Snowstorm Gathers Seeds and Launches Open Beta to Keep the Internet Free | TechCrunch

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Created to ensure free and open access to the Internet, Snowflake saw a huge increase in users during the start of the war in Ukraine and has grown even more since then. Started as an open source project by Serene (which uses its name only for privacy reasons), Snowflake, which started as a pluggable transport for Tor, has been transformed into Snowstorm and now promises faster connections and can run as standalone software outside of Tor.

Snowstorm today announced it has raised $3 million in seed funding, led by Seed Club Ventures, with participation from Cabrit Capital, Keppel Capital, EchoVC and Matt Devost. It is also launching the Snowstorms Open Beta.

Snowflake started out as an open source project eight years ago to keep the internet free. Serene taught herself to code when she was nine years old and was hired by Google when she was still a teenager. She ended up being the first engineer at Google Ideas, now known as Google Jigsaw, and used her time there to find ways to use large-scale infrastructure to help the Internet.

Part of Serene’s interest in keeping the internet free is that her childhood was difficult and the internet was a refuge for her. I also knew the internet wasn’t going to say the same, especially as things have changed over the last couple of decades and censorship has certainly increased, she said. Serene is leaving Google as the leading expert on WebRTC, an open source project that adds real-time communication to web browsers and mobile apps. She saw that it would be useful for a new kind of decentralized tool that could keep the Internet free. So she prototyped Snowflake and integrated it into the Tor browser.

Basically, at the end of the day when you connect to the internet, you connect to other computers. Your ISP, your Internet Service Provider are also computers that connect to the rest of the Internet through which you connect to connect to the rest of the Internet. And if people are having problems with their ISP or want privacy, traditional VPNs are usually someone’s computer before connecting to the rest of the internet, he explained, meaning VPNs can be monitored and easily bypassed.

Snowflake, on the other hand, is decentralized and is distributed as a pluggable transport for Tor. Instead of trusting a centralized system or a VPN that can be blocked, it is made up of around 100,000 people, from all over the world, who have temporarily opted in to use their computers to act as a broker, disguised as a domain fronter, so it appears to be from an unrestricted service. Users and brokers are connected by WebRTC. It’s basically a two-sided user base, Serene said. There are people who need help getting online and people who can help others get online.

Millions of sessions are established every day, starting last year during the start of the war in Ukraine, when users had to bypass Internet censorship.

Snowstorm is an upgrade on every level, Serene said. She rewrote Snowflake in Rust, partly to increase speed and partly to help it go cross-platform and system-wide, instead of relying on Tor alone. One of the challenges with Snowflake was that it had much higher usage than expected and ran into bottlenecks. The project itself is a lot of interesting and brilliant people coming together to make this happen. And I happen to be the initial creator of this project, I have an understanding of the architecture and where to go. So when Snowflake ran into bottlenecks, Serene made improvements, for example Snowstorm can run system-wide and is fast enough to stream video.

Serene will continue to build Snowstorm using its new funding, but said it doesn’t want to participate in marketing strategies like YouTube ads. I’d rather focus on building the real thing that actually works and less resources with a small amount of resources that I was able to muster with Snowstorm.

Serene is also a prolific concert pianist, focusing on music after leaving Google. This month she will go to Europe to play Concerto n. 2 by Rachminoff and is sponsored by Borsendorferm. Austrian piano manufacturer.

In a funny way, being a musician has allowed me to be a better technologist, and being a technologist has allowed me to be a better musician. I find they are very intimately connected. Music gives me the energy to do whatever needs to be done. Serene added that during the fundraiser, some investors asked her how she manages to run a business with her music career. My answer is that it’s a combination of when someone exercises every morning to stay healthy. You tell them, how can you have time? So I happen to pay for concerts and that makes me very healthy and it’s a lot of energy.

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