Proton CEO Andy Yen previously worked at CERN before deciding to kick his crypto company ProtonMail out of beta with a crowdfunding campaign. Since then, ProtonMail has expanded into a variety of privacy preservation technologies, ranging from the deployment of a training product and a calendar product with enough intuitive access features that it can be used. a very real competitor to Google.
The company was renamed Proton, to accommodate its broader focus on privacy enhancement tools outside of email. The following are excerpts from my interview with Andy about his thoughts on encryption, bitcoin – and the enduring importance of privacy. The questions and answers were taken from a larger interview and worded in a more user-friendly and focused manner, although the substance is there: the content of the answers almost exactly matches that of the full interview, to the except for some formatting. changes and change the order of a question.
Proton is structured in an interesting way, from ProtonMail to ProtonVPN. What do you see as the full stack of privacy tools that can maximize encryption and minimize surveillance? How do you see Proton interacting with other privacy tools like Bitcoin and Signal?
As a company, we are moving from a single privacy product, ProtonMail, to Proton as a privacy platform, privacy ecosystem – as the privacy infrastructure for the future. Obviously, when you think of online privacy, email is a big part because it’s an identity – a lot of people say it’s the only identity that matters today, but it’s still limited and this is why we have introduced ProtonVPN to allow installation and access to ProtonMail Services, this is why we are making a calendar and a player. We will of course develop this ecosystem.
The way to really look at this is, in fact, that all of the services that Google offers today are built and designed in such a way as to maximize the data they can collect in order to sell better ads. You can take all of these products and services and rebuild them in a way that makes privacy the default and is as private and secure as possible. In fact, there is nothing that Google has to offer that couldn’t be rebuilt in a better way, and this whole ecosystem could in fact be recreated in a privacy-focused way.
And what you see are different companies, different startups starting to grab different parts of it. Obviously, we’ve got the email, VPN, file storage, and calendar we’re working on. DuckDuckGo does this on research. Signal and Telegram adjust this when it comes to chatting. I think it’s a very healthy and vibrant fact that today we have an ecosystem where there are many companies in space, and it’s becoming more and more possible to replace more and more pieces of your online life by private versions of [products].
Blockchain is another element there. We’ve been a long-time supporter of bitcoin from the very beginning. […] It is a means of independence. For space to survive, for intimacy to flourish, you have to be able to be independent. You don’t have to be under the control of, say, big tech or even the banking system. That level of independence really needs to be there so that you can really do what’s best for users at all times. That is why we also support cryptocurrencies and we support them as a payment method.
Personally, I would like to see more adoption of cryptocurrencies, because I think it’s something that leads us to a world where things are less centralized. Centralization is a very, very big risk because it means that one company can basically cut you off and kill you. Resilient systems must be decentralized. We are building a platform or an ecosystem, but we are working as much as possible to be part of a larger ecosystem because we know that we cannot do it alone.
(Paypal once restricted ProtonMail account, with a representative wondering if the service was even legal).
You spoke and writes often on the negative effects of large technological monopolies. What do you think of acquisitions in space – something that I have seen in space, for example with the acquisition of Keybase by Zoom.
There are acquisitions in the privacy space – the acquisition of Zoom / Keybase was very specific – it was to try to repair the reputation of security and privacy [of Zoom] which took a hell of a beating last year. From Proton’s point of view, our business model doesn’t allow us to be taken over by Google and be part of big tech. It’s just not possible, it would undermine our value proposition and I think if you are building businesses with privacy in mind this is something to keep in mind.
Quite often a lot of people start businesses just for the purpose of selling them, and the usual buyers in the past were big tech. This avenue is not possible for privacy companies – and I think that’s a good thing, because if it were possible then big tech would own everything and you would have a competition problem. .
What about pricing (e.g. app store fees) and the talent effects of big tech monopolies?
The things Apple and Google are doing on the App Store are clearly anti-competitive in many ways. You cannot have fair competition if you are mandated by your competitor to pay him 30% of your income. There is no market, historical or future, where fair competition can exist in these circumstances. It should be very obvious […], it is very obvious to us. It took a long time for lawmakers to realize that this was a problem and they are starting to realize that it is a problem now and that is why we are seeing action on both sides of the Atlantic to pursue this.
It’s also very bad for privacy because if you look at the business model of advertising they don’t charge for their product. The way they work is that you get the product for free and they monetize your data and use your most private and sensitive information to sell you ads.
Honestly, a service like Facebook would never have the cost of reimbursement, but suppose there was a more responsible version of Facebook that was going to survive on subscriptions instead of massive data abuse. Due to the policies of the App Store, this service would be at a competitive disadvantage. They should pay a fee that bad business models don’t have to pay. What the App Store Fee essentially does is strongly favor ad-based business models that are bad for privacy – and in this way, consumers around the world are being harmed because of it.
[…]On talent, that’s an interesting question – big tech because of its size sucks up a lot of tech talent. But I believe what we’ve seen over the last year or two has been the rise in employee activism as employees of course care about writing a paycheck. […] but there are also more and more people […] who also care about what they are doing in their life. […] If you care about these things, and there are more and more people nowadays, especially young people, then you ask yourself the question: do I want to spend my life working for the most? big advertising company in the world and abuse data to optimize the ad comes back? Or do I really want to build the Internet of the future that defends democracy, defends human rights and ensures freedom for all?
It has been an interesting year for Proton, which has seen it launch new products and continue to grow as part of a privacy ecosystem – a place to which parts of the internet, including cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin and the larger encryption ecosystem are gradually moving towards.