Given all the recent leaks about surveillance lately, we figured this week's awesome stuff
would look at some crowdfunding projects that are a bit more focused on keeping your online activities secret. Startups that actively protect their users privacy from snooping eyes of the government are getting a lot of renewed attention. Search engine DuckDuckGo has seen a massive bump
in traffic. Kim Dotcom's Mega
is now working on encrypted email and messaging
to go along with its encrypted storage offerings. On the crowdfunding front, we're seeing a bunch of other privacy-related projects popping up -- some with a bit more reasonable plans than others.
- Deservedly getting a ton of attention this week was the announcement about Heml.is, a new secure messaging app for mobile devices, put together by the same crew of folks who created Flattr, including Peter "brokep" Sunde (also of The Pirate Bay fame), Linus Olsson and Leif Hogberg. These are three very, very smart guys.
They raised over $150,000 very quickly and then shut down the funding. The project looks pretty cool, though I wish they'd focus on more platforms than just mobile. Also, I'm a tad disappointed that they trotted out that old, silly line "if you're not paying, you're the product," because it's really misleading, and they should know that. Still, if there are people you can trust to truly focus on thinking about user privacy first, these are the guys. I'm excited to see what they eventually build.
- HiddenToolbox looks like they're trying to create a userfriendlish version of TrueCrypt or something similar, such that you can store your documents/files/data secretly, with some additional cool features built in, such as remote self-destruct, a panic shutdown, file shredder and more. Some of it sounds cool feature-wise, but it would be interesting to see if any security experts have really had a chance to stress test their system to find out how secure it really is. There seems to be precious little info on that front.
They're not asking for very much money total -- just $8,000 -- which is so low that it almost sounds suspicious in its own right. Still, they've almost reached that amount. Given free products on the market that do much of what they're promising already, I'm not quite sure it's worth what they're charging, but it is interesting to see more attempts to build secure storage options.
- There are a bunch of anonymous surfing tools out there, but iAnonym is looking to make completely anonymous internet surfing easier. The project looks pretty comprehensive, and (unlike the HiddenToolbox above) they lay out a lot of the details of what they're trying to do and why it should actually allow for anonymous activities online.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they've received very much attention for the project, which is seeking £25,000, but only has around £1,000 with about two weeks to go.
- Can't trust pure software? How about hardware. Adonify is offering a plug and play network device for people to surf the web privately. Unfortunately the video explanation is horrible. I mean this might be the worst crowdfunding video I've ever seen. The video quality, the sound quality, the explanation of the product, the dude standing around smoking while the other guy explains what's going on... it's all pretty weak. When will people finally learn that a quality video is a pretty key part of a crowdfunding campaign. For what it's worth, their IndieGoGo page isn't particularly informative either.
Given the weaknesses of the video and the description, combined with asking for 100,000€, it's not too surprising that they've raised almost nothing so far, though there's still well over a month to go.
- If the Adonify had some problems attracting attention, that appears to go double for Cryptomania, a Swiss company that is trying to crowdfund money for a secure storage and communications platform. They don't have any video for their product, and they barely explain their product at all. And the crowdfunding awards are for equity in their company, which almost certainly violates public offerings laws in the US and other countries (while other countries do allow equity crowdfunding, and the US is getting there, the rules tend to be rather specific and rather strict -- and it doesn't appear these guys followed any of that). They're also trying to raise a much larger amount: 250,000€. So far... they've made 0€ with less than 3 weeks to go. It seems doubtful they'll get much more.
Unfortunately, the last two projects especially demonstrate one of the key problems with most tools to protect privacy that are on the market today. They're designed by engineers and cryptogeeks who very often are not very good at explaining what they do, making it user friendly, or convincing non-geeks why what they're doing is valuable. The quick success of Heml.is' funding, combined with the growth of DuckDuckGo are good signs, though. When you can make privacy user-friendly and understandable, people are definitely interested. I'm hoping that the new attention on privacy due to the recent leaks about surveillance will drive more companies to look at ways to do user-friendly, powerful privacy tools. It's good to see some are already on that path, though they may need some work to improve.