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A man is silhouetted against a video screen with an Facebook logo as he poses with an Dell laptop in this photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Tags: BUSINESS TELECOMS) - RTX12L6I
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CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

It’s getting easier to keep companies from watching you online

By Zach Wener-Fligner

2014-15 Fellow. Quartz Things team.

You’re being watched online—either by a government surveillance project, a company that wants to document your online habits to sell you products, or to sell information about you to another company.

If people find online prying a nuisance, they also rarely do much to stop it. In a 2013 Gallup poll, 83% of people said they were “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about their privacy on the internetanother poll found that 59% of internet users said they thought it was impossible to be completely anonymous online.

There are a growing number of tools to help with that predicament. One of the most rigorous is Tor, a free, open-source web browser that works by redirecting online search requests through a slew of different computers globally to obscure its origin before reaching its intended destination—say, Google.com. There are also simpler measures to fend off online snoopers, such as using a browser’s “Incognito” mode or blocking cookies, but they’re generally less effective.

But Tor has its problems; one is that it requires its customers to use an unfamiliar browser. For that, a pair of computer programmers have come up with an easy fix: Anonabox, a $51 box that sits between your wireless router and internet modem to route all your internet surfing through regular browsers like Microsoft Chrome or Apple’s Safari through Tor. The company’s Kickstarter project has accrued roughly $260,000 since Oct. 12 (it only asked for $7,500).

There are other hangups. Tor’s browser is slow, and it tends to attract smugglers and traffickers from sites like online drug markets Agora and The Silk Road, which in itself attracts more government scrutiny. For its part, Anonabox says its page load times are faster than using Tor alone because ”all the hard work is done in the background by the Anonabox.”

Whether Anonabox will find commercial success remains to be seen. But as the market for online anonymity tools grows, so too will other products that make technology like Tor more palatable to the average web browser. And that could be gruesome for online marketers, not to mention Big Brother.

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