Places is a privacy-centric startup that’s building a secure Dropbox-style platform for file sharing and messaging — but one that has end-to-end, client-side encryption built in. It’s currently launched in early alpha and is inviting people to sign up for a forthcoming beta at Joinplaces.com. (The alpha is also open to Windows and Mac OS users.)
Dropbox does not do encryption locally, so can’t offer end-to-end encryption, although it’s worth noting that it’s possible to add a third-party service to your Dropbox account to gain that extra layer of security.
Still, most people aren’t going to bother taking the extra step since it requires effort to do so. Places, by contrast, begins from a secure base, with PGP end-to-end encryption, using RSA 2048 and AES 256.
Another twist is it’s also seeking to disrupt the server-client architecture of existing sharing platforms by enabling users to host their own content. With Places, the user’s content can be stored and served from their own Mac, PC or Linux machine.
Places does have centralized servers, too, to serve encrypted content when a user’s own machine is off or otherwise unreachable. But it does not hold the encryption keys so can’t access that content. The Places software also synchronizes content across Places’ desktop and mobile apps (currently it has a standalone iOS app).
“The idea for us is that it’s not only an app. It’s a server that runs on your client side,” says co-founder Vigile Hoareau, demoing the software at TechCrunch Disrupt SF’s startup alley last week. “Today if you have important files to share and don’t use PGP this is better than PGP if you have multiple people and multiple files.”
“We are the content provider but we don’t own the content we provide.”
“If you have to be naked you should be on Places. Because everything will be encrypted. If someone take the file on the cloud side this file will be encrypted. Nobody has the keys. Only the [users] have the keys,” adds Hoareau.
He describes Places as a “share everything application” — noting that the team also has VoIP working in the lab, to be added as a future update. It will also be adding a Dropbox-style cloud system interaction in the near term, so users can interact directly with the file system. That feature is due “within weeks”. Existing features are file-sharing and an IM style messaging interface.
The thread that will link every feature offered on Places is robust privacy. The philosophy underpinning the business is that web users should be able to share content with specific people without being forced to give strangers access to that content.
“It’s not fair to say give me your content if you want to share,” says Hoareau. “The challenge is, as Snowden said, to ‘implement end-to-end encryption in a simple, cheap, effective way that is invisible to users’. This is Places. End to end encryption. Making it cheap and easy.
“If you can send an email, you can use it. You just create your Place… you drag and drop people, you drag and drop content. That’s it. Everything’s so easy. Even if it wasn’t private it would be a good way to interact on projects.”