Opera Buys SurfEasy To Add Secure VPN Services To Its Browser Software

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Opera, makers of a suite of software for browsing the web on mobile and desktop devices used by some 350 million consumers, has made another acquisition to build out the services it offers to users. It has acquired SurfEasy, makers of a virtual private network (VPN) app that lets users browse the web more securely.

This is Opera’s first security-focused acquisition, and it is made in the context of a growing demand among consumers not just for easy and cheap ways to browse the internet — a market that Opera has squarely played into up to now — but also more private ways of doing so.

“More and more internet users are starting to question whether they can trust the internet these days, and are actively looking for secure solutions for their phone or computer,” said Lars Boilesen, CEO of Oslo-based Opera Software, in a statement.

Implicit in that are questions raised through NSA revelations, as well as growing awareness among consumers of just how much of their data is tracked and used for more commercial purposes.

In addition to this, there is another angle for where this could be an interesting acquisition for Opera. Today, the company is notable for having a strong user base in international (read: outside the US) markets, with an emphasis especially in developing markets, where it sits alongside Facebook and others in Internet.org trying to get more consumers connected online.

It just so happens that these markets are where VPN usage has also seen a big boom, with users taking to secure tunnelling technology not only to help protect their browsing from prying government eyes, but also to help them access content that might otherwise get geofenced and blocked from their view — either in straight censorship plays, or because of copyright licensing. Opera adding a secure VPN service will help it continue to gain users and grow its brand in these markets.

Opera plans to keep SurfEasy’s products operational for the time being, the company tells me.

These include freemium apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone and iPad devices. SurfEasy also has a hardware-based offering, SurfEasy Private Broswer, a VPN product that it sells on a USB stick, which is aimed at people who work across a variety of devices that might be shared with others.

“SurfEasy is a recognized consumer brand and is one of the best customer reviewed services for online privacy protection, so at this time, SurfEasy’s products will remain live and unchanged,” Opera said. “As a result of the deal, however, the company will now be referred to as ‘SurfEasy, an Opera company.'”

The longer term plan will be to incorporate some of SurfEasy’s functionality into Opera’s own apps — which include Opera Max to compress browsing data on mobile devices, Opera Coast for content recommendations, and Opera’s web browsers. But Opera is not yet commenting on when these will be coming to market.

“Right now, we are not speculating on the timing of future releases or what form they will take, but we are looking forward to integrating these into joint products that will expand Opera’s product portfolio,” the spokesperson said.

Prior to this, Opera was already trying to come out ahead in stating its position on matters of online privacy. Among its tenets, it says it only processes personal data “for purposes that are objectively justified by Opera Software’s service and to perform the processing in accordance with fundamental respect for the right to privacy.” But all the same, the company also offers a suite of advertising services, via its Opera Mediaworks subsidiary, which some might argue might run counter to privacy ideals.

This is another interesting angle for how the SurfEasy acquisition could work for Opera. Potentially, by offering paid VPN services to users coupled with its free browsing and data-compression technology, Opera can continue to make revenue from those users, even if it can no longer monetise them through ads.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed by the companies, but “Both Opera and SurfEasy are pleased with the agreement and look forward to working together,” a spokesperson told me. It’s not clear how many users SurfEasy has but it was growing, adding 6 million new users in the past 12 months.

Yet it’s clear that SurfEasy — founded in 2011 in Toronto and working on only one round of funding since then — needed more scale for its business to grow.

“Over the past few years the dialogue and awareness around online privacy issues has increased dramatically. We are all now very aware just how vulnerable our data is to hacking, monitoring and censorship, regardless of the network or device you’re using to access the web,” Chris Houston, founder and CEO, SurfEasy, said in a statement.

“By teaming up with Opera, a global internet company with over 350 million users, we are able to accelerate our vision to give users access to simple applications that let them take back control of their online privacy and freedom,” he continues.