Olympics turns to gold for Expat Shield

Downloads of the ad-supported VPN service Expat Shield skyrocket as the tool for routing your Internet traffic through British servers becomes popular at the same time as the London-based Olympics.

Expat Shield's status box.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

As the Summer Olympics kicks into high gear, complaints about television coverage from outside Britain appear to be driving people watching the games online to Expat Shield (download for Windows only) to get real-time BBC streaming.

Anchor Free's ad-supported Expat Shield masks your actual IP address and sends your Internet traffic through its servers in England. Like its software sibling HotSpot Shield, it's a VPN service that encrypts your traffic as it reroutes it. The primary differences between them are that HotSpot Shield (Windows | Mac | iOS | Android) offers an ad-free Elite version, and that HotSpot Shield's VPN servers are based in the United States.

Nick Shepherd, a representative for AnchorFree, told CNET over e-mail that the company saw enormous traffic jumps during the first five days of the Olympics compared with the five days immediately prior to the start of the Games. Expat Shield has seen a 212 percent increase in worldwide installs, and a 1,849 percent increase in U.S. installs, he said. Overall usage is up too, by 23 percent worldwide and 262 percent in the U.S.

Shepherd noted that the increased attention hasn't come from a marketing campaign, aside from his own tweets about Expat Shield. "There have been a few tweets, but nothing like a concerted marketing effort," he explained. "This is nearly 100 percent word of mouth. If you search for Expat Shield on Twitter you'll see a ton of activity (including my own.)"

"The best day we've had was 6,966" new installs, Shepherd wrote. On average, the number of new Expat Shield installs has surpassed 6,000 per day since the Olympics began. AnchorFree was unable to provide a breakdown by country, except for the U.S. traffic numbers.

Currently, AnchorFree claims about 60 million people with installs of both HotSpot Shield and Expat Shield. About 12 million of those people actively use the programs on a monthly basis.

Shepherd wouldn't reveal how much server traffic AnchorFree could handle, but he did say that the capacity was enough to "serve millions at once without problems."

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