In a page from the handbook on the liberating powers of globalization, thousands of Chinese and Middle Eastern Web surfers are leapfrogging past censors to view The New York Times, Hustler, and many other sites their governments have decided to "protect" them from.
The unfettered Web access comes thanks to an ingenious program called Triangle Boy. It's the brainchild of 35-year-old Stephen Hsu, the founder of an Emeryville, California, start-up called SafeWeb.
Although a thorough explanation involves a lot of high-tech jargon, the basic idea behind the program is simple: A Chinese surfer finds the Internet address of a computer that has Triangle Boy installed. He then uses that computer as a proxy server to jump to a forbidden site. Once there, Triangle Boy sends the information to a third computer, the server at SafeWeb. SafeWeb encrypts it, makes it look like it originated from the middleman computer, then sends it back to the user in China—hence, the triangle.
Hsu, who's on a year-long hiatus from his day job as a theoretical physicist at the University of Oregon, created the software specifically with the idea of circumventing state repression. He offers it for free. The company, meanwhile, has seed money from several venture capital firms (and the Central Intelligence Agency); it plans to offer other privacy services for a fee.
According to Business. 2.0, users were downloading 300,000 pages daily just months after the program's June release. Hsu has posted testimonials from some of those users on his site. From one in Saudi Arabia: "Yes, with Triangle Boy I'm able to access ALL my favorite sites again. You just wouldn't believe it if I told you that our people have even been blocked from educational sites! And of course no one can ask why or say anything to anybody in this country!"
Americans are also finding uses for the program. An employee from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter wrote to say, "SafeWeb is the only way I've been able to access my personal email account, which has been blocked by my corporate employer….I'm making sure the word about Triangle Boy gets WIDELY spread around."