Internet Comes Through For Developer Of Key Email Encryption Tool

from the reasons-we-love-the-internet dept

Yesterday, we reposted Julia Angwin’s article from ProPublica about how the guy behind GPG, a key tool for email encryption, Werner Koch, was basically broke, and that attempts to crowdfund money to keep going hadn’t been all that successful. The story seemed to resonate with lots of people, and the donations started flowing. After getting a grand total of just about €34,000 in 2014, he’s already well over €100,000 this year, with most of that coming yesterday after Angwin’s story went up. On top of that, Stripe and Facebook each agreed to fund him to the tune of $50,000 per year (from each of them, so $100k total), and the Linux Foundation had agreed to give him $60k (though, Koch admits that the deal there was actually signed last week).

Either way, this is great to see, though it’s unfortunate that it had to wait until an article detailing his plight came out. We’ve seen this sort of thing a few times now, such as when the Heartbleed bug made everyone realize that OpenSSL was basically supported by volunteers with almost no budget at all. Thankfully, the attention there got the project necessary funds to continue to keep us safe.

It really is quite incredible when you realize how much of the internet that you rely on is built by people out of a true labor of love. Often, people have no idea that there even is an opportunity to support those projects, and it’s great that Angwin was able to highlight this one and get it the necessary funding to keep moving forward.

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Comments on “Internet Comes Through For Developer Of Key Email Encryption Tool”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, this. Engineers tend not to be great at the public-facing aspects of running a business. This is why, in my businesses, I have always partnered up with someone who is good at that stuff.

This is, in my opinion, the core of what is needed to be a successful entrepreneur: have a solid understanding of what you suck at, and partner with others who can cover your weaknesses.

Adam Shaver (profile) says:

Re: Re: encryption yet allowed to copy your mail

I’ve been using PGP in various forms for the better part of two decades, fondly remembering buying it on a 5 1/4″ floppy back when the software was export controlled. I definitely gave him a donation, because I think programmers need to be paid.
That being said, I think the idea of PGP in email is hopeless, because it requires both sides to download the software, share keys (even on a server). For email encryption/protection, instead I rely on That sucker only requires me to follow the API. The other side gets a dumb link, such that the attachment isn’t sent unencrypted from email server to server. A couple of years back, I asked my tax prep people if they had pgp, so I could email them my documents–and their eyes glazed over. This year, they get a email with a link to the file download.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: encryption yet allowed to copy your mail

That being said, I think the idea of PGP in email is hopeless, because it requires both sides to download the software, share keys

to borrow from a related saying, you can have privacy, or you can have convenience. If one end demands convenience, then privacy is compromised.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: encryption yet allowed to copy your mail

Are you suggesting that because encryption might possibly be broken its useless to use?

The govt might keep the encrypted data, but only attempt cracking data they really need access to because the resources to crack all of it is too great.

This is much more private than the current situation of send everything in plain text.

Anon says:

People of New York, too...

Another example of this sort of “crowd-funding” in a humanitarian vein:

A random boy on the streets of New York was asked “who has influence you the most?” His answer led to further posts then $1M-plus of donations to the school, the principal appears on Ellen DeGeneres Show, a visit to the White House… all from a simple blog post.

It’s the classic “if everyone gave me a dollar” scenario, spread across a world of 7 billion people. I’m glad to see Mr. Koch finally reaping the rewards of his dedication too.

ahow628 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m confused about the use of the term “unfortunate” in the sentence. It’s unfortunate that people don’t implicitly know about a problem that they don’t explicitly know about? Well duh.

Maybe a better way to put it would have been, “Unfortunately people didn’t know about the problem, but fortunately they do now because some cared enough to write an article about it.”

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:


Back at ya! WTF does your four chars add to the discussion?!? WTF are you complaining about exactly?!? I agree with him (ahow628). There are so many unsung heroes in FLOSS diligently banging their heads on problems that interest them yet not bothering to toot their horns, it’s impossible to know which ones have fallen into funding cracks. How are we supposed to keep up with them all if they can’t/won’t market themselves?

