NSA-proof messaging app Wickr gains £17m in funding (Wired UK)


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A free app that promises to help you send surveillance-proof,
self-destructing, encrypted messages has just secured $30m (£17m)
in funding.

Wickr, founded in 2012,
was developed by Wired 2014
speaker Nico Sell, the organiser behind the world’s largest hacker
get together, Defcon. The company’s motto is Leave No Trace, and
that’s exactly what Sell plans to teach the public, having already
publicly
rebuffed the FBI’s requests
for her to create a backdoor into
the app for them.

Unlike Snapchat, which proved earlier in the year to be neither self-destructing, nor
all that secure, Wickr promises “military-grade encryption” it does
not have the keys to, it erases unwanted files completely and
requires no personal information from a user. It’s also obviously
something the public wants, given one million messages are sent
using the app everyday.

Sell has found some new supporters in venture capitalist
Jim Breyer, options and futures exchange CME Group Inc and online
games developers Wargaming. Sell told Wired.co.uk the new partners
support Wickr’s mission to bring secure, private
communications to everyone and new platforms for the financial
services and gaming industries”.

Many would question the validity of a totally secure
communications system, with Tor Project contributor Runa Sandvik commenting this week that the public should not
blindly trust socalled “privacy” apps streaming onto the marke,t
post-Snowden. However, Sell maintains that Wickr’s security is
different — specifically, it exceeds the compliancy NSA demands of
its own secret communications. “Our solution is different
because we made encryption and security easy to use and transparent
to the masses,” Sell tells us. “We don’t save any of your
information to a server; we don’t know who you are, who you’re
talking to or what you’re saying; it’s all encrypted and we don’t
have the keys. We are a zero knowledge system and we considered
security first when developing our application.”

Like Tor, any organisation that promises to give its users
total privacy and protection is the bane in law enforcement’s side.
In documentation acquired by Edward Snowden, sections entitled “Tor
Stinks” spoke of potential avenues round it. When Wired.co.uk asks
Sell if she has any concerns at all, presumably as the FBI and NSA
do, that her technology will be used for nefarious, illegal
activity, she responded simply: “Al
l good tools are
guaranteed to be used by good people and bad people. Screwdrivers,
money, shoes and tires are used in most crimes, but we are still
better off as a society having these tools. Private communications
is a universal human right that is extremely important to a free
society.”

In spite of this, the public continues, in their millions and
billions, to use free or cheap services that offer none of the
safeguards Wickr does. Sell’s service is free, for now. But what
will it take for the public to sacrifice their easy access free
email or storage services?

Sell explain — well, it’s about the sell.

“The public needs privacy tools that are cooler and more full
featured for people to switch. We just won best overall messaging
app beating WhatsApp, Snapchat and Google in PC Magazine. We have
more fun than Snapchat — with stickers and filters. Privacy is not
why people download, but it is why users stick around, just good
customer service.”

The public may not have quite yet thrown its digital tools out
of the pram in protest at all the privacy violations revealed
over the past year — perhaps the outcome of being so accustomed to
trading personal data for free services, for so many years. But
Sell believes this will change — ultimately, so
brands can keep their custom, and their money.

“We need new business models that do not make money off personal
information. You can trust those companies more than the 1,000 data
brokers that currently rule the social media world.”

The free app will apparently soon start charging customers for added extras, such
as video calling and stickers, and there is potential to monetise
the project by licensing out the robust technology behind it to
other programs that need to offer their customers
assurances. 

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Wickr’s mission is to become the go-to communications
platform for text, email, calling

and video conferencing,” says Sell. “We are taking Skype head
on and aim to scale quickly.”

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Source: wired.co.uk
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