DPI16_Banner_300x250 WITH COPY

By Sean Lyons

It was after more than three years of secret phone calls and secret meetings with lawyers in secret places that Nick Merrill finally decided: The next time the FBI came knocking on his door demanding information, he'd make it so there wasn't any to give. 

It's taken another few years, but Merrill, who fought FBI demands that he turn over client records of his Internet service provider (ISP) without a court order--using a controversial program expanded by the federal government after 9/11--said his idea is becoming closer to a reality. 

His nonprofit Calyx Institute aims to create the first privacy-focused Internet and mobile phone service provider, using an encryption method that would make it all but impossible for any third party--whether it's the FBI or hackers--to track or gather any user's data on Calyx's infrastructure.      

"I think that people in a free democratic society have the right to privacy, the right to whisper," Merrill said. "It's part of an open society. We don't want to be an ISP but a PSP, a privacy service provider." 

Calyx, and at least one other Internet startup, the search engine DuckDuckGo (DDG), stand at the frontier of what experts say could be a new movement in online privacy, where protection won't be dependent upon an individual's technological savvy but instead is woven into every consumer's experience. 

"It's clear consumers are increasingly paying attention to privacy in a way they haven't previously," said Future of Privacy Forum Director Jules Polonetsky, CIPP/US. "In the last number of years, you see the investment community making the bet that consumers will use a privacy service when they are available, and it will be interesting to see what impact this new wave will have." 

Both Calyx and DuckDuckGo's leaders say they've benefited from recent controversies over privacy with "Big Internet," such as Google, which changed its policies so that users' information would be made available to other companies to better target their audience. 

Gabriel Weinstein, founder of DuckDuckGo, said the number of searches typed into DDG has more than doubled since the latest Google controversy erupted over the winter, now averaging about 45 million a month. That's far from the billions made on Google, but Weinstein said the growth has far exceeded his company's expectations. 

Calyx has seen a boost as well, with tens of thousands of dollars in donations pouring into the group. It's also received a travel grant from the Ford Foundation to help Merrill develop his plans. 

While both organizations streamline privacy for users, they pursue it in different ways. 

Unlike most search engines, DDG does not send users' search terms or their Internet protocol address--a sort of numeric thumbprint of their computer or mobile device--to any other website, and it does not keep users' search history so that it can be directly tied back to them. 

The company still makes money from ads shown in the results of a search, similar to Google, but those ads show up only because of the search terms in a particular query, not because of the users' identity. 

"Search engine companies get subpoenas for users' information all the time," Weinstein said. "Now I'm waiting for our first one so I can tell them we don't have anything to give them." 

DDG's privacy focus came as something of an afterthought. Weinstein created the engine with the aim to excel in searches where he believed Google failed. The online community of techies who tested the site gave its searches a thumbs-up after some tweaks. But they said if DDG wanted to be the anti-Google, it had to make privacy key. Weinstein went to work, and it has paid off: DDG was named one of the top websites of 2011 by TIME and PC Magazine, and it was voted Best Search Engine by readers at 

Calyx, on the other hand, plans on making its Internet system entirely free and encoded, effectively making any user's information and history anonymous. That means any third party--a hacker, Facebook, even the FBI--would not be able to track any information about the user. Merrill said law enforcement could still obtain users' information in other ways, such as placing a tracker on their computer keyboard. But the system would leave Calyx out of picture.

"We want to make it so that the customer owns its data," Merrill said, "not us." 

Merrill is still considering how to best market Calyx, but he said its initial market will likely be organizations particularly concerned about cybersecurity, such as companies trying to fight corporate espionage, or governmental agencies--perhaps even the FBI.

Polonetsky said while it's likely that some company providing "seamless privacy" will stake out some market share, it may not matter if they never become the Internet's "Next Big Thing."  

"What may be the most important thing is the pressure these businesses place upon the recognized brands already out there," Polonetsky said. "How broadly they influence the mainstream products. There's nothing that drives new features online more than competition."

Sean Lyons is a former newspaper journalist whose reporting has won numerous national awards, including the Livingston Award, the largest all-media general reporting prize in the country. He is the lead interviewer for a book and PBS special due out in 2013 examining the legacy of the Kennedy administration.


If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.


Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

Latin America Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from Latin America

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Get more News »

Find a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Network and talk privacy at IAPP KnowledgeNet meetings, taking place worldwide.

Women Leading Privacy

Events, volunteer opportunities and more designed to help you give and get career support and expand your network.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

The Training Post—Can’t-Miss Training Updates

Subscribe now to get the latest alerts on training opportunities around the world.

New Web Conferences Added!

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Staff

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Get Close-up

Looking for tools and info on a hot topic? Our close-up pages organize it for you in one easy-to-find place.

Where's Your DPA?

Our interactive DPA locator helps you find data protection authorities and summary of law by country.

IAPP Westin Research Center

See the latest original research from the IAPP Westin fellows.

Looking for Certification Study Resources?

Find out what you need to prepare for your exams

More Resources »

GDPR Comprehensive: Spots Going Fast

With the top minds in the field leading this exceptional program, it's no wonder it's filling quickly. Register now to secure your spot.

Be Part of Something Big: Join the Summit

Registration is open for the Global Privacy Summit 2016. Discounted early bird rates available for a short time, register today!

Data Protection Intensive Returns to London

Registration is now open for the IAPP Europe Data Protection Intensive in London. Check out the program!

P.S.R. Call for Speakers Open!

P.S.R. is THE privacy + cloud security event of the year, and you can take a leading role. Propose a session for this year's program.

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

Exhibit at an Event

Put your brand in front of the largest gatherings of privacy pros in the world. Learn more.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»