Well, encryption and privacy technologies are what I would call dual-use. What is law enforcement also concerned about these days? People’s information being stolen, sensitive communications being hacked, emails of political campaigns being stolen by state actors and disseminated to shift the political balance. In order to prevent all of those potential ills, you need privacy, encryption, and good security. So, the same tools that people in law enforcement criticize are actually the same things that are shielding a lot of the internet ecosystem and the economy from a disastrous outcome. If you were to weaken or prohibit all of these security tools and privacy tools, then you would open the floodgate to a massive amount of cybercrime and data breaches.
Proton has grown a lot over the years, but it’s still basically a rounding error compared to something like Google. We’ve talked about competition from a regulatory perspective, but on a practical level, how do you even try to compete with your massive rivals?
The current plan is the launch of the Proton ecosystem. It’s one account that gives you access to four privacy services: Proton Mail, Proton Calendar, Proton Drive, and Proton VPN. One subscription that gives you access to all those services. It’s the first time anybody has taken a series of privacy services and combined them to form a consolidated ecosystem. That doesn’t match all of Big Tech’s offerings, of course. But I think it provides, for the first time, a viable alternative that lets people say, “If I really want to get off of Google, I can now do it, because I have enough components to live a lot of my daily life.” For the first time, you’ll have a privacy option that’s not fully competitive with Google, but reasonably competitive, and that will start to break the dam. I don’t know how it will go, but I think this is the future of privacy, and that’s why we’re doing it.
This is probably the first time I have ever thought about having an encrypted calendar.
A calendar is essentially a record of your life: everybody you’ve met, everywhere you’ve been, everything that you have done. It’s extremely sensitive. So you don’t intuitively think about protecting that, but actually, it’s essential.
And by making that encrypted, who am I protecting that information from?
Maybe it’s the government requesting information on you. Maybe it’s a data leak. Maybe it’s a change in business model of your cloud provider at some point in the future that decides that they want to monetize user data in a different way. Your data is just one acquisition away from going across the border to a country that you didn’t expect when you signed up for the service.
Right. Elon Musk is about to own all my Twitter DMs.
Exactly right. And with end-to-end encryption, no matter what happens, it’s your data; you control it. It’s just a mathematical guarantee.
But what if I move all my stuff to the Proton ecosystem, and then like four years from now, you go out of business? What happens to my stuff?
Proton has been around for eight years now. In the tech space, that’s a long time. I think an indicator of what is sustainable in the long term is alignment between the business and the customers. Our business model is simple: Premium users pay us to keep their data private, and our only incentive is to keep it private. Sometimes the easiest and simplest models are the ones that are the most durable. I strongly believe that Proton will be a company that outlives us.