Opera launches free VPN app for iPhone users

Browser continues differentiation quest with privacy tools built by Toronto’s SurfEasy.

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Opera Free VPN App:

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Norwegian web browser company Opera Software is continuing to distinguish itself from competitors by offering users more privacy tools, and it’s using a Toronto startup it acquired last year to do it.

Opera on Monday announced a new virtual private network (VPN) app for iOS users. The free VPN app, built by Toronto-based SurfEasy, promises more privacy by encrypting all mobile traffic.

The app blocks ads and web trackers and lets users choose from five different location settings: Canada, the United States, Germany, Netherlands and Singapore.

An Android version is in the works, says SurfEasy founder Chris Houston. The Opera app will be separate from the similar, paid SurfEasy VPN app, which offers more regions and extra protection when connecting over wi-fi.

“We believe there’s a market for both of them,” he says.

While using the Opera app is free, the company intends to eventually introduce anonymized advertising to help support the cost of bandwidth.

It’s perhaps an ironic stance, given that the app itself blocks ads. Houston, however, says many VPNs offer free service – but not all are upfront about how they pay their costs.

“I’m not sure that everybody is being totally open with their audience about their monetization,” he says. “VPNs do cost money to operate.”

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Oslo-based Opera acquired SurfEasy last March for an undisclosed sum. Last month, the company announced full VPN integration – also built by SurfEasy – to its desktop browser.

The browser has so far been available only to developers, but it is due to launch to the public in beta format in the next few weeks, Houston says.

As the first major browser with a built-in VPN, the company saw a hundred-fold increase in users, he adds. “I don’t know if that means everybody else is going to launch one but we’re certainly happy with it.”

The move into VPNs comes amid a $1.2 billion (U.S.) acquisition effort of Opera by a consortium of Chinese investors and companies, led by mobile game maker Kunlun and security firm Qihoo.

Opera’s board of directors in February recommended that shareholders accept the offer, although several top executives have suggested they’re not necessarily on board with the move.

Houston says the deal, if it goes through, won’t affect the VPN products. “If that Norwegian company becomes owned by someone else it doesn’t change how we’ve architected our system or the laws under which we’re governed.”

“It’s good business to keep serving your customers the way they expect to be served,” he says. “Everybody involved to my knowledge is only interested in doing good business.”

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