This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Zero Knowledge, Lots of Privacy
Dec 14 1999 12:00 AM PST

Monday, Zero Knowledge Systems of Montreal debuted its Freedom system, where users can cruise the Net in industrial-strength anonymity. The story was widely but not deeply covered, despite all the recent attention to the Net's threats to personal and consumer privacy. Maybe the press judged that ZKS has drawn more than its share of the spotlight over the last two years, since it first began talking about Freedom.

For $10 a year ($50 up front) you can surf the Web, send e-mail, post messages on bulletin boards, and chat behind a pseudonym that experts say is as secure as it can be. Encrypted bits from your computer travel through multiple systems to disguise your origin as well as your identity. Even the company that sold you your "nym" can't connect you with the online identity - hence "zero knowledge." You still won't be able to shop anonymously, however.

The San Jose Mercury News's Deborah Kong turned in the most balanced piece, and the longest. She talked to two privacy advocates, a deputy district attorney, and the CEO of a competitor firm. Mo Krochmal, writing for TechWeb, focused on the technical accomplishment ZKS has pulled off with the Freedom service. He began by quoting ZKS's founder and president sounding a grandiose note - "this is the infrastructure on which the future is built" - and concluded with validation from one of the most respected figures in the hacker community. "It does what it claims, and given their marketing literature, that's a pretty big accomplishment," said the hacker who calls himself "Mudge."

ZDNet's Robert Lemos hooked his story on its business premise: Is there really a market willing to pay $50 for near-perfect privacy? The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's AP wire copy leaned heavily on the concerns of the law. "It's going to make it a little more difficult to trace wrongdoers," the AP quoted a laconic spokesman for the National Association of Chiefs of Police.'s Courtney Macavinta captured the flavor of ZKS's interactions with law enforcement in this line from its president: "Generally the conversation is: 'Can you build in a backdoor?' and we say 'No.'" - K.D.

New Service Promises Online Anonymity
San Jose Mercury News

Zero-Knowledge Rolls Out Privacy Net

Would You Pay $10 for Privacy?

Canadian Firm Offers Web Anonymity

New Product Guarantees Online Anonymity