Privacy Watch: Spotflux Guards Your Privacy for Free

Keeping your data private while you’re browsing the Web can be time-consuming if you want to stop malware, IP-address snoopers, and malicious ads. Spotflux, a New York startup, is aiming to change that with a no-cost, easy-to-use program that encrypts your Internet connection, anonymizes your IP address, and reduces your risk of infection while you surf. Did I mention that it’s free?

Spotflux works sort of like a faster, simpler version of the Tor Network, though it’s not nearly as stringent about ensuring your anonymity. You download the application for Windows or Mac OS X from the Spotflux website (iOS and Android apps are in development), and run it. Installation is easy, and you can set the app to access a proxy server for added safety (or to ensure that you can reach region-restricted sites after your IP address becomes anonymous). When you access the Net while the app is running, all data moving into or out of your PC shuttles through Spotflux servers by way of a 128-bit SSL encrypted connection; software on the servers scans the data for malware (including malicious ads), and eliminates it.

This requires a certain level of trust, since the Spotflux servers are privy to everything you do. The payoff is the assurance that your activities are anonymized and protected. While Spotflux is cagey about what it looks for when filtering traffic (lest the bad guys learn how to circumvent the filters), we do know that it regularly updates its servers to scan for widespread malware such as DNSChanger. “We scour the Web for major offenders, and listen to the users on Facebook and Twitter to find and eliminate major sources of malware,” claims Chris Naegelin, who cofounded Spotflux in Brooklyn, New York, along with Dean Mekkawy. And since Spotflux’s staff operates the Spotflux servers, the service can reasonably promise that no­­body outside the company can use it to snoop on you.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Since your traffic goes through the Spotflux servers twice (first when your browser sends a request, and again when a site responds), you will see a slight performance hit. I ran speed tests, and my download speed consistently degraded by roughly 20 percent while the app was running. The upside: I never saw an irritating ad during several days of browsing, and my antivirus scans came up clean despite my rampant downloading. Plus, according to AT&T, my bandwidth usage was lower than ever during my weekend with Spotflux, which may be an unintended but wonderful consequence of filtering out unwanted ads.

Spotflux is still a relatively new privacy service, so it’s tough to anticipate how the company might respond to government or law enforcement requests for user data (see its stringent privacy policy for more information), but you should try Spotflux if you want a simple tool that increases your online privacy. Once you’re ready for more-comprehensive privacy-protection methods, check out our updated security guides.

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