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Does Uproxy spell the end for the UK Porn Filter?

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There are many reasons why your internet connection might be filtered. You may live in a country such as the People's Republic of China, Iran or North Korea, where access is locked down for political reasons.

Your office may choose to block sites that don't relate to your job, or that could compromise data security. Or, perhaps, you may find yourself with a censored web due to politicians wishing to protect you from pornography or pirated music.

What is Uproxy?
Uproxy - a new project from Google, the University of Washington and Brave New Software - aims to make it difficult for access to the internet to be locked down and filtered by repressive regimes or overzealous IT departments. It is easy to set up, safe and requires only that you have a friend on the 'outside'.

If it works, it could mean that internet censorship, for whatever reason, will be trivial to circumvent. In China, this could mean that activists can see parts and communicate with parts of the web that have been withheld from them. In the UK, one side effect may be that any proposed 'opt out' filters for adult sites could be dead in the water.

One way to get around a restricted internet connection - or one that you fear may be monitored or compromised - is to create an encrypted Virtual Private Network (VPN) that links your computer to a server on a 'safe' network. Your computer can then access the internet via that network and third parties can't see what you are doing or restrict what you can see.

Unfortunately, VPNs are tricky to set up and usually require special software to be downloaded and configured. They are also fairly easy to block as they typically use a specific IP port number, unless you configure them to use the same port as an existing internet service, such as the web (port 80), which has its own problems.

Uproxy is just a plugin for Chrome or Firefox. As long as you have it installed and can give it the details of a friend who also has it installed, Uproxy can make a simple - but still encrypted and secure - VPN network that you can use to browse the web. All traffic goes via port 80 as normal and nobody monitoring that port would be able to tell the nature of any data being transmitted.

Peer Pressure
The key drawback to this system seems to be the need for a trusted 'friend' to whom you can connect. It seems likely however that variants on Uproxy will arise that will allow for easy 'matchmaking' in the manner of peer-to-peer file sharing networks.  Even if you don't live under a repressive government (please insert your own jokes about the Coalition here) or have any suitable friends then busting out of a corporate firewall or freely browsing on locked down public Wi-Fi could still just be a matter of leaving a browser running on your home PC.

Google's involvement may raise your hackles if you have concerns about the company being compromised by an obligation to provide data to the US National Security Agency.  Uproxy, though, is fully open source so the code can be inspected for possible back doors and given sufficient motivation you could create you own version or the plugin that you know to be safe and independent.

Uproxy - How do I get it?

The Uproxy plugin is still in early beta and only a handful of testers are beinig granted access to it at the moment. A similar project, Lantern, is available now if you are able to install its client app on your computer and others are sure to follow.

Uproxy and networks like it are not designed for anonymity or to keep your data secure. You wouldn't want to use a Uproxy VPN to log in to your Gmail or internet banking unless you really, really trust the person whose network connection you are borrowing and if secrecy is your aim then your best bet would be something like Tor.

What Uproxy could offer however is a way of reading or watching things that you are being prevented from seeing. With the right connections you could watch region-locked YouTube clips or stream US Netflix to your PC in Europe. Or you could allow your home broadband in the UK to be borrowed by a human rights activist in China who just wants to get access to banned teaching materials or uncensored news.

It is too early to say if projects like this will completely defeat internet censorship but it seems likely that those opposed to such restrictions will soon have a very powerful tool at their disposal. Even if you never plan to use Uproxy because you already have all the freedom you need, simply installing it or a similar tool could be an act of risk-free altruism to someone much less fortunate than yourself.

Next, read our explanation of Google Play Services and why it matters more than the Nexus 5

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