Skip to navigationSkip to content

The only winners of the NSA debacle are companies that protect your online privacy

AP/Kin Cheung
Hiding from the government: Way easier in real life than online.
By Christopher Mims
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Companies that protect your privacy with software are seeing a boon to their businesses following revelations that America’s internet giants have been turned into appendages of its surveillance state.

The companies don’t create products that are specifically designed to thwart NSA spying or government surveillance, but as Sarah Downey, privacy analyst for privacy software company Abine explained, “One thing that’s emerged [from the NSA leak] is that the social networks and data trackers are the source of the data supply chain. The private companies are collecting data and feeding the government with it. So if you want to stay more private, you have to limit the data that these companies gather about you.”

In other words, if you want to stay out of the NSA’s databases, you first have to stay out of the databases of marketers and companies—like Google and Facebook—that rely on advertising to fund their services.

Here are the numbers:

54% increase in installations of the DoNotTrackMe browser extension, which prevents web tracking.

DoNotTrackMe, made by Abine, prevents private companies from tracking your activity across the web, which is the first step in aggregating that data for marketers. In the week after the NSA revelation, installations shot up 54% when compared to the week before. At its peak on Friday June 14, installations of the extension were up 98% compared to the previous Friday. Abine makes money by selling “premium” versions of its privacy products, including DeleteMe and (the forthcoming) MaskMe.

55% increase in traffic to DuckDuckGo, a privacy-protecting search engine.

DuckDuckGo is big on not storing its users’ personal information, unlike Google, which uses that information to personalize search results. The site’s traffic has spiked since NSA leaker Snowden asserted that Google is feeding data to the US government. “By not storing any useful information, DuckDuckGo simply isn’t useful to these surveillance programs,” Gabriel Weinberg, founder of DuckDuckGo, recently told Silicon Angle.

48% increase in traffic flowing through the location-masking service FoxyProxy.

FoxyProxy is an extension for the Firefox web browser that re-routes traffic through a “Virtual Private Network,” thus masking the location and identity of anyone using the extension. Bandwidth consumed by FoxyProxy users was up 48% in the week after the NSA leak.

All of these companies remain relatively obscure, despite their collective goal of making online privacy accessible to the masses. Which is either a testament to the complexity of protecting one’s privacy online, or evidence that most people simply don’t care about digital surveillance—or both.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.