The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.
217 stories
·
2 followers

Sustaining Proton’s mission over time

1 Share

In the early days when Proton started, we often received a question along the lines of “I love the product and what Proton stands for, but how do I know you will still be around to protect my data 10 years from now?” 

Ten years and 100 million accounts later, we would like to think we have proven the point with our track record, but actually the question is just as relevant today as it was 10 years ago when Proton was still supported by donations. The continual demise of newer upstarts promising to be privacy-first like Proton (for instance, this one and this one) certainly keeps the question relevant, even if Proton is in many ways in a league of its own. 

So instead of saying “We’ve made it for 10 years so don’t worry about the next 10 years”, here are some factors we think make Proton more resilient than other companies in this space. 

Mission and purpose

Proton is not a product of Silicon Valley but a crowdfunded project conceived at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). Proton was not created to get rich (if you want to get rich, you don’t go to work at CERN) but rather to address the important societal problem of surveillance capitalism. From the start, Proton has always been about the mission and putting people ahead of profits. The goal is not to raise endless rounds of VC funding at dizzying valuations, and there is no price at which we would compromise our integrity. 

Frankly speaking, Proton already has scale with over 400 employees and over 100 million accounts, so if the goal was to sell for a bunch of money, we could have done that long ago. We need not have bothered with doing any of the things listed on this page, much less give away over $2.7 million to aligned organizations. Proton’s team has been through a decade of brutally difficult work, with daunting and unprecedented challenges every step of the way. Only the true believers can stay on the path for so long. 

People matter, and to this day Proton continues to be managed and run by scientists, and our values endure. Most businesses are built to be sold — we built Proton to serve the mission.

Revenues and funding

Proton is a very rare tech company that has managed to achieve scale but today does not have any venture capital investors. This gives us an unparalleled ability to put user interests first without being beholden to financially driven investors. We cannot be forced to sell ourselves, forced to deliver higher profits, or forced to seek sources of revenue that don’t align with our mission. 

While Proton is not profit-driven, and we are strong believers in long-term financial sustainability. We are not billionaire subsidized, government subsidized, or even donation subsidized. Rather, we derive almost all of our revenues from selling services directly to users in a profitable way. Proton services are never going to be the cheapest, we’re not going to have flashy promotions, unlimited “lifetime” plans (unless it’s for charity), or offers that are too good to be true. Not just because it doesn’t suit us, but because it doesn’t suit the mission. 

Instead, we will charge a fair price that reflects our costs and can deliver long-term stability. The benefit of this should not be overlooked in an era where software companies are raising prices 20% year over year. Proton’s prices have not increased in 10 years, despite offering many more features, so you have predictability in what you will pay year over year. And when our costs go down, because we don’t have VC shareholders with specific financial requirements, we can actually pass those savings on to you

Technological independence and expertise

We have already talked about sustaining our values and financial sustainability, but technological sustainability cannot be overlooked. Proton owns all our servers and network equipment, acts as our own internet service provider, and doesn’t rely upon any third-party cloud providers (no Google Cloud, AWS, Microsoft Azure, etc.). Our data centers are located in multiple countries (Switzerland, Germany, and Norway), our server hardware is provided by multiple suppliers, as is the electricity that runs into our data centers, with the goal of eliminating all single points of external dependency. This approach is almost unheard of for tech companies in the past 20 years, but we learned early on that the only people we can rely upon to safeguard the mission are ourselves. 

The investments required to take this approach are massive, but they ensure we are protected against third-party risks. AWS suddenly raising prices won’t tank our sustainable business model because we are in much better control over our direct costs. The same goes for core technology and expertise. We maintain our own encryption libraries, employ our own cryptographers, and build and maintain our entire stack in-house, from the physical hardware all the way to the front-end software. This comes at much higher cost, but allows us to better react to any unexpected situations. There is very little software (or hardware) run at Proton today where we do not have our own in-house experts who can fix it if something goes wrong. 

