Election Section

Free Web censorship avoidance service ends

By Anick Jesdanun The Associated Press
Thursday November 22, 2001

NEW YORK — A California company partly funded by the CIA has discontinued a free service that allowed Internet users to bypass Web censorship by governments and corporations. 

SafeWeb, for now, is focusing its efforts on revenue-generating security applications for businesses. 

Jon Chun, president and co-founder of SafeWeb, said the company is expected to decide soon whether to restore the privacy and anti-censorship service on a subscription basis. 

“We did not want to launch the paid service until we were committed to supporting it in the long term,” Chun said Wednesday. “We are analyzing the interest and the financials on that.” 

The suspension, which occurred this past week, follows a decision last month by Zero-Knowledge Systems Inc. to end a separate service for anonymously using the Net. 

Zero-Knowledge said it could not get enough paying customers, and like SafeWeb it is now focusing more on security applications. 

Formed in April 2000, SafeWeb initially offered ways for Internet users to browse Web pages anonymously and bypass censorship efforts. 

For example, if Chinese users or U.S. employees could not access a site because filtering software installed by a government or company was blocking it, they could visit the site through SafeWeb. 

After government and corporate networks began adding SafeWeb to block lists, the company developed Triangle Boy, a network of hundreds of computers maintained by volunteers worldwide. 

A Chinese or corporate user who found SafeWeb blocked would go to a Triangle Boy computer, which then relayed requests to SafeWeb. 

In a continuing cat-and-mouse game, new Triangle Boy computers were added as the Chinese government tried to block individual computers. 

The SafeWeb services were free. Last year, the Emeryville, Calif., company received $1 million in funding from the U.S. Central Intelligence Angecy’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel. 

Now, SafeWeb will focus on an online security package designed to bring together firewalls, virtual private networking and other services normally available separately. The package is undergoing testing. 

The shift does not affect a three-month pilot with Voice of America to set up a network of Triangle Boy computers that could help Chinese users bypass government censors. The service will be free to Chinese users, and VOA will cover costs.