Did you know that 2016 is FoxyProxy’s 10 year anniversary?
Of course you did. You’re a smart person.
In honor of our 10th anniversary year, we put together some questions for our founder Eric Jung. Eric is a published author, formally trained computer scientist, huge open source advocate, and all around cool guy.
- What was the catalyst for you to create FoxyProxy? Was your motivation more one of security or accessing content not available to you?
It was 2005, and I was working as a contract software developer at a large, well-known insurance company. The company had aggressive web filtering in place. The filtering prevented me from doing my job by blocking access to critical reference sites. I was under tight deadlines to deliver but was having problems delivering.
So, as a go around at the insurance company, I setup a proxy server on my internet connection at home. But the connection speeds to my 2005-era “broadband” DIY home proxy server were slow, slow, slow and unreliable.
I could now bypass website filtering… er, let’s call it what it is… censorship. But not at the speeds I wanted. I needed a way to load only censored websites through my home proxy server and everything else through the normal, blazing-fast, on-site, corporate internet connection.
Firefox was huge at the time. It was open-source software (OSS). There’s a saying in OSS, “Scratch your own itch”. The sentiment means, “If you don’t like something with software that is OSS, change it yourself.” Being a software developer, I researched how I could hack Firefox to selectively load websites across different internet connections .
Shortly thereafter, the FoxyProxy extension for Firefox was born. I released it as free, open-source. And I quickly learned that I’d scratched an itch shared by millions.
FoxyProxy very quickly become a Top-5 most popular extension with an active user community. It was often featured by Mozilla in their Addons Store (addons.mozilla.org). I was lucky this was not my first success with open-source software; I was prepared for the good fortune that followed.
- Streaming media wasn’t nearly as prevalent in 2006 as it is today. Did you predict the future popularity of streaming media at the time? Are you a wizard?
Ha, I could never get past about a level 3 or 4 magic-user in AD&D (first edition rules). So, I’m a mediocre wizard. Maybe that’s why I became a DM.
- Was there any other software at the time which could do what FoxyProxy was doing, or were you wading into unexplored territory?
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. There definitely wasn’t anything like it; if there had been, I wouldn’t have written FoxyProxy.
- Tell me about some of the first things you did when you had a proxy up and running. Which websites were you aching to visit but never could before?
Unfortunately, nothing untoward. They were simply sites I need for work, like sourceforge.net (one of the predecessors to github.com), Java API documentation sites, MSDN, and similar.
- The Internet is notorious for chewing up bright eyed idea havers and spitting them (and their start-ups) viciously out. How did you ensure that FoxyProxy would still be a success after 10 years? Let’s face it, 10 years in internet time is roughly equal to 45 year in real-time.
It’s about making something that people need. “Scratching my own itch” turned out to scratch the itch many others had. And sometimes that scratch be as simple as making potato salad, though potato salad probably isn’t a sustainable business model.
- What’s your favorite country to browse from, and why?
Iceland. I love the place and love to pretend I’m there.
- Services like FoxyProxy have been helpful for people living in countries with markedly less freedom of information than we in the US are used to. Tell me about some instances where FoxyProxy has helped someone get information that may have been withheld from them?
Over the years, I’ve received many thank-you emails from individuals who use both FoxyProxy software and our network to bypass censorship in China, Iran, Myanmar, Malaysia, and many others. For example, I received some such emails during the Turkish Gezi Park Protests in 2013 when Turkey blocked social media and other sites.
The FoxyProxy extension is part of the PirateBrowser and for a while, it was an essential part of using tor (before tor had its own browser). We’ve helped reporters bypass internet censorship in places all sorts of unfree places. We’ve given Wall Street Journal and New York Times researchers free access to our network to study topics like consumer protection, online tracking, surveillance, privacy, and price discrimination. We’ve even given the Chief Technologist at the Federal Trade Commission free access to our network at his request. At the moment, we’re sponsoring the DataObservatory project at the Columbia University Data Science Institute. It’s a price discrimination application for hotel and flight bookings, answering questions like “From which country or city can I most cheaply book a room at the Four Points by Sheraton LAX (or any other hotel)?”
We will continue to support an open, equal, free internet with all resources at our disposal. HERE’S TO THE NEXT 10 YEARS!