By now, you probably already know that Yahoo scanned customer emails for U.S. intelligence”, and if you haven’t you can read all the details in the previous link, or in many other places. Here, I only want to point out one thing, mainly but not only to software geeks, and to any organizations whose goal include promoting privacy:
The ubiquitousness of no-brain-required social networks and mobile apps has made many people forget, or never learn, a boring truth of digital life: a LOT non-ephemeral online communication still happens via less glamorous, but much more effective tools like email and mailing list. This can have unintended consequences. It is in your interest to understand this, because it is still almost impossible that you can live an adult life without using email at all, and it will be so for a few more years, at least.
Sometimes support comes in the most unexpected ways. Today the NSA, the super-secret spy agency that intercepts countless digital communications worldwide, greatly helped me, by providing evidence that a little project of mine is a really great idea that is sorely needed NOW.
UPDATE 2013/09/17: THIS PROJECT NOW HAS A HOME AT per-cloud.com
I have been using my own email service and self-hosted blogs since 2006⁄2007. I started explaining why everybody should do the same three years ago, when I proposed Virtual Personal Email Servers to overcome the big limits of today’s email. In 2011 I repeated why it is important to find alternatives to Gmail.
Since real support for privacy, control and data ownership should be present in everything we do online, last January I also pointed out that alternatives to corporate social networks already exist and only need proper packaging.
Now the Snowden/NSA/PRISM affair has finally made evident, to an audience immensely larger than geek circles, that I (with many others of course) was right. Everybody, including non-geeks (no: starting from them) should have, as soon as possible, at least the possibility to:
Even in this age of private and public organizations merrily handing out their email Gmail or some other “cloud” provider, there still are lots of organizations that run their own email server. This is better, in my opinion, for reasons I have already explained in “Wanted: Virtual Personal Email Servers”. Every now and then, however, the administrator of one of those servers goes online and asks something like “how can I automatically refuse or delete all email coming from certain countries?“
Email is one of the most useful and more widely used applications of the Internet. So far, however, I have met very few people that seem aware of how suboptimal its usage is, or of the problems that may arise when many people will start to realize it. Please note that, while the rest of this page explains these statements only in the case of email, most of it applies to any other form of direct, person-to-person communication through the Internet (chat, IM, VoIP phone calls, social networking through Facebook or Ning…).
_Preface: this is the translation of a post written on April 2, 2010, to explain to all italian Internet users, with a real-life example, of the complete uselessness of copying or forwarding protest email about whatever argument to politicians or any organization._
Email is a crucial, basic service that is almost impossible to not use these days, but the way email is normally used these days has serious limits. The most common answer I get when I try to explaine those limits is some variation of “you may be right, but… I’m not I software programmer and never will, so I have no choice but to use what’s around”. This is wrong. I already run my own email server and I never had to compile or write any software in order to do it. I only had to study some configuration options and set them properly. While I did that configuration by manually editing text files, the same operations could be done in a window of any browser.