Chinese takeover target Opera Software embeds browser security tool

BEIJING/OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian online browser and advertising firm Opera Software , the takeover target of a Chinese consortium of Internet firms, has embedded a tool in its latest desktop app that can be used to circumvent censorship.

Opera said on its blog on Thursday that the newest version of its desktop Internet browser, which is targeted at developers, includes a free built-in Virtual Private Network (VPN), which can be used for getting round online censorship.

“Regarding China we already have servers in China and are running this through a Chinese IT company which is in compliance with Chinese laws,” Opera CEO Lars Boilesen told Reuters.

“China is not a huge market for us on desktop. So this launch has nothing to do with China,” he said.

Chinese Internet companies are required to censor any content the ruling Communist Party deems unlawful, a sweeping power which has been used to block content that clashes with the official party line.

China frequently upgrades its Internet censorship mechanism, which is widely considered the world’s most sophisticated and known as the Great Firewall. This has often rendered VPNs impotent in China.

Opera is the subject of a $1.28 billion acquisition by a consortium of Chinese firms, including web search and security firm Qihoo 360 Technology Co Ltd and Beijing Kunlun Tech Co.

Last week the group said it had received acceptances on its offer for 72.19 percent of the shares in Opera, below the required level of over 90 percent, and had extended the deadline for acceptances to May 24.

The deal also needs to be approved by the Chinese and U.S. authorities.

Qihoo 360 and Kunlun declined to comment when contacted by Reuters on Thursday about whether Opera’s new VPN tool might affect its bid.

Asked whether installing a built-in VPN in its browser could be a problem for the deal, Opera’s Boilesen said it would be “completely unproblematic”, given it was running it through a Chinese IT company already.

Reporting by Paul Carsten; additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom and Ole Petter Skonnord in Oslo; editing by David Clarke