August 18, 2014
Apps and other products that enable encrypted communication are on the rise. Even tech giants like Google and Yahoo have promised to give encrypted sites a higher ranking in search results and to start encrypting emails. However, the creators of encryption apps, such as ProtonMail or Bleep, are still looking for mainstream users, not just gadget enthusiasts or security-conscious professionals. These companies are targeting mainstream users concerned about their privacy.
There has been a flurry of new security products following Edward Snowden’s leak of the National Security Agency’s extensive surveillance program. Encrypted messaging apps, such as Target on Apple’s App Store, are becoming more popular. Secure Mail for Gmail (by Streak), an extension for Google Chrome, has over 40,000 users. The “surveillance-proof” Blackphone started shipping in June.
Most of the early adopters of encryption technology have been the law enforcement, military, and financial sectors. However, new apps like ProtonMail bring that same type of extreme security to mainstream users. The company’s email service encrypts messages so that even its servers do not receive the content. The company hosts its servers in Switzerland, which has strict privacy laws that protect ProtonMail’s data. ProtonMail also doesn’t hold any of its users’ encryption keys, and it only has access to one of the two passwords for each user.
The recently launched service has 250,000 users so far, but ProtonMail co-founder Andy Yen believes the company will serve a million people by the end of the year. The company is also developing a mobile app and enabling encrypted chat and file storage in an effort to find mainstream appeal.
Bleep, an app that’s still in development, is trying to let users text or call without going through centralized servers. “Our aim is to create an app that appeals to both the mainstream and tech savvy consumer who should just be able to speak freely and not have to worry about eavesdroppers or data leaks,” said Christian Averill, a spokesperson for the maker of Bleep.
Despite the array of encryption products and services, analysts still have some doubts as to whether the technology will become mainstream. While analysts acknowledge that many people respond positively to more security to avoid surveillance, it doesn’t mean that they will buy them.
“The new technologies will have widespread use only if they have mass consumer appeal and provide additional benefits — like convenience and productivity — beyond privacy capabilities,” Heidi Shey, an Forrester Research analyst, said in The Wall Street Journal.