at everything you do online,” said John Backus, founding managing partner, New Atlantic Ventures. “We invested in Spotflux because of these emerging privacy concerns and its universal appeal to the 1.2 billion people using the Web. Consumers, policy makers and activists are fighting the privacy issue hard but they often face a daunting and cumbersome process. Spotflux has removed the burden for more than 100,000 customers across 121 countries – before its formal launch – demonstrating that consumers are actively seeking a more secure, more private, more open Internet.” With the initial round of funding, Mr. Backus joined the board of directors.
Right now the service is drop dead simple, one click to download, one click to install, and toggle to turn it on or off. Mobile is the next big step the company would like to take. Eventually they will craft a sort of freemium model, allowing for some granularity in terms of privacy settings or a version that works with governments and enterprise.
There will also be a process of educating users. “When you go to a site and see, oh 10 of my friends have liked this, it’s because there is a tracking cookie that identifies you,” says Backus. “So when that stops working, users will have to think hard about the trade off of allowing themselves to be followed around the web.”