So farewell then, Opera. The popular web browser and privacy app company has been sold to a group of Chinese investors for just $600m this week.
It is a slightly odd transaction, given that just a week previously, an offer from the same investors for twice the amount fell through for reasons that are still unclear.
Nevertheless, the news will come as a bitter blow to Opera users, many of whom have turned to the browser as a reliable and secure alternative to the likes of Google Chrome and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (and its successor, Edge). Opera always claimed to be more focused on the interests of its users than either of those and its privacy provisions, in particular, attracted plenty of savvy users over.
Opera earned headlines earlier this year when it launched what it claimed was a free VPN service for users of its browser on iOS devices. As we reported at the time, this service wasn’t technically free as it was collecting anonymous user data which as we said at the time “goes completely against the ethos of a VPN service in the first place.”
The identity of the new owners of the Opera browser and VPN business is unlikely to inspire much confidence in its users. The consortium of investors includes Qihoo 360, which is a Chinese anti-virus software company with a less than glowing reputation. Last year it was stripped of its rankings after being accused of gaming anti-malware tests.
The rest of the consortium includes various Chinese fund managers and private equity funds, including Golden Brick Capital. All will have close ties to China’s ruling Communist regime, as is necessary for any business to be successful there.
China is not exactly a country renowned for its commitment to online privacy and security, with the Communist regime operating the single most intrusive online surveillance system and censorship operation in the world.
Their ownership of a VPN which is already known to collect data on its user’s online activity is likely to be a recipe that sends many users rushing for the exits and seeking out a more trustworthy VPN to use.
The same is likely to be true of those using its browser unless they are happy for the Chinese Government to have a record of their internet searches.
It should be noted that it is not the entire Opera business that has been sold. The investors have purchased both the mobile and desktop browser business and the privacy and performance apps sections of the firm.
But the Opera TV, Opera Mediaworks and Opera Apps & Games units of the business are not part of the deal and will remain as a separate operation. Current Opera CEO Lars Boilsen will move to be the CEO of this new streamlined business at the end of the year.
Opera was seen by some as already being in decline, having switched its core browser technology to Chromium in 2013 and so losing a number of features many valued it for. One of its original founders has now launched a new browser, Vivaldi, which retains these and is likely to draw plenty of their users across.
As for Opera’s VPN users, there are any number of decent VPNs on the market for them to choose from, both free and paid-for. And with none of them being operated by Chinese companies, you can be pretty sure that your data will remain far more private with all than it is now likely to with Opera.