Proton, the privacy startup behind e2e encrypted ProtonMail, confirms passing 50M users – TechCrunch

End-to-end encrypted e mail supplier ProtonMail has formally confirmed it’s handed 50 million users globally because it turns seven years outdated.

It’s a notable milestone for a providers supplier that deliberately doesn’t have an information enterprise — opting as a substitute for a privacy pledge primarily based on zero entry structure meaning it has no approach to decrypt the contents of ProtonMail users’ emails.

Although, to be clear, the 50M+ determine applies to complete users of all its merchandise (which features a VPN providing), not simply users of its e2e encrypted e mail. (It declined to interrupt out e mail users vs different merchandise after we requested.)

Commenting in a press release, Andy Yen, founder and CEO, mentioned: “The conversation about privacy has shifted surprisingly quickly in the past seven years. Privacy has gone from being an afterthought, to the main focus of a lot of discussions about the future of the Internet. In the process, Proton has gone from a crowdfunded idea of a better Internet, to being at the forefront of the global privacy wave. Proton is an alternative to the surveillance capitalism model advanced by Silicon Valley’s tech giants, that allows us to put the needs of users and society first.”

ProtonMail, which was based in 2014, has diversified into providing a set of merchandise — together with the aforementioned VPN and a calendar providing (Proton Calendar). A cloud storage service, Proton Drive, can also be slated for public launch later this 12 months.

For all these merchandise it claims take the similar ‘zero access’ fingers off method to consumer knowledge. Albeit, it’s a little bit of an apples and oranges comparability to match e2e encrypted e mail with an encrypted VPN service — since the difficulty with VPN providers is that they’ll see exercise (i.e. the place the encrypted or in any other case packets are going) and that metadata can sum to a log of your Internet exercise (even with e2e encryption of the packets themselves).

Proton claims it doesn’t monitor or report its VPN users’ internet shopping. And given its wider privacy-dependent status that’s at the very least a extra credible declare vs the common VPN service. Nonetheless, you do nonetheless should belief Proton not to try this (or be compelled to try this by, for e.g., regulation enforcement). It’s not the similar technical ‘zero access’ assure as it will probably provide for its e2e encrypted e mail.

Proton does additionally provide a free VPN — which, as we’ve said before, generally is a purple flag for knowledge logging threat — however the firm specifies that users of the paid model subsidize free users. So, once more, the declare is zero logging however you continue to must make a judgement name on whether or not to belief that.

From Snowden to 50M+

Over ProtonMail’s seven 12 months run privacy has definitely gained cache as a model promise — which is why now you can see data-mining giants like Facebook making ludicrous claims about ‘pivoting’ their people-profiling surveillance empires to ‘privacy’. So, as ever, PR that’s larded with claims of ‘respect for privacy’ calls for very shut scrutiny.

And whereas it’s clearly absurd for an adtech big like Facebook to attempt to cloak the undeniable fact that its enterprise mannequin depends on stripping away individuals’s privacy with claims to the opposite, in Proton’s case the privacy declare could be very robust certainly — since the firm was founded with the goal of being “immune to large scale spying”. Spying comparable to that carried out by the NSA.

ProtonMail’s founding thought was to construct a system “that does not require trusting us”.

While utilization of e2e encryption has grown enormously since 2013 — when disclosures by NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, revealed the extent of information gathering by authorities mass surveillance applications, which had been proven (il)liberally tapping into Internet cables and mainstream digital providers to seize individuals’s knowledge with out their data or consent — development that’s definitely been helped by client pleasant providers like ProtonMail making strong encryption way more accessible — there are worrying strikes by lawmakers in various jurisdictions that conflict with the core thought and threaten entry to e2e encryption.

In the wake of the Snowden disclosures, ‘Five Eyes’ nations steadily amped up international political pressure on e2e encryption. Australia, for instance, passed an anti-encryption law in 2018 — which grants police powers to difficulty ‘technical notices’ to drive corporations working on its soil to assist the authorities hack, implant malware, undermine encryption or insert backdoors at the behest of the authorities.

While, in 2016, the UK reaffirmed its surveillance regime — passing a regulation that provides the authorities powers to compel corporations to take away or not implement e2e encryption. Under the Investigatory Powers Act, a statutory instrument referred to as a Technical Capability Notice (TCN) could be served on comms providers suppliers to compel decrypted entry. (And as the ORG famous in April, there’s no approach to monitor utilization as the regulation gags suppliers from reporting something in any respect a few TCN utility, together with that it even exists.)

More just lately, UK ministers have saved up public stress on e2e encryption — framing it as an existential threat to child protection. Simultaneously they’re legislating — by way of an Online Safety Bill, out in draft earlier this month — to place a legally binding obligation on service suppliers to ‘prevent bad things from happening on the Internet’ (as the ORG neatly sums it up). And whereas nonetheless at the draft stage, non-public messaging providers are in scope of that invoice — placing the regulation on a possible collision course with messaging providers that use e2e encryption.

The U.S., in the meantime, has declined to reform warrantless surveillance.

And if you happen to suppose the EU is a protected house for e2e encryption, there are causes to be involved in continental Europe too.

EU lawmakers have just lately made a push for what they describe as “lawful access” to encrypted knowledge — with out specifying precisely how that could be achieved, i.e. with out breaking and/or backdooring e2e encryption and due to this fact undoing the digital safety in addition they say is important.

In an additional worrying growth, EU lawmakers have proposed automated scanning of encrypted communications providers — aka a provision referred to as ‘chatcontrol’ that’s ostensibly focused at prosecuting those that share little one exploitation content material — which raises additional questions over how such legal guidelines would possibly intersect with ‘zero access’ providers like ProtonMail.

The European Pirate Party has been sounding the alarm — and dubs the ‘chatcontrol’ proposal “the end of the privacy of digital correspondence” — warning that “securely encrypted communication is at risk”.

A plenary vote on the proposal is anticipated in the coming months — so the place precisely the EU lands on that continues to be to be seen.

ProtonMail, in the meantime, relies in Switzerland which isn’t a member of the EU and has considered one of the stronger reputations for privacy legal guidelines globally. However the nation additionally backed beefed-up surveillance powers in 2016 — extending the digital snooping capabilities of its personal intelligence businesses.

It does additionally undertake some EU laws — so, once more, it’s not clear whether or not or not any pan-EU automated scanning of message content material may find yourself being utilized to providers primarily based in the nation.

The threats to e2e encryption are definitely rising, whilst utilization of such correctly non-public providers retains scaling.

Asked whether or not it has issues, ProtonMail identified that the EU’s present short-term chatcontrol proposal is voluntary — that means it might be as much as the firm in query to determine its personal coverage. Although it accepts there may be “some support” in the Commission for the chatcontrol proposals to be made necessary.

“It’s not clear at this time whether these proposals could impact Proton specifically [i.e. if they were to become mandatory],” the spokesman additionally advised us. “The extent to which a Swiss company like Proton might be impacted by such efforts would have to be assessed based on the specific legal proposal. To our knowledge, none has been made for now.”

“We completely agree that steps have to be taken to combat the spread of illegal explicit material. However, our concern is that the forced scanning of communications would be an ineffective approach and would instead have the unintended effect of undermining many of the basic freedoms that the EU was established to protect,” he added. “Any form of automated content scanning is incompatible with end-to-end encryption and by definition undermines the right to privacy.”

So whereas Proton is rightly celebrating {that a} regular dedication to zero entry infrastructure over the previous seven years has helped its enterprise develop to 50M+ users, there are causes for all privacy-minded folks to be watchful of what the subsequent years of political developments would possibly imply for the privacy and safety of all our knowledge.


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