Wyatt Wasicek was so outraged by the recording industry's legal assault on users of free music-downloading sites that he decided to ride to the rescue. He created a program called AnonX (search) that masks the Internet address of people who use file-sharing programs such as Kazaa.
Available for $5.95 per month, AnonX sets up a virtual private network, or VPN, between a user's computer and the company's computers. The AnonX computers act as proxies, and actually do the Web surfing for the subscriber.
In theory, no one outside of AnonX can see the subscriber's Internet address -- including the Recording Industry Association of America (search) (RIAA), which has forced Internet service providers to turn over subscriber information as part of its campaign to sue hundreds of individual song downloaders.
Wasicek, 29, promises not to divulge his 7,000 users' Internet addresses and believes he can't be forced to do so.
Although Wasicek lives in Austin, Texas, he says AnonX's official owner lives in Vanuatu, the loosely regulated Pacific island that also hosts Kazaa's parent company, Sharman Networks Ltd. AnonX's servers are strategically placed overseas as well.
RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy declined to comment on AnonX.
Wasicek says he put a filter on AnonX to block its use for child pornography. He also says he'll cut off service for egregious downloaders of copyrighted material.
So why bother creating AnonX?
Wasicek's day job is at an Internet service provider that frequently gets letters from the entertainment industry demanding subscriber information, and he claims most of them are erroneous, wasting everyone's time. Wasicek said he decided to shield file-sharers who generally use the technology legitimately but might occasionally break copyright law without realizing it.
"I'm doing this to protect the family with the 13-year-old, not the 25-year-old with 25 movies he's sharing with his buddies," he said. "I wanted to go back to the good old days when people could surf anonymously."
Still, AnonX's technical claims were met with suspicion by Sascha Wildgrube, director of development at Steganos GmbH, a German provider of Internet privacy services.
"There are a number of products available that state they can hide the (Internet) address in file-sharing networks like Kazaa. We closely observe that market, and all products we reviewed turned out to be snake oil," Wildgrube said. "We will take a look at AnonX.com, but I do not expect it to be what it claims."