These investments have tradeoffs for sure. Money that we spend here is not being spent on new features, slick UIs, or shiny marketing campaigns, but in exchange, it makes Proton a highly resilient survivor, in the best possible position to confront the challenges of today and tomorrow. 

Community

Finally, Proton has you. Whether it is translating our products into dozens of languages, auditing the security of our code, suggesting features, beta testing new products and features, or just helping us spread the word, your support helps us go faster and further, and overcome any challenges. As long as there’s this community of people supporting our work, we’re not going anywhere. In fact, the ideas and values we share together may even win the future of the web. For that reason, we’re eternally grateful for your support as we fight the hard fights.

Read the whole story
teh_g
154 days ago
reply
Roseville, CA
Share this story
Delete

Outlook is Microsoft’s new data collection service

1 Share

Maybe you’re tired of juggling multiple email accounts. Or perhaps you’re concerned about how companies are angling for new ways to exploit your data for profit. 

With Microsoft’s rollout of the new Outlook for Windows, it appears the company has transformed its email app into a surveillance tool for targeted advertising.

Everyone talks about the privacy-washing campaigns of Google and Apple as they mine your online data to generate advertising revenue. But now it looks like Outlook is no longer simply an email service; it’s a data collection mechanism for Microsoft’s 772 external partners and an ad delivery system for Microsoft itself.

Here’s how and why.

Microsoft shares your data with 772 third parties 

Some European users who download the new Outlook for Windows will encounter a modal with a troubling disclosure about how Microsoft and several hundred third parties process their data: 

The window informs users that Microsoft and those 772 third parties use their data for a number of purposes, including to: 

  • Store and/or access information on the user’s device
  • Develop and improve products
  • Personalize ads and content
  • Measure ads and content
  • Derive audience insights
  • Obtain precise geolocation data
  • Identify users through device scanning

This latest version of Outlook confirms that more of Big Tech’s profit margins are becoming ever more dependent on the collection of your personal data. Outlook also prompts you to choose how ads look on your screen, making it clear that advertising is a key part of the deal.

Mac users logged into the new Outlook will even encounter ads that appear as inbox messages. Some ads are for Microsoft applications while others come from third-parties selling products. 

Microsoft’s “Advertising Partners”

Thanks to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, Europeans are at least informed that a small village of third parties will be able to look at their data. Americans, thanks to their government’s refusal to pass privacy legislation, are never even informed this is happening.

In Outlook settings, UK users can explore a “List of Advertising Partners,” which shows the disturbing number of ad companies working with Microsoft. These third-party companies – called partners – carry names such as “ADMAX” and “ADSOCY.” This is unavailable in the settings for user in the US and Switzerland.

To some extent, the new Outlook lets you choose how your data is used, but it’s not as simple as clicking a single toggle.

“Depending on the type of data they collect, use, and process and other factors including privacy by design, certain partners rely on your consent while others require you to opt-out,” reads the preferences page for users in the UK. “Click on each advertising company listed below to view their privacy policy and exercise your choices.”

Not every partner has the same rules. Users can read each individual privacy policy before deciding, but reading is not required.

Such policies are usually long, rambling, and notoriously difficult to understand. But for many companies, that’s the idea. Such policies are intentionally written this way to give companies the maximum freedom to do what they want with your data. That often means selling your personal details to third-party advertisers and data brokers while making it difficult for you to opt out.

With the new Outlook, Microsoft forces users to enter maze-like privacy statements to seize back some control of their data. Of course, Microsoft knows that almost no one reads privacy policies. If everyone understood those policies, revenue would be jeopardized. 

New Outlook steals your email password

Microsoft’s integration of Outlook with cloud services has raised privacy alarm bells.

When you sync third-party email accounts from services like Yahoo or Gmail with the new Outlook, you risk granting Microsoft access to the IMAP and SMTP credentials, emails, contacts, and events associated with those accounts, according to the German IT blog Heise Online.

“Although Microsoft explains that it is possible to switch back to the previous apps at any time, the data will already be stored by the company,” Heise reported. “This allows Microsoft to read the emails.”

