Hola’s General Manager, Avi Raz Cohen, talks technology, censorship and how his company is putting content in the hands of people who need it most.
When did you join Hola and what does your role entail?
I originally joined Hola in 2014 as a Product Manager and stayed with the company for about four years. Subsequently, after a couple of years of working at another tech start-up, I rejoined Hola in 2020, initially on a consultancy basis, then in-house as VP of Product. After a year in that role, I became Hola’s General Manager.
In my role, I oversee Hola’s strategy, operations, and company direction. I also work closely with our teams to ensure that we are always offering the best product to our multiple global users around the world and addressing their immediate and future content unlocking needs.
How would you describe Hola to people who don’t know about it?
The internet is a vast centre of content but, unfortunately, not always a democratised one. In addition, this far-reaching content base is always changing and shifting in its ways of management. This is why we have also evolved over the years. Obviously, from the very beginning, we have been committed to internet freedom, and this has continued to be our mission today.
To put it simply: Today, Hola is a gateway to the World Wide Web and its online content. Hola users enjoy full internet freedom. For example, Russian or Turkish users can gain access to online content that has been restricted by the relevant authorities – certain countries even restrict sites as simple as Wikipedia. Our technology is focused on simply providing any user the internet content freedom they need no matter where they are in the world.
What is Hola’s mission?
Our mission today is much the same as it was when we first started. With the many lessons learned and the knowledge we have acquired over the years, we are continuing on the same path with the right technology, strategy, and overall approach. Our mission is, and always has been, to democratise access to online content. This ranges from access to worldwide news sources – and not what governments deem accessible – all the way through to streaming or e-commerce-focused content for users who wish to continue consistently enjoying the same sites.
We manage our company and serve our users with complete transparency and openness to learn – this has always been our path forward.
How heavily is the internet censored and is this a growing problem?
Every year, Freedom House releases its reports on the state of democracies and worldwide internet freedom. It’s a true reality check. According to these reports, there’s been a steady decline in global internet freedom for the past 11 years.
The internet should be seen as the world’s biggest country with no borders or walls to challenge users; it has over four billion 'citizens'. However, what we see today is a battle between this new 'country' and the previously established order. Internet restrictions are some of the very effective tools used in this battle and are, essentially, directly impacting the public.
As restrictions are implemented, democracies suffer, and users turn to Hola’s technology. Consequently, we see an increased use of Hola’s products.
How can technology fight back and help citizens from around the world access content that has been restricted due to geopolitical issues?
Hola is a peer-to-peer network, meaning it is powered by its users. The great thing about peer-to-peer networks such as Hola is that they directly give access to those who are in need. A good example of how this can work can be seen with concepts such as those provided by the social media platform CouchSurfing. Through its community it connects people with an available couch or sofa, with people needing a short-term place to stay while traveling.
At Hola we allow anybody with an IP address to lend a hand to somebody in need of it. This is important because by doing something as simple as sharing network resources or IP addresses, any user can contribute to those who are restricted and provide them with access to the online content they're looking for.
What are Hola’s plans for the future?
Our mission to provide internet freedom will continue to serve us and lead our company and technology. We will keep improving our products and services to make sure we always provide our millions of users with the best internet access. We always aim to make our products as easy to use as possible while maintaining the same online access we have been providing until now – currently, we stand at 99.9% online access.
Additionally, we are developing new products that are based on our huge network, which will continue in the same high standards we've set for the user experience. We look forward to announcing these soon.