[messaging] is E2E webmail commercially feasible? (was Re: The Simple Thing)

Brendan McMillion brendanmcmillion at gmail.com
Sat Sep 27 08:23:57 PDT 2014

In a previous thread (Modern anti-spam and E2E crypto), I talked about
searchable symmetric encryption--how you can use it to build
privacy-preserving search and anti-spam networks.

Apple has a vested interest in good cryptography because they can get their
money up front.  Google and Yahoo have a vested interest in good
kleptography because of a business model built primarily on selling users
to advertisers.

Google and Yahoo would literally go out of business before they forgo ad

> Contrary to what many marketers claim, most adult Americans (66%) do not
want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests.  Moreover, when
Americans are informed of three common ways that marketers gather data
about people in order to tailor ads, even higher percentages (between 73%
and 86%) say they would not want such advertising.

That's a fairly intuitive statement.  When I start having lapses in
judgement and trying to buy another venus fly trap off of the internet, the
last thing I want to see is Pandora plastered with ads from venus fly trap
vendors--disregarding the creep factor.

For advertising, there are ideas like filling up a wallet in exchange for
hiding ads (Subbable, Patreon, AdBlock Absolution).  But, no one told me in
the last thread that SSE was an utterly terrible idea, so I guess I'll
continue with my crazy:  there's also privacy-preserving targeted
advertising (PPTA).

It works similar to P2P voting systems.  Users install a plugin in their
browser that profiles their behavior, and when they go to a website with
ads, the ad network will send about 20 possible options.  The plugin uses
the profile it's built to choose the best ad, and sends back which one the
user saw and/or clicked, encrypted with an additively homomorphic
encryption scheme and possibly an OR proof (proving the user only encrypted
a 1 or a 0, instead of 10^10 to make the publisher go bankrupt).

I've been told this is how TV advertising works, as well.  There's a
computer that monitors what programs you like and chooses a selection of
ads to play during the break.  (Perhaps that's just some TVs / systems--I
don't know).  Given that television has such a large audience, networks may
be able to get very strong statistical guarantees that an ad has been
played X times, despite the one-way nature of TV.

With TV advertising and PPTA, all users get fairly well-targeted
advertisements, but advertising networks learn nothing about the behavior
of any users.

- Brendan Mc.

On Sat, Sep 27, 2014 at 8:29 AM, Andy Isaacson <adi at hexapodia.org> wrote:

> On Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 01:48:06AM -0700, Trevor Perrin wrote:
> > Bigger question:  Is this a route to widespread OE?  Or is this
> > something only a tiny fraction of users would turn on?
> >
> > Widespread OE for email seems hard.  Much of the userbase is on
> > browsers, relying on ad-funded infrastructure and server search.
> > Worse, to manage spam it seems like email has evolved to be fairly
> > hostile to content encryption, identity-hiding, and
> > relationship-hiding.
> >
> > So if we're not attempting OE, and we just want email-like messaging
> > for the small population that will install special security tools, I
> > guess I'm not sure why should build those on email at all (vs
> > Pond/Petmail, SMTorP, etc.)?
> I wonder if this is completely true.  I've been quite pleasantly
> surