Market For Spy-Proof Messaging Heats Up

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Now that the 4th Amendment is no longer a guarantee against broad government spying, the floodgates have opened for tech companies to give users their privacy back. Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde’s text-messaging app Heml.is already reached its funding goal, while the Skype-like Unsene platform launched its own Indiegogo campaign today.

Just in case the Pirate Bay hadn’t ticked off enough people in government, Sunde wants to build a spy-proof messaging service as an alternative to text-messaging or Apple’s iMessage, which are reportedly monitored by intelligence agencies. Heml.is (“hemlis” is Swedish for “secret”), uses a security protocol known as End-to-End encryption, meaning that only the user and sender have the keys to descramble messages as they are sent over the Internet.

“We’ve decided to build a messaging platform where no one can spy on you — not even us,” Sunde explains in the video.

Sunde has decided not to sell advertising on the service, so he’s soliciting $100K in startup funds from users.

Apple also claims that its iMessaging service is NSA-proof, thanks to end-to-end encryption, but the good folks over at Ars Technica found a few exemptions that would allow a government agency to spy on text messages. Apple can both backup iMessages and enable apps to interact with them, allowing a hacker to gain access.

Sunde also warns users that their app is not 100 percent spy-proof, but will hopefully be less susceptible to spying. As of this writing, Heml.is is already $54,000 in to its funding goal.

Back in the good old U.S. of A, another secure communications platform called Unsene has launched an Indiegogo funding campaign to raise $30,000.

Unsene currently offers encrypted web messaging, video calls, and file sharing — essentially, an alternative to Skype. Once the Indiegogo campaign ends and the service opens to the public in mid-August, the plan is to expand to provide individual firewalls and a messaging system that could be used in place of email.

Chris Kitze, the CEO and co-founder of Unsene, tells us that the problem with Skype and email services is that messages go through a central server, rather than moving peer to peer. Google or Yahoo will hand over your emails if the government asks. Much like Heml.is, Unsene puts the keys to encrypted messages in individuals’ hands instead.

Unsene does not protect an existing Skype or Gmail account, so two people must both have the system in order to communicate. Fortunately, Unsene’s standard messaging package is free, so that shouldn’t be a huge deterrent to potential users. The questions are if Unsene will be able to pull users away from Skype and Gmail, if people will use the two systems for different purposes, and if they even care that much about protecting their communications in the first place.

Kitze tells TechCrunch that it’s difficult to understand the scope of Internet spying, but that the goal is to put privacy back in the hands of individuals. How intensely they want to protect their information is up to them, so Unsene is monetizing on a higher-grade premium package for those who want more security. Kitze said Unsene has received interest from people in Turkey, China and the Middle East. Wall Street, political organizations and attorneys have also expressed interest.

Eventually, the aim is to enable app developers to integrate their products into Usene’s API, such as payment systems.

Kitze recognizes that Internet security is a fallible system, though.

“I don’t think anyone can make the marketing claim that their lock is unbreakable, but it’s going to be a cat and mouse game. We’ll put bigger locks on and people will find ways in.”

[Image Credit: Flickr User rhodes]