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Who blocked the release of a WiFi router that allowed users to remain anonymous?

If we learned anything from Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, it is that everything you do online is collected, monitored and stored. That means that somewhere, someone is keeping a file on you.

The web’s reaction to the revelations was fierce. People and companies started getting worried about passwords and encryption, and governments went into overdrive in denying – and in some cases justifying – their data collection practices.

Recently, a new wireless router called ProxyHam was developed to capitalise on many people’s concerns, allowing users to remain anonymous online and giving false location coordinates to anyone who was trying to monitor them.

Plenty of people liked the idea of the device, and more suggested they were prepared to shell out their hard earned for it. The manufacturers, Rhino Security Labs, called it “the utmost in anonymity”, and penciled in an August release at Las Vegas Def Con.

And then it vanished.

Vanished. Without a trace, other than a brief statement from Rhino which effectively said, “we aren’t releasing the device anymore and we aren’t telling anyone why”.

The cancellation was followed up by a few other equally cryptic responses from the company on Twitter.

The short company responses were a far cry from their earlier statements on the device to conference organisers:

I present ProxyHam, a hardware device which utilizes both WiFi and the 900Mhz band to act as a hardware proxy, routing local traffic through a far-off wireless network – and significantly increasing the difficulty in identifying the true source of the traffic. In addition to a demonstration of the device itself, full hardware schematics and code will be made freely available.

Of course, when a product that people are looking forward to is widely promoted and then disappears, conspiracy theorists start chattering. When that product removes the one thing that might tempt whistleblowers not to blow their whistles, those same conspiracy theorists’ voices grow louder.

Who was behind it? The first and most obvious suspect was the US Government, as the device could have conceivably allowed anyone – whether they be a terrorist organisation or students of a university – to keep their online activities anonymous.

Who else? Apple or Google and their advertisers would much prefer their customers aren’t anonymous – it’s easier to sell things to people when you can track them online. Could the ProxyHam be Mark Zuckerberg’s latest acquisition?

In the days since the announcement, we are no clearer to knowing just who is behind it. All we know is that the ProxyHam won’t be hitting shelves anytime soon.

If you read through the comments on any of the linked articles, you’ll see that remaining anonymous online isn’t so hard – provided you know how to do it. Plenty of these tech geniuses even criticised the makers of the device for marketing a concept which they themselves found so easy to do.

But the ProxyHam wasn’t trying to sell its product to people who can already reroute their router with a paperclip and some chewing gum – it was catering to regular Joes concerned about their net security.

And that, we can only speculate, is the moment the government stepped in.

Perhaps we are wrong about the reason for the cancellation of the ProxyHam. Products get pulled all the time. But if the speculation is correct, it is another blow for internet privacy and security in an online world that grows less and less anonymous by the day.

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