You can’t use the new Outlook without syncing all this information with Microsoft Cloud — there is only the option to cancel, according to the developers’ forum XDA. It is also configured to send login details – including usernames and passwords – directly to Microsoft servers. 

Although this transfer is secured with Transport Layer Security (TLS), according to Heise Online, your IMAP and SMTP username and password are transmitted to Microsoft in plain text. XDA was able to show their test credentials for a third-party email service provider on Microsoft’s servers. 

Microsoft is enabling itself to access your email account at any time without your knowledge, allowing it to scan and analyze your emails — and share them with third parties.

To users unaware of the privacy implications, using the new Outlook may seem harmless. But what it could mean is welcoming Microsoft into your data vault and giving them complete freedom to potentially use it however they want.

Professor Ulrich Kelber, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information of Germany, expressed concern about the data capabilities of the new Outlook. He announced on Mastodon his intention to request a report from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, which is responsible for ensuring companies like Microsoft uphold data protection and privacy standards.

Microsoft has not issued a public response to criticisms about its latest data grab. But the software giant has been upfront about its push to use targeted advertising to reach new revenue heights. In 2021, Microsoft Advertising earned $10 billion. But Microsoft wants to double that total.

What kind of data does Microsoft collect? 

Per its advertising policy, Microsoft does not use personal data from emails, chats, or documents to target ads. But the ads that pop up may be selected based on other data that gave the company insight about you – such as “your interests and favorites, your location, your transactions, how you use our products, your search queries, or the content you view.”

A deeper dive into Microsoft’s privacy policy shows what personal data it may extract:

  • Name and contact data
  • Passwords
  • Demographic data
  • Payment data
  • Subscription and licensing data
  • Search queries
  • Device and usage data
  • Error reports and performance data
  • Voice data
  • Text, inking, and typing data
  • Images
  • Location data
  • Content
  • Feedback and ratings
  • Traffic data

The policy offers a glimpse of where your data might end up:

  • Service providers
  • User-directed entities
  • Payment processing providers
  • Third parties that perform online advertising services for Microsoft

Microsoft steers toward data dollars

When Google rolled out a privacy policy expanding its powers to collect data, the company drew criticisms from regulators and rivals, including Microsoft, which took out full-page newspaper ads telling Google users that Google did not respect their privacy.

A short time later, however, Microsoft unveiled a privacy policy allowing it to use personal information to sell targeted advertising, moving aggressively in a direction it once decried.

Microsoft has since made significant moves toward surveillance revenue, following in the footsteps of Google, Facebook, and, most recently, Apple. Like other Big Tech companies, Microsoft recognized a chance to generate large revenue streams by collecting and analyzing user data. This data-centric mindset has been part of a larger trend of established companies vying for a slice of the surveillance cash pie.

The appointment of Satya Nadella as CEO in 2014 marked a turning point for Microsoft, which faced scrutiny that same year after admitting to reading emails from a journalist’s Hotmail account, forcing the company to tighten its privacy policy.

Within three months of taking the job, Nadella released a study from a market intelligence firm that concluded “companies taking advantage of their data have the potential to raise an additional $1.6 trillion in revenues over companies that don’t,” wrote author Shoshana Zuboff in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

Key developments that followed included the Bing search engine and the digital assistant Cortana, both designed to capture and analyze user data. The release of Windows 10 in 2015 further underscored Microsoft’s commitment to this new direction. Scrutiny from the privacy community was swift.

Windows 10 “is currently a privacy morass in dire need of reform,” wrote software engineer David Auerbach in Slate, describing how the new operating system, “gives itself the right to pass loads of your data to Microsoft’s servers, use your bandwidth for Microsoft’s own purposes, and profile your Windows usage.”

Microsoft’s pivot toward advertising continued with its 2021 purchase of Xandr, but then it decided that it wanted to capitalize on the captive user base its walled garden created and shifted its focus to show first-party ads in its services

Given this direction, Outlook’s new form makes a certain sort of sense.

