There's a hospital in the heart of Silicon Valley that warns its patients not to go home and search about their diagnosis on the internet without first downloading a privacy app.
That's because there's a fear that internet providers could sell that data to insurance companies and influence the patient's insurance rates, says David Gorodyansky, CEO and founder of AnchorFree.
Many might be tempted to think these fears can be brushed off as urban legend. The big internet advertising companies like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo say they don't sell personally identifiable data to companies, although they do track a mind-blowing amount of data on you to serve ads. ISPs have also been able to do such a thing, but, up until yesterday, it would've been harder for them to get their hands on your data without you first giving them the go-ahead.
On Tuesday, however, House Republicans voted to give ISPs the green light to sell your data without your consent, gutting FCC privacy rules scheduled to go into effect by the Obama administration. President Donald Trump has already indicated he plans to sign the legislation into law.
Indeed, ever since Trump won the presidential election, internet-savvy people in the US have been racing to hide themselves and their data from online corporations and government snooping.
"Right after the election, we saw people being concerned and we could say that maybe they were over reacting. I think this FCC issue just proved that people are not over reacting," Gorodyansky says.
While the rise in secret messaging apps like Signal in the wake of the presidential election has been well documented, Gorodyansky says that AnchorFree has seen unprecedented downloads of its flagship app, Hotspot Shield, in the US as well. Hotspot Shield encrypts your online activity to keep it private from snoops and hackers.
"We have seen our US usage double, even before this FCC ruling, since Trump was elected. Whereas before the election, we were very big in repressive countries, in Egypt or Turkey. Every time they had events of censorship or privacy violations, we saw a massive spike of users. We're seeing the same thing in the US," he says.
For instance, before the election, Hotspot Shield was typically installed on about 200,000 new iPhones a month. But since November, that has spiked to over "700,000 installs per month, and that’s not our total global number, just iPhones in the US," he says. That's an increase of over 240%.
That spike in downloads has been enough to keep the app on the Apple App Store's Top 100 list since November, almost unheard of for a privacy app, he says.
When adding in Android, PC and Mac users, the app is being installed "by over 1.5 million new users per month since November in the US alone," Gorodyansky says.
Globally, the app is being installed about 6 million times per months, he says. "The US was always like 20% of that and now it's like 40%," he says, adding, that AnchorFree currently has about 500 million users but, at this pace, expects to hit a billion by the end of 2018.
The increase by US users has been so insane, AnchorFree surveyed them to ask what's going on. Nearly two-thirds (64%) said they were concerned about online privacy because of the Trump administration. About 36% said the recent alleged Russian cybersecurity hacks in the U.S. was a concern.
To be fair, not all of their concerns were due to politics. Half of them were also worried about large-scale email hacks. In December, Yahoo announced that 1 billion email accounts were stolen in a breach.
Still, Gorodyansky says there's no question that the current political environment is causing some of this increased privacy activity.
"It’s very clear to us that under the new [Trump] administration, US users feel like their personal privacy is being threatened and could be turned into a business. We believe in protecting human privacy. We believe it's a basic human right," he says. "The impression is that the current administration is not morally aligned with that."
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