Thursday, November 7, 2013

Startup's cloud service beats NSA-style snooping

Messaging luminary David Gurle has launched Perzo, a new free-to-use cloud communications and collaboration system he believes will appeal to consumers and business users looking to beat surveillance with high levels of security and confidentiality.

Gurle's career has been defined by his work on messaging systems including for Thompson Reuters and as the founder of Microsoft's Real Time Communications division that worked on Windows Messenger and Exchange IM. He eventually served as Skype's VP and general manager.

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The newly launched beta version of Perzo chimes with this background in some respects, developing the idea that Internet users still use too many different types of communications products which also sub-divide unnecessarily into those designed for work and private interaction.

Perzo puts all of these interactions in one Web-based space, letting users to switch easily between different mediums (so far email, IM, SMS, exchanging file attachments) and work and personal identities without getting them entangled in ways that risk confidentiality.

Because Perzo users work within a cloud-based system, emails, IMs and emailed attachments never leave the firm's data center, which in principle offers greater security. It's a security and anti-surveillance theme Gurle is very keen to emphasize.

"While our degree of connectivity has grown massively, our acceptance to use these open channels to communicate and share what is critical or personal has significantly dwindled. We are suspicious about who's got access to our data and confused about who to say what to, and on which application and device," he said.

"Using so many tools is causing people spread their emotional and intellectual properties across multiple databases. This needlessly fragments the very information that defines our relationships -- and we forget the value of what we've collected. Perzo aims to bring this consciousness together in one, secure, private place."

Security features aimed specifically at business users include message tracking, messages that self-destruct or can only be read (i.e. not forwarded), all backed up by 2048-bit encryption security that hides access not only to government agencies but to Perzo itself.

Being browser based, there are some inevitable trade-offs such as a slight lag when moving between messages that would not occur on a PC-based client such as Outlook. The interface is also in an early stage and needs a lot of work to become more intuitive. A mobile client for iOS is available from launch with one for Android promised within weeks.

Given that the service will be offered for free -- Gurle makes the point that equivalent integrated communications systems usually charge -- how will Perzo make money? Gurle believes that additional services accessed through Perzo's integration with Google Maps (for instance booking a restaurant) will be enough to pay the bills.

That sets off some alarm bells; isn't Perzo exactly the sort of unified communications platform that Google, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft are trying to build for themselves? On the other hand, Gurle might point out, we now know that services built by any of these vendors can never be as free of surveillance as Perzo, built from day one to counter snooping.

There's little doubt that today's communications systems are getting more complex and less secure, partly because many of them were designed years or even decades ago but also because people now use them more intensively. Perzo could be a step in the direction of reinventing them for the early 21st century or another interesting cul de sac; time will tell.

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