Tresorit, a provider of end-to-end encrypted file sync and sharing services, launched a $1 million crowdfunding campaign to develop a beta version of an end-to-end encrypted social network called Prevaat by the end of 2018. The company’s announcement comes after it was recently revealed that Facebook's lax rules allowed other companies to obtain the data of tens (potentially hundreds) of millions of users without consent.
Who Is Tresorit?
Tresorit (opens in new tab) was founded in 2011 and now has headquarters in both Switzerland and Hungary, as well as a team of 70+ cryptographers, computer scientists, developers, UX designers, and marketers. In 2013, the company announced a hacking contest that would give anyone who was able to break its end-to-end encryption system $10,000. After several months, the reward was increased to $25,000 and then to $50,000. The contest ran for 468 days, but nobody claimed the prize.
Tresorit offers client-side encrypted cloud storage services that allow over 100,000 users, including 10,000 businesses, to sync and share their files securely. The data is stored on the company’s servers, but only the users have access to the encryption keys, which means the company or malicious actors that may be able to hack its servers won’t be able to obtain that data.
The company now plans to use similar technology to build an end-to-end encrypted and “zero knowledge” social network, and it hopes that users who no longer trust Facebook with their data will join it.
End-To-End Encrypted Social Network
Tresorit said that the fundamental problem with Facebook is that it can read people’s data in plaintext, which means it ultimately has control over your data. Once it’s on Facebook’s servers, the company can do pretty much whatever it wants with it, especially since you agree to all sorts of legal terms which give Facebook that ability just by using its services.
Istvan Lam, co-founder & CEO at Tresorit, said the following in a statement to Tom’s Hardware:
After the Cambridge Analytica story, people around the world are seriously questioning Facebook’s business model that relies on privacy violation by design. As long as companies have your readable, easily accessible data and build their business models on selling it, you are simple livestock for them. We believe it’s possible to create a social network that connects people and at the same time is built on privacy by design values by using end-to-end encryption and other data protection technologies.
Tresorit’s end-to-end social network promises to be different than Facebook in the following ways:
- The content posted on the social network would be hidden from the network itself. There won’t be any machine learning algorithms analyzing users’ data, because all of that data would be encrypted. The network will not see what users like or share.
- Only the users will decide who can see their content and when. The end-to-end encrypted content sharing will happen when users share their public keys with each other. The app would work similarly to ProtonMail or Signal. There will be no need to share the public keys manually, as the company will store them in a way that's public, transparent, and auditable, through a concept similar to Certificate Transparency.
- There will be no central news feed algorithm, so users will see what their friends post in real-time and chronologically.
- The company said that ads will be introduced alongside an opt-in mechanism. The users will have to agree to seeing ads and sharing their data through a differential privacy mechanism, the same cryptographic mechanism Apple now uses to collect data from users.
- The Prevaat social network software will be open source so users can verify that the software is working as intended.
- The social network will be free to all users.
A Tough But Important Journey Ahead
Building an end-to-end encrypted social network will not be an easy task, no matter which company or group attempts to do it. It's not just a matter of security and privacy, which will also need to be solid, but also a matter of convenience. If people struggle to post or share on it, then they won't use it. However, Tresorit already has eight years of experience developing user-friendly end-to-end encrypted file sharing software, so it may have a shot at building something usable.
However, the company admits that this will be a journey that it will need to take together with the community to figure out all the needed features and to fix all the potential kinks before the software is available to mainstream users. The company's $1 million crowdfunding campaign's goal is to gather the necessary funds to kickstart the beta version of Prevaat and attempt to build an initial community for the social network.