An Israeli cybersecurity company with a checkered past is a key advertiser for some of the most polarizing political podcasts, including shows hosted by Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro, and Dinesh D’Souza, according to an analysis by Moonlight Foundation.
ExpressVPN, one of the world’s largest virtual private networks, was the third largest podcast advertiser spending $27 million in 2021, according to recently released data, beating out companies like Amazon, Geico, and Capital One.
In September 2021, Kape Technologies, the Israeli cybersecurity company, purchased ExpressVPN for nearly $1 billion dollars. ExpressVPN and is said to have around 3 million customers.
VPNs have grown in popularity due to the privacy features that hide users’ IP address and physical location while encrypting the user’s internet access. In recent years, Kape raised privacy concerns by purchasing at least four of the world’s largest and most prominent VPNs.
The ExpressVPN purchase was Kape's latest move to broaden its footprint in the commercial digital privacy and cybersecurity industry, following a 2018 name change aimed at erasing its past as a malware and adware distributor, Crossrider. The first CEO of Crossrider, Koby Menachemi, was once a part an Israeli Intelligence Unit that was dubbed the “Israel’s NSA.” The current CEO of Kape is a former commando in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Daniel Gericke, ExpressVPN’s Chief Information Officer, was fined in 2021 as part U.S. Department of Justice investigation. Gericke was allegedly one of several former U.S. intelligence operatives who worked as hackers for the United Arab Emirates, helping to spy on its domestic enemies. (Extensive issues and privacy concerns have been reported and summarized well here.)
Each of these podcast hosts are known for their conservative, firebrand personas, trafficking in extreme, often frightening, rhetoric. For instance, in September 2021, Rogan declared we are “one step closer to a dictatorship.” Shapiro has accused President Biden of lying about COVID-19 misinformation “to justify tyranny.” D’Souza has called Vice President Harris a “lying plagiarizer” who “stole from Martin Luther King.” Bongino claimed the “southern border’s been entirely evaporated by the Biden administration. You can waltz right in here.” Kirk has “connected the dots” to claim the transgender movement are trying to turn human beings into machines.
Ironically, privacy has been an issue for many of these hosts. Kirk has claimed “Big Tech has officially become Big Brother.” Rogan has held discussions on how “we’re numb to data privacy abuse.” Yet, when it comes to sponsorship, none of these individuals appear to be concerned enough about privacy to stop accepting money from ExpressVPN.
Deeper questions remain about why an Israeli firm appears to be supporting podcasts with audiences that might be prone to believe incendiary claims about the “deep state,” a topic Dan Bongino published a book about.
It is interesting these podcast hosts raise concerns about “Big Brother,” an amorphic term that has been attributed to Big Tech and Big Government, but don’t seem concerned by promoting an Israeli cybersecurity firm with ties to the Israeli Intelligence Unit.