While it's less of a hot topic now than it was a couple of weeks ago, the NSA's PRISM scheme (and to a lesser extent, the UK's Tempora) freaked people out. Cloud providers in the US and UK saw their business fleeing to more privacy protected Europe and articles have appeared everywhere suggesting that there isn't a lot we can do to avoid the dragnet. However, Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde (along with his pals, Leif and Linus), is hoping to crowdsource the funds to build a communications app that nobody, not him, not TPB, not the NSA, can read what's being said.
Of course the person sending and the one receiving will be able to read it all just fine, otherwise what we would be the point of it all, but Sunde wants to take things as far out of the hands of the authorities as he can. As it stands, apps like iMesssage and BBM from Apple and Blackberry respectively, are covered by encryption, but there is potential for both those platform providers to get through their own protection and share that plaintext data with the NSA or other organisations. Sunde's hope is that by setting it up himself and not making it possible for even him to break through the encryption, nobody should be able to.
The app he's designing is called Heml.is, using the Icelandic domain as the country has a history of protecting personal privacy and being outside of the reach of many international agencies. Hemlis also means “secret” in Swedish.
The whole app will be built with simplicity in mind, to make sure that it's an easy-to-use experience for everyone.[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPeujbY3feM']
But why does Sunde need money for this when so many messenging apps are free? As the above video points out, “if you're not paying for it, you are the product,” as in many instances those apps are funded by advertising sales, or the sale of user data – both of which, if you take into consideration personalisation, would break the idea of total privacy.
Anyone worried at this point that the app won't be made, shouldn't panic, as it's already hit its funding goal of $100,000. However, if you want to get early access codes, you can still pledge (here). $10 unlocks five codes for you and your friends and lets you pre-register one user name – but of course you can go as high as you want. Extra funds will go towards continuing the app's development and bringing about extra features.
While Hemlis will be free upon release, the site says that there are some features that may require a small fee to unlock – most likely more data heavy transfers like pictures and video.
KitGuru Says: This is great news. While we still don't know how it will turn out, it's refreshing to think that there's enough people who don't have the, “if you've got nothing to hide then you've nothing to fear,” attitude, that this will work. People do care about their own personal privacy and that of others. Who knew?[Thanks Wired]