Cloudflare to enter VPN market but plan to forgo online privacy

A big-name tech company has signalled its intent to enter the VPN market with a new product which, in their own words, “doesn’t suck”. However, the new product will not protect users IP Addresses, which is likely to make selling it into a crowded marketplace a tough task.

An established name entering the VPN market

Cloudflare, which is partly owned by Google, is a content delivery network which in 2016 was valued at $3.2 billion. Their services to date have included a content delivery network, DDoS mitigation, Internet security services and distributed domain name server services. Amongst the websites they service are Uber, OKCupid, and Fitbit. But until this point, they have not ventured directly into the VPN market.

Cloudflare has found themselves in the public eye for the wrong reasons earlier this year after briefly offering sanctuary to the controversial neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, before pulling support for the site amid widespread pressure, but at the same time voicing concern that they had the power to take down a website they disapproved of.

But with an IPO expected at some point next year, the company is keen to garner more positive publicity and only recently a blog post about how the company uses a wall of lava lamps, known as the “Entropy Wall” to generate encryption keys went viral and found its way into newspapers around the world.

Cloudflare acquire a former VPN company

And now they have indicated a desire to move into the VPN market but in an unusual way. They have purchased a start-up; nothing unusual in that you might think. But this start-up is Neumob. A glance at the Neumob website suggests that they specialise in a product which helps developers speed up their apps and make them use less bandwidth.

But they used to offer a VPN service and it is this that Cloudflare is primarily interested in. The VPN was particularly popular in countries where the cost of phone plans made internet access unaffordable on mobile devices for many. However, such was its success that it was promoted in Brazil by a popular radio host which saw a surge in demand that Neumob couldn’t cope with.

“Retail bandwidth in Brazil and India is so expensive, it became overwhelming for them to keep it up,” explained Matthew Prince, the CEO of Cloudflare. As a result, they were forced to shut the service down and focus their efforts elsewhere. “ [But] we think there’s an opportunity to create a VPN that doesn’t suck.”

Cloudflare plans to relaunch the VPN under their own brand and bring Neumob’s Internet Booster product in-house too. “The revived VPN service will run through Cloudflare’s existing global infrastructure, which is designed to withstand heavy traffic.”

A VPN without privacy protections

It is expected that the VPN will be a free product which suggests that Cloudflare is planning to target their new service at the same developing markets where it made such a big impact previously.

However, the new Cloudflare VPN service will not offer all the functionality of a conventional VPN. It will deliver some of the security benefits of a regular VPN and Cloudflare have indicated that they will be focusing on it offering fast connection speeds.

But the new Cloudflare VPN will offer users no privacy protections. Cloudflare has confirmed that the service will broadcast users actual locations. This means it will not work for anyone trying to get around online censorship or who want to use their VPN to circumvent geo-restricted sites.

Given that online privacy is a fundamental requirement for most VPN users around the world, this is a curious move by Cloudflare. But given that they are a specialist online security company, it is perhaps not such a surprise that they are focused on the security elements of a VPN rather than the privacy ones.

Cloudflare facing an uphill struggle

It remains to be seen how effective the new Cloudflare VPN will be in practice, but here at VPNCompare.co.uk, we will be keeping a close eye on developments in the months ahead.

But based on the information available so far, we suspect that Cloudflare is going have a tough time establishing itself. The VPN marketplace is already a crowded one and there are already a number of established VPN providers, such as IPVanish, ExpressVPN, and NordVPN, which can offer users high-levels of security and the privacy protections they are looking for.

No doubt Cloudflare’s established brand and a free product will be attractive to some users. And it speaks volumes for the growth potential of the VPN market that an established name like Cloudflare is keen to get involved. But the gaps in their VPN provisions are going to the job of selling their new VPN product to a privacy-conscious global public a very tough one.

Comments