SafeWeb considers reopening online privacy service

After being deluged with phone calls and e-mail messages from concerned users, SafeWeb is considering resurrecting its anonymous Web surfing service, which it suspended last month.

A final decision on the service will depend on finding "a viable business model to ensure the privacy service is both sustainable and profitable," SafeWeb said in a statement Monday. The company did not say whether it is considering charging a fee for the previously free service.

The popular online tool allowed users to access Web sites without fear of being identified, traced, or censored by government or corporate firewalls. SafeWeb was serving over 4 million encrypted page views per day through the service to hundreds of thousands of users worldwide, the company said.

SafeWeb shut the service down for purely economic reasons, the company's president and cofounder Jon Chun said at the time. SafeWeb said it wanted to concentrate on its enterprise security product, the Secure Extranet Appliance (SEA).

SafeWeb is still using its online privacy tool for a project helping the U.S.-sponsored broadcaster Voice of America give Chinese surfers access to news and information Web sites banned by their government. The technology is also licensed to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)'s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel Inc., which invested some US$1 million in start-up money in SafeWeb.

The company also licenses its technology to PrivaSec LLC, which offers a fee-based anonymous surfing service called SurfSecure.

SEA, which uses the same core technology as the consumer-privacy service, is currently available to certain enterprise customers, allowing them to build secure extranets so that remote users can access company applications and data securely using any Web browser. SEA is scheduled for launch to the general public in January.

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