In a 2022 interview with Business Insider, Rob Wilk, Microsoft’s head of advertising, talked of opportunities with properties like Xbox, which includes a console business as well as logged-in accounts – “just one of the areas we’re going to play in,” he said.

“Imagine a world, not too far off, where all of these pieces are stitched together to make a cleaner, clearer offering for our advertisers,” Wilk said. “And, don’t forget, we’ve also got browsing information and data across gaming and the Microsoft Windows business with billions of users – this gives us a unique advantage to understand intent.”

Wilk dubbed Microsoft’s advertising push a “newfound religion.”

Surveillance in the name of profit 

Microsoft claims that collecting your data is “to provide you rich, interactive experiences.

Yet in the realm of Big Tech, advertising and ad revenue have become ends in themselves, justifying a business model based on the surveillance of your private data in the name of profit.

With this rollout of the new Outlook as a data collection and ad delivery service, Microsoft has revealed itself to be no different than the Googles and Metas of the world. For those companies to make privacy the default would mean losing the revenue they have become addicted to. 

There are other business models out there deployed by companies that focus first and foremost on online security and privacy.

Proton is one of them. 

Switch to real privacy

Proton uses end-to-end encryption to protect your emails, calendar, files stored in the cloud, passwords and login credentials, and your internet connection. Our security architecture is designed to keep your data invisible even to us, as our business model gives you more privacy, not less.

Proton provides free and open-source technology to expand access to privacy, security and freedom online. But you can always upgrade to paid plans to access extra features, allowing you to pay with money rather than sensitive data.

And Proton makes it easy to switch to our platform. In a few easy steps, you can migrate to an email service you can trust.

We believe in building an internet that works for people and not just for profit. The privacy washing companies like Microsoft and Google routinely perform in the name of revenue is just one more obstacle to a better internet where privacy is the default.

Read the whole story
teh_g
195 days ago
reply
Roseville, CA
Share this story
Delete

Why scientists are making transparent wood

1 Share
a transparent piece of wood on top of a green leaf

Enlarge / See-through wood has a number of interesting properties that researchers hope to exploit. (credit: WILEY‐VCH VERLAG GMBH & CO. KGAA, WEINHEIM)

Thirty years ago, a botanist in Germany had a simple wish: to see the inner workings of woody plants without dissecting them. By bleaching away the pigments in plant cells, Siegfried Fink managed to create transparent wood, and he published his technique in a niche wood technology journal. The 1992 paper remained the last word on see-through wood for more than a decade, until a researcher named Lars Berglund stumbled across it.

Berglund was inspired by Fink’s discovery, but not for botanical reasons. The materials scientist, who works at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, specializes in polymer composites and was interested in creating a more robust alternative to transparent plastic. And he wasn’t the only one interested in wood’s virtues. Across the ocean, researchers at the University of Maryland were busy on a related goal: harnessing the strength of wood for nontraditional purposes.

Now, after years of experiments, the research of these groups is starting to bear fruit. Transparent wood could soon find uses in super-strong screens for smartphones; in soft, glowing light fixtures; and even as structural features, such as color-changing windows.

“I truly believe this material has a promising future,” says Qiliang Fu, a wood nanotechnologist at Nanjing Forestry University in China who worked in Berglund’s lab as a graduate student.

Wood is made up of countless little vertical channels, like a tight bundle of straws bound together with glue. These tube-shaped cells transport water and nutrients throughout a tree, and when the tree is harvested and the moisture evaporates, pockets of air are left behind. To create see-through wood, scientists first need to modify or get rid of the glue, called lignin, that holds the cell bundles together and provides trunks and branches with most of their earthy brown hues. After bleaching lignin’s color away or otherwise removing it, a milky-white skeleton of hollow cells remains.

This skeleton is still opaque, because the cell walls bend light to a different degree than the air in the cell pockets does—a value called a refractive index. Filling the air pockets with a substance like epoxy resin that bends light to a similar degree to the cell walls renders the wood transparent.

