Lots of people can spy on you online—even your own internet service provider (ISP). In 2017, Congress abolished rules preventing ISPs from collecting customer traffic data for marketing. One easy way for them to do that is to record every numerical IP address your web browser looks up. In April 2018, content-delivery network Cloudflare teamed with the Mozilla Foundation to create a free system that protects consumers from snooping third parties. The Firefox browser bypasses your ISP and sends lookup requests to Cloudflare’s own DNS server, at the internet address 126.96.36.199. This traffic is also encrypted to prevent any online snoop (whether ISP, hacker, or government) from deciphering a list of sites you visit. In November, Cloudflare released the free, one-click 188.8.131.52 app, which encrypts connections between all Android or iOS apps and Cloudflare’s DNS server. It’s been downloaded more than 2.5 million times. The consumer protection efforts are good for business, says cofounder and CEO Matthew Prince. People prefer to work for or close deals with a company making a positive impact. But Cloudflare catches some criticism for its main business: optimizing websites and protecting them from hackers. The company’s near-absolutist free-speech stance allows a handful of hate and terror groups to open accounts. Aside from lawful orders, Cloudflare rebuffs calls to drop clients—many on free accounts—to avoid setting a precedent for censorship. “If companies start to impose the values of their leadership on what the internet looks like, that’s an incredibly risky thing,” says Prince.
UPDATE: On April 1, 2019, Cloudflare announced it had extended 184.108.40.206 to a full VPN service that encrypts all internet traffic (not just DNS lookups) from all apps on mobile devices. It claims the service also speeds up internet access by routing traffic through its global network.