Someone stumbled onto my website here and poked around and afterwards emailed -me saying “I was having a difficult time (on your site) trying to figure out exactly what Priv.ly does or is used for”
Uggh. “What we have here is failure to communicate.” Except in this case, I can’t blame Kris. It’s defiinitely on my side. How do you explain Privly quickly. Here’s what I tried. Tell me if you think this is clear and direct:
Google uses the content of your emails and chats to figure out what ads to serve on your browser. Kind of creepy don’t you think? Privly lets you encrypt your text locally (in your browser), posts only a link to the encrypted message on Google’s page so they can’t see anything. All it takes is a right click after you type your message and select “Post Private Content to Privly”. When your buddy gets the email or chat – their browser sees the Privly link and knows to decrypt it locally – automatically displaying the text (no work required).
Here’s the really cool part. Because the work is done in the web browser – the same process works not just for Gmail and gchat, but for twitter, for Facebook, for google+, for tumblr and more. Heck, you could even use it on pretty much any normal web site that takes text input can be Privly’d.
I’ll keep working on it – your suggestions are appreciated.
I’m working on a test program for Privly and the fun part right now is trying to figure out how we test all these different possibilities. Like the old story about how do you eat an elephant – one bite at a time, that’s the approach here.
The good news is that I have started testing – simple cases (and documenting them too). I’m working Firefox on Win7 against Facebook. The bad news is there is lots and lots to test. So far things look good. I need to spend more time on it, but there’s always too much to do.
There’ve been some internal efforts, but to the outside world, it might not seem like a lot is happening. But under the surface, lots is going on. Here are some highlights:
1. In addition to the original Priv.ly site, there is a new site up – Privly.org. The new site is targeted more for the general public / users, while Priv.ly will move to more of a content server and developer platform.
2. Project coding has made some great progress. Firefox, Chrome and Opera all have initial support – enough to get a sense of how it works, and Firefox and Opera are making progress towards having all the features for version zero – “Caged Owl”. We are still too early to have any official release dates (this is all pre-alpha work) but code exists and testing is possible.
3. Privly pre-alpha testing is possible and in progress. We have one person in Czekoslovakia who is testing it for usability by the vision impaired. I’ve started building some test matrices, test cases and doing a bit of testing too.
4. Organizations – Both a non-profit and for-profit corporation are being set up now and should be ready soon.
A couple quick thoughts on this. First, the current Privly direction is to encrypt in the end user’s browser.
That has a big advantage that the user doesn’t have to trust anyone (other than that the code is clean) and that their machine hasn’t been compromised and they can be confident that their encrypted data is safe. Well, it also depends on the recipients protecting the data too.
There are however some major disadvantages. Writing that code for a number of different browsers running in different operating systems with different configurations for both browser and operating system and then maintaining it through newer versions of each, and all the combinations, not to mention the potential security restrictions that may be enforced by an IT department on their users’ machines. One possible option to all this is to do the encryption on the back end – and then the java script to communicate (https) securely to the back end server is much easier and more standard than writing the encryption approach – again.
Any approach like this however, would also make the server location and (legal location of the corporation running the business) very important too. Perhaps a country like Sweden might have better pro-privacy laws than the United States. definitely something to consider.
More notes from my recent conversation with my friend – this one – totally devoid of the technical side and all about driving adoption. How many people could potentially use this. How many of those might want to if they knew about it? How many are needed to form a critical mass of support?
My friend’s back of the envelope estimate was 3 billion people worldwide interacting on the internet by 2020. Ive seen estimates as high as 5 billion by then. That’s a lot of people. The likelihood that Privly becomes the next Facebook / Google / ??? with huge percentages seems unlikely. So the questions become What is doable? How big is big enough to be a self-sustaining core of support? What are the possible segments to be looked at? Should Privly try a broad strategy – many platforms / target markets or a more narrow focus?