Next time, please don’t waste our time!

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

It's always been this way

“It really is quite incredible when you realize how much of the internet that you rely on is built by people out of a true labor of love.”

Nearly everything of value on the Internet was built exactly that way. While a few fortunate people have been funded here and there, the majority of formats, standards, protocols and software packages have been put together by people who simply wanted to create something useful and to contribute to the ecosystem. They didn’t do it to get rich, or famous, or popular, or anything other than because they perceived a need and tried to satisfy it.

The people who should be funding this work — to the tune of billions, not thousands — are those who have enjoyed incredible financial success as a result of the foundation laid years or decades ago by others. $50K is nice, but it’s not even chump change compared to their quarterly profits — and when assessed in view of the fact that they would not exist as companies were it not for the work of thousands who came before them — some of whom are still contributing today.

What this story (and the story of OpenSSL) highlight, is that those laboring in obscurity on critical pieces of Internet infrastructure have had to get by with scraps from the table, while those who’ve built empires on their work dine magnificently — and then pretend to be surprised that others are nearly starving. That’s wrong.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: It's always been this way

“Nearly everything of value on the Internet was built exactly that way.”

This can’t be overstated, and is why I get a bit flustered when the big internet ad agencies keep saying things like “without advertising, the internet couldn’t run”. The internet as a profit center is a recent phenomenon, and one that is very much a mixed bag. Almost all of the things that make the internet useful and wonderful (excluding the physical infrastructure) have been produced without an expectation of profit.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's always been this way

Internet advertisers are filthy parasites: they add zero value and instead “contribute” mass surveillance, malware distribution networks, privacy-destroying tracking, and spam. It’s not an exaggeration to say that much of what’s wrong with the contemporary Internet can be laid at their feet.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 It's always been this way

You’re absolutely right. There are many ways to achieve much the same goals without any of these problems. I still wouldn’t be thrilled about advertising, but at least then I could grudgingly tolerate it. And you’re also right that some of those ways have been discussed here — and elsewhere. There’s no shortage of good ideas in this space; there’s a severe shortage of advertisers paying attention to them.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 It's always been this way

“I still wouldn’t be thrilled about advertising, but at least then I could grudgingly tolerate it.”

This is pretty much my stance, too. In a sense, it would make internet advertising little different than most other forms of advertising: annoying, but tolerable — but that would be an improvement over what it is right now.

beltorak (profile) says:

This is really good to hear.

I’ve come to the conclusion after heartbleed (and this confirms it) that companies that choose a FLOSS project instead of a costly proprietary one should take some of the money that would have gone to licensing and donate it to the FLOSS project.

OpenSSL is a particular sore spot for me as I know that a lot of companies devoted huge amounts of developer resources to their own proprietary fork, and spent another ton of money to get their own fork FIPS certified so they could use it in their products. Over and over and over again these companies redo the same damn work (as a group and individually when they went through the same process for a newer version of OpenSSL) and very little of it (if any) made it back to the project or developers in terms of code or money.

This seems to stem from a the entitlement culture – the grand daddy of the permission culture – that tries to claim “ownership” of every scrap of “intellectual property”.

I am glad this has a happy continuation, but I can’t help but wonder what are we overlooking? What other FLOSS projects out there are critical to the internet ecosystem, and what are their needs?

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What other FLOSS projects out there are critical to the internet ecosystem, and what are their needs?

OpenBSD is perennially short on funds. Many of their developers are poor and from third world nations and the project needs money to get them to hackathons, which it would be impossible for themselves to fund.

At the least, buy a dvd or T-shirt if that’s all you can do. The same is true of many distros and projects. Which ones do you rely on? Research!

I’d also like to buy a TD T-shirt when I have the money to spare, just to thank Mike for all his work and for letting me say this. 🙂

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