The material the scientists worked with is thin—typically less than a millimeter to around a centimeter thick. But the cells create a sturdy honeycomb structure, and the tiny wood fibers are stronger than the best carbon fibers, says materials scientist Liangbing Hu, who leads the research group working on transparent wood at the University of Maryland in College Park. And with the resin added, transparent wood outperforms plastic and glass: In tests measuring how easily materials fracture or break under pressure, transparent wood came out around three times stronger than transparent plastics like Plexiglass and about 10 times tougher than glass.

“The results are amazing, that a piece of wood can be as strong as glass,” says Hu, who highlighted the features of transparent wood in the 2023 Annual Review of Materials Research.

The process also works with thicker wood but the view through that substance is hazier because it scatters more light. In their original studies from 2016, Hu and Berglund both found that millimeter-thin sheets of the resin-filled wood skeletons let through 80 to 90 percent of light. As the thickness gets closer to a centimeter, light transmittance drops: Berglund’s group reported that 3.7-millimeter-thick wood—roughly two pennies thick—transmitted only 40 percent of light.

The slim profile and strength of the material means it could be a great alternative to products made from thin, easily shattered cuts of plastic or glass, such as display screens. The French company Woodoo, for example, uses a similar lignin-removing process in its wood screens, but leaves a bit of lignin to create a different color aesthetic. The company is tailoring its recyclable, touch-sensitive digital displays for products, including car dashboards and advertising billboards.

But most research has centered on transparent wood as an architectural feature, with windows a particularly promising use, says Prodyut Dhar, a biochemical engineer at the Indian Institute of Technology Varanasi. Transparent wood is a far better insulator than glass, so it could help buildings retain heat or keep it out. Hu and colleagues have also used polyvinyl alcohol, or PVA—a polymer used in glue and food packaging—to infiltrate the wood skeletons, making transparent wood that conducts heat at a rate five times lower than that of glass, the team reported in 2019 in Advanced Functional Materials.

And researchers are coming up with other tweaks to increase wood’s ability to hold or release heat, which would be useful for energy-efficient buildings. Céline Montanari, a materials scientist at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, and colleagues experimented with phase-change materials, which flip from storing to releasing heat when they change from solid to liquid, or vice-versa. By incorporating polyethylene glycol, for example, the scientists found that their wood could store heat when it was warm and release heat as it cooled, work they published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces In 2019.

Transparent wood windows would therefore be stronger and aid in temperature control better than traditional glass, but the view through them would be hazy, more similar to frosted glass than a regular window. However, the haziness could be an advantage if users want diffuse light: Since thicker wood is strong, it could be a partially load-bearing light source, Berglund says, potentially acting as a ceiling that provides soft, ambient light to a room.

Hu and Berglund have continued to toy with ways to bestow new properties on transparent wood. Around five years ago, Berglund and colleagues at KTH and Georgia Institute of Technology found they could mimic smart windows, which can switch from transparent to tinted to block visibility or the Sun’s rays. The researchers sandwiched an electrochromic polymer—a substance that can change color with electricity—between layers of transparent wood coated with an electrode polymer to conduct electricity. This created a pane of wood that changes from clear to magenta when users run a small electrical current through it.

More recently, the two groups have shifted their attention to improving the sustainability of transparent wood production. For example, the resin used to fill the wood scaffolding is typically a petroleum-derived plastic product, so it’s better to avoid using it, Montanari says. As a replacement, she and colleagues invented a fully bio-based polymer derived from citrus peels. The team first combined acrylic acid and limonene, a chemical extracted from lemon and orange rinds that’s found in essential oils. Then they impregnated delignified wood with it. Even with a fruity filling, the bio-based transparent wood maintained its mechanical and optical properties, withstanding around 30 megapascals of pressure more than regular wood and transmitting around 90 percent of light, the researchers reported in 2021 in Advanced Science.

