Privacy Tool Use Spikes in the Wake of PRISM

The ongoing privacy crisis surrounding the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program is having a large effect on market growth for companies offering additional user privacy and security options.Public distrust of internet companies is growing and is predicted to continue. Search engines, browser add-ons, proxy services and virtual private network providers are seeing the most growth as a result.

Since it was revealed that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! Have been participating in NSA surveillance for quite some time, users have begun switching services. Users are opting for less prominent services that offer greater privacy and security options. DuckDuckGo is one such company, attractive to users because of the anonymity it provides. DuckDuckGo does not aggregate data, save search history, IP addresses, login data for other services, or other unique identifiers and information about users’ computers. “We always knew people didn’t want to be tracked … So it’s no surprise that people are making a choice to switch to things that will give them … real privacy,” said DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg.

Web traffic on the service jumped up by 55% after news of NSA’s snooping hit the web. The search engine reported a33% average increase in use since the first spike. As a company that emphasizes the importance of respecting users’ privacy, DuckDuckGo has become a preferred search engine, with monthly average searches now exceeding Yahoo! and approximating Microsoft.

Other Services Offering Privacy Experience a Similar Surge in Use

Technology research company TechNavio released a report in January of this year predicting a 4% increase in sales for SSL VPNs. In the wake of the PRISM scandal, this forecast is looking to be on the low end. The market for VPNs was forecasted to grow at this rate through 2016, but recent actual sales figures are seeing this as the low end. Improves access control was the main factor for TechNavio’s growth predictions, which holds true under the current circumstances, albeit for different reasons.TechNavio also saw market domination by the bigger names in VPN technology and services, but revelations on NSA snooping have boosted the sales of niche providers.

Consumers have become acutely aware of how vulnerable they are to secret spying in the wake of reports on NSA snooping activities. Nine services they trusted to use their data for only the features they claimed were revealed to share that private data with the government. Consumers are now turning to privacy tools to further protect themselves from any services that may be doing the same.Many companies reported increases in the use of their services, while others declined to publish data on the grounds of user privacy.

Browser tools that prevent tracking has become one very popular tool type this past two weeks. Downloads of tracker-blocking add-ons increased daily since the Snowden revelation. One company reported a 98% increase in the installation of their browser add-on just three days after the PRISM information leak.Proxy services reported an average of 81% growth over the week of June 10th. VPN services have seen a marked increase in use as well. One VPN service reported a 48% jump in bandwidth use for their VPN service in the week following the news of PRISM from The Guardian and The Washington Post.

The Key Privacy Statement Factor

Many niche companies like DuckDuckGo have privacy statements that give comfort to users. All companies are expected to comply with legitimate government requests for information where crimes have been committed. But companies that do not keep logs of user information have nothing to share with the government. It is this policy of not storing users’ personal information that keeps this data secure from surveillance programs and other snoopers. Companies like Google which collect every possible bit of user data cannot avoid government pressure to release the information. Read more here about different VPN service policies and privacy features.

Security Experts Rate Privacy Tools

Browser add-ons are the most popular privacy tools in use against NSA snooping. But security experts say they are not the most effective protection.Browser add-ons work only on browser traffic, and leave other applications and services that connect to the internet unprotected. Web proxies fall into the same category. Other proxy service types also lack in security, experts say, with limited to no data encryption features and easy tracking of IP information. The safest solution they report is a VPN service providing data and traffic encryption along with a strong privacy policy on not requesting or recording personal data.

Experts stress the need for consumers to become more aware of how much personal data is potentially gathered and stored when using the different tools. Educated choices can then be made on privacy protection from the users’ end. They say that limiting the digital trail and reducing the amount of data shared with companies is the key to maintaining the highest level of privacy. There is no single solution, they say, but there are individual companies that can provide stronger privacy options.

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