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Photo: AnchorFree

You probably haven't heard of AnchorFree. But, its product, HotspotShield, has had a major impact around the globe as a way for people to keep their internet use a private matter, in what is a consumer version of a virtual private network (VPN).

Why it matters: As users around the world grow more conscious of how much their online activity is monitored — by governments, platforms, service providers and advertisers — VPNs are booming in popularity.

Yes, but: They're not all the same. Facebook's Onavo, for instance, gathers all kinds of information for the social network's use, even as it's keeping things from other eyes. AnchorFree says it neither collects nor stores any user information.

  • Using such a product has several benefits, from letting people secure their browsing while using public Wi-Fi to keeping their service provider or government from knowing what websites they are visiting.

By the numbers: AnchorFree, which is based in Redwood City, California, has 600 million users and is almost perennially in the top 50 productivity apps on Apple's App Store. Only a single-digit percentage of those are paying customers, but that's plenty to make the business profitable.

Flashback: The company didn't really envision itself as a defender of internet freedom when it launched in 2007 and it didn't really market it that way. It wasn't until the Arab Spring in 2011 that it realized just how powerful its service could be for those facing a government crackdown.

  • The team left the office one day at 7pm with essentially no users in Egypt and came back the following morning with a million.
  • "We thought it was some kind of bug or something went wring with our servers," CEO David Gorodyansky recalls. "But no, it was the Arab Spring."
  • More recently, they saw a spike from Iraq three weeks ago amid major protests and a government crackdown on social media. Some two million people downloaded the service with its availability spreading through word of mouth, including the street art above.

The market: AnchorFree also offers its service to other businesses that want to incorporate it into their products. Some of the company's customers include telecom firms that themselves are monitoring what customers are doing on their cellular networks, but nonetheless want to help protect Wi-Fi usage.

  • Verizon and Telefonica are among AnchorFree's partners on that front.

What's next: The company is moving into offering its service for business, having quietly launched a product last month that lets companies buy up to 20 licenses at a time and have their data run through a specific server.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

CDC says some immunocompromised people can get fourth COVID shot

Photo: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidelines Tuesday that some immunocompromised people who have received either Pfizer or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines will be able to get a fourth shot.

Details: People over 18 who are "moderately to severely immunocompromised" and have received three doses of an mRNA vaccine may get a fourth shot (of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines) at least six months after getting their third Pfizer or Moderna dose, per the CDC.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden plan expected to include at least $500B for climate

Photo: Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House is privately telling lawmakers the climate portion of President Biden's roughly $2 trillion social spending plan is "mostly settled" and will likely cost more than $500 billion, two sources familiar with the talks tell Axios.

Why it matters: A pricetag of $500-$555 billion is a huge number and, if it holds, would likely be the single biggest component of the sweeping package. It also isn't far off from the roughly $600 billion proposed when the bill was expected to cost $3.5 trillion.

2 hours ago - World

U.S. presses Gulf countries to help resolve Sudan coup crisis

Jake Sullivan briefs the press. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The Biden administration has asked its partners in the Gulf and elsewhere to press the Sudanese generals who carried out a coup on Monday to release captives including Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and to reinstate the civilian government, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The U.S. has limited influence over coup leader Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Burhan and other military leaders, many of whom have close ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.