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Anti-snoop software to hit the big time - thanks NSA!

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Revelations of US spooks monitoring the internet have freaked out consumers so much that privacy protection software will be The Next Big Thing.

That's according to antivirus firm AVG, which reckons the market for products that safeguard online freedoms will be huge.

Siobhan MacDermott, chief policy officer at the company, said AVG was preparing for a future in which privacy software is a big part of its business alongside its malware-busting tools. The security expert was astonished by the reaction to the scandal of the web-snooping NSA PRISM project, which left consumers feeling "violated".

She predicted a world in which consumers were obsessed with protecting their own digital communications from prying eyes, as well as making sure their kids aren't press-ganged into handing over reams of sensitive data to fraudsters and other undesirables.

MacDermott has been in discussions with five major banks, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan, about how best to tackle this emerging market. She asked them to estimate the size of the burgeoning privacy sector - and they had no idea.

"I asked them to size up the privacy market and all five told me that although they knew it was huge, they couldn't yet give me a proper estimate of its size," MacDermott said. "They were super-excited though, because there are a lot of new companies popping up in this space.

"My argument is that privacy will soon rival cyber-security in terms of market share. It's about device control and protecting the online experience. It's a nascent industry, so we're still in the awareness phase and initial products phase. It's going to be a big industry."

Earlier this year, AVG bought a firm called Privacy Choice, which offers a simple way to manage the privacy settings of software on their computer.

And Microsoft started bundling anti-malware software called Defender within Windows 8, causing some consternation among security firms, who stood to lose business.

MacDermott isn't too worried that this will kill off her firm's security division.

"Anti virus isn't going to go away," she continued. "Privacy will definitely grow faster, as its a nascent market versus a mature one, but security is in our DNA. Privacy will just be another layer on top of that."

There would have to be international discussions on protecting citizens' online privacy soon, MacDermott predicted, due to the differences in opinion between leaders in Europe, America and beyond.

"There is no common ground between Europe and America on issues like government surveillance," she said. "In Europe, people remember a time when you could be killed for having the wrong political beliefs or religion. The people who run Facebook and other big social media companies don't have that baggage, so privacy can be something of an abstract concept to them in a way it isn't in Germany, for instance, with memories of the Stazi and Nazis."

Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde recently persuaded punters to donate at least $110,000 to start up an encrypted chat service called Heml.is, which will supposedly have tough encryption to keep spooks from snooping on one's electronic nattering. He joined a growing number of firms looking to create the ultimate secure communications platform.

Sunde said: "We've decided to build a messaging platform where no one can spy on you, not even us."

However, all the best encryption in the world may not be enough to totally keep the spooks at bay. Documents released by Edward Snowden show that the NSA's creepy PRISM programme is more likely to store communications for a rainy day if they are encrypted. ®

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