Two million over three days. That’s how many people in Turkey downloaded the Hotspot Shield app last year when the beleaguered government tried to silence dissent by blocking Twitter and YouTube. It’s a successful foundation that AnchorFree hopes to build on when the privacy-focused software company rolls out updates for the Android and iOS versions of its signature app Tuesday.
Originally launched in 2005, the Hotspot Shield app makes it possible to browse the Web with a virtual private network (VPN), but has also been plagued by an overcrowded interface. That’s something AnchorFree has corrected in the latest version, while also making it possible for users to turn the app on and off without remembering they need to do so.
Levent Sapci, the director of marketing at AnchorFree, said the changes – there’s one for iOS and another for Android – are a “major update” for the company, and come as technology companies prepare for another one billion people or so to come online, many of whom live under repressive governments and would be in the market for a VPN. Both versions will still encrypt a user’s network traffic data, hide their IP address from Internet Service Providers, protect users from malicious software and phishing sites, while also providing security on public WiFi networks.
Hotspot Shield also comes with multiple location options, permitting users to reroute their traffic through servers in the U.S., U.K. or Japan. Now, though, the iOS version - - available ad-free for a seven-day free trial before costing $5 per month or $30 per year - - comes with a much cleaner display and improved user friendliness.
“There’s one big on/off button within the app, it couldn’t be easier,” Sapci said. “Users previously needed to go to the settings on their iPhone or iPad to their VPN settings. All users have to do now is tap on the virtual location of their choice and hotspot automatically, instantly changes the location.”
Along with communicating with the outside world in the event of an Internet blackout, that option also makes it possible for Chinese users to access Facebook, for instance, or for Mexican users to view American Netflix. The Android version, which has been available for weeks, is available for free and supported by advertisements. It also gives users the option to select one of three protection methods, with the ultimate goal of helping Hotspot Shield operate in the background, carrying out its job like an anti-virus program would.
“This is a brand new concept that will make it even more simple for users to not interact with Hotspot all the time,” Sapci said. “We expect our retention rate to grow significantly because in this case we’re doing the thinking for the user.”
That “thinking” happens with full protection mode (the traditional connection mode in which all traffic runs through Hotspot Shield), the Selected Sites mode and the Smart Choice mode. The Selected Sites option asks users to input an unlimited number of sites to which the connection should be protected, including streaming and app traffic. The Smart Choices mode, while including the Selected Sites mode, also switches itself on automatically when a user logs onto a public WiFi network, tunneling 100% of their traffic through the app.
“We see ourselves as the easiest-to-use privacy and security application available,” Sapci said. He added that there are currently 20 million active monthly app users, with another 6 million more joining every month.
That would be fantastic for most businesses, but the growing demand for an encryption service reflects an increased international effort to limit access to information. “Turkey is just one example. We were ready for it and we’re still ready to welcome those users to our service,” Sapci said, adding that, when it comes to censorship, “business is growing for the worse.”