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Router promises anonymous web browsing, but is it a scam?

Rebecca Bracken is a news and views writer.






The anonabox looks like an internet marvel, but now people are taking a closer look

Inventor August Germar and his team say on their anonybox.com Kickstarter page that for about $50 they can bring secure, anonymous internet access to just about anyone.

Anonabox is a small router you plug into your computer that runs an open source program called Tor, well-known for its rock-solid track record for encrypting and securing anonymous internet connections.

A secure, anonymous internet connection might not seem like a big deal to you, but for people living under oppressive governments — from China to Iran — unfettered internet access to communication could mean the difference between freedom and some really awful prison. And at $50, almost anyone can afford their own anonabox.

"In places where the government or private entities may try to control or limit access to the Internet, the Tor network allows access to the full, uncensored Internet, and also access to some parts of the web that are hidden even in uncensored places, like .onion domains," Germar writes on the anonabox Kickstarter page.

The anonabox has already garnered more than $400,000 — quite a bit more than the initial $7,500 goal — from well over 6,000 backers. Eighty backers have donated a symbolic $1 just to show their support for the idea behind the anonabox.

The anonabox looks like an internet marvel, but now people are taking a closer look

Photo credit: anonabox

But before you get too excited about this being a potential breakthrough, observers with a keen eye found an identical router already on sale — for less than $20. Pretty good deal. Take an $18 piece of Chinese hardware, import it, and sell it to suckers who want to support a free internet for $50.

So is Germar running a hustle? He denies he's pulling a fast one. But the doubters are circling.

"The short answer to the question about the hardware is no I haven't bought anything off the shelf," Germar says. "I wish it were that easy! Lord, if that were the case it would have been so much easier and we might have seen a Kickstarter like this years ago. I have had a lot of help from an electrical engineer though. Most of the devices that have been linked to don't even have enough system resources to install Tor, let alone run it."

Germar has also taken to Reddit to defend his invention.

It's not yet clear whether Kickstarter will get involved or whether the invention is genuine. The units already sold aren't scheduled to get into consumers' hands until early 2015. In the meantime, people excited about the prospect of protecting their internet anonymity are left to wait.

Here's a video for the anonabox, featuring Germar himself.

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