Our conversation ranged wildly on a large nuumber of topics, but one key thing we agreed on at the end were desktop computers and laptops with full operating systems and mainstream browsers are a large market, but aren’t growing anywhere nearly as fast as the tablet / smartphone markets. The older demographic finds computers challenging, but with the advent of the iPad and other tablets, they find getting online easier. Younger folks are more likely to spend more of their ‘social sharing’ time on a smartphone or tablet also. So – while an initial approach of desktop / laptop browsers may not be bad, consideration should certainly be given to support for other devices.
The current Privly strategy is to go open source and try to recruit enough community developer support to be able to support a wide range of browser options – FireFox, IE, Chrome, Safari and Opera. This doesn’t sound so bad on its face – but when you add in all the versions, and OS versions and configurations, and security policies that might be in place, there are a huge number of combinations that would need to be tested. Maybe its doable, maybe restricting the range of what is supported makes more sense. Maybe implementing security on a backend server and minimizing the browser based code might make maintenance easier. With an HTTPS connection to the server, the security decrease is small. Possibly offer this as an option?
Another thread of conversation we had that didn’t really get fully formed was what’s the compelling reason to use Privly. The first take we took on it was a who is likely to use it. We broke that into 3 types of folks. First, crypto-geeks who like encryption for its own sake and having a relatively easy way to use it daily jump at the chance. Second, privacy enthusiasts – either in general (ACLU, EFF, etc.) or for specific reasons (concerns about certain friends, partners, company relations finding out what they are doing). Third, folks who aren’t particularly interested – but want to communicate with someone who is, so they participate for the sake of the person who is concerned. Later in the conversation we added that there might be some services that do not want to be held accountable for the content users post on their servers. The service providers then might encourage users to encrypt in such a way that the provider actually can’t provide any information on the posts. A recent article described Twitter in just such a sticky situation.
One potentially compelling reason would be to prevent something that was posted from being taken out of context and coming back to haunt the person years or decades later. Another would be to make it harder to be persecuted for your beliefs. Perhaps protection from the service provider (wherever the posts are) knowing too much about you. GMail ads are based on content of your emails. GMail’s info on their ad policy includes – If “you’ve recently received a lot of messages about photography or cameras, a deal from a local camera store might be interesting” so that ad is more likely to be served.
There is definitely a critical mass issue here. If I’m not particularly interested, and one friend of mine tries to convince me I should put forth some effort, I may or may not – even if the effort seems small. On the other hand, if 2-5 of my top 10 people I communicate with use this, I’m very likely to join in – just to make it easier. The network effect definitely plays here.
So perhaps the correct question is not how to get Privly adopted by a significant number of total people, but by a significant number of people in a particular market segment? Then the obvious follow up questions become what is that segment? How do we identify it? expand into it? and dominate that one area?
. While the initial Privly focus is browser extensions that
Another area from the recent conversation I had with my friend was how much security is enough? Obviously, that begs the question – what are you trying to protect against?
Luckily for Privly, the answer is protect against casual eavesdropping, automated cataloging of information and ‘non-determined’ attackers. What do I mean by this? If someone has hacked into your wireless network (or you post via a typical coffee shop free internet connection) and can monitor your packets you should be protected. Further, the posted data should be protected in such a way that web crawling indexers for search engines can’t glean any sensitive information. Finally, if a company in competition with yours, or a jilted lover tries to break in to see what you’ve posted you should be OK.
So what doesn’t this include? – mostly three letter agency type attacks, or others with similar dramatic resources, and motivation to attack your encryption. Chains break at the weakest link. By the time you move from casual or even serious attacks, to adversaries with dramatic power (both computing and real world) it’s a different game entirely. Surveillance of you (watching over your shoulder as you enter passwords), physically accessing your computing device and modifying it to report to them, physical or legal coercion on you or any of your recipients are all very possible attack approaches that could be taken – that Privly or any software cannot address.
Note that encrypting everything means that extra-ordinary measures would need to be taken to index your information even if it was gathered. So if you are concerned that a government agency is monitoring all internet communications and recording them and storing them for later analysis, using something like Privly would mean that your data would show as encrypted, but further detail wouldn’t be available without more work. As long as enough people encrypt enough content, and as long as there is no other reason for you to be ‘noticed’, your content itself won’t flag you anywhere.
Bottom line – there’s no point putting a $5,000 lock on a $20 door.