Hu’s lab, meanwhile, recently reported in Science Advances a greener lignin-bleaching method that leans on hydrogen peroxide and UV radiation, further reducing the energy demands of production. The team brushed wood slices ranging from about 0.5 to 3.5 millimeters in thickness with hydrogen peroxide, then left them in front of UV lamps to mimic the Sun’s rays. The UV bleached away the pigment-containing parts of lignin but left the structural parts intact, thus helping to retain more strength in the wood.

These more environmentally friendly approaches help limit the amount of toxic chemicals and fossil-based polymers used in production, but for now, glass still has lower end-of-life environmental impacts than transparent wood, according to an analysis by Dhar and colleagues in Science of the Total Environment. Embracing greener production schemes and scaling up manufacturing are two steps necessary to add transparent wood to mainstream markets, researchers say, but it will take time. However, they are confident it can be done and believe in its potential as a sustainable material.

“When you’re trying to achieve sustainability, you don’t only want to match the properties of fossil-based materials,” Montanari says. “As a scientist, I want to surpass this.”

Jude Coleman is an Oregon-based freelance journalist who covers ecology, climate change, and the environment. Read more of her work at judecoleman.com. This article originally appeared in Knowable Magazine, an independent journalistic endeavor from Annual Reviews. Sign up for the newsletter.

Knowable Magazine | Annual Reviews

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

Read the whole story
teh_g
221 days ago
reply
Roseville, CA
Share this story
Delete

23andMe changes arbitration terms after hack impacting millions

2 Comments
23andMe changes arbitration terms after hack impacting millions

Enlarge (credit: Bloomberg / Contributor | Bloomberg)

Shortly after 23andMe confirmed that hackers stole ancestry data of 6.9 million users, 23andMe has updated its terms of service, seemingly cutting off a path previously granted to users seeking public accountability when resolving disputes.

According to a post on Hacker News, the "23andMe Team" notified users in an email that "important updates were made to the Dispute Resolution and Arbitration section" of 23andMe's terms of service on November 30. This was done, 23andMe told users, "to include procedures that will encourage a prompt resolution of any disputes and to streamline arbitration proceedings where multiple similar claims are filed."

In the email, 23andMe told users that they had 30 days to notify the ancestry site that they disagree with the new terms. Otherwise, 23andMe users "will be deemed to have agreed to the new terms." The process for opting out is detailed in the site's ToS, instructing users to send written notice of their decision to opt out in an email to arbitrationoptout@23andme.com.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read the whole story
teh_g
225 days ago
reply
So who wants to start some mass arbitration?
Roseville, CA
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
petrilli
225 days ago
reply
Scum
Arlington, VA

Report: Amazon made $1B with secret algorithm for spiking prices Internet-wide

1 Share
Report: Amazon made $1B with secret algorithm for spiking prices Internet-wide

Enlarge (credit: Bloomberg / Contributor | Bloomberg)

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission sued Amazon, alleging that the online retailer was illegally maintaining a monopoly. Much of the FTC's complaint against Amazon was redacted, but The Wall Street Journal yesterday revealed key details obscured in the complaint regarding a secret algorithm. The FTC alleged that Amazon once used the algorithm to raise prices across the most popular online shopping destinations.

People familiar with the FTC's allegations in the complaint told the Journal that it all started when Amazon developed an algorithm code-named "Project Nessie." It allegedly works by manipulating rivals' weaker pricing algorithms and locking competitors into higher prices. The controversial algorithm was allegedly used for years and helped Amazon to "improve its profits on items across shopping categories" and "led competitors to raise their prices and charge customers more," the WSJ reported.

The FTC's complaint said:

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read the whole story
teh_g
288 days ago
reply
Roseville, CA
Share this story
Delete

Don’t be a Statistic

1 Comment and 4 Shares

The post Don’t be a Statistic appeared first on The Perry Bible Fellowship.

Read the whole story
teh_g
307 days ago
reply
Roseville, CA
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
popbobmob
307 days ago
reply
lolcsi
Next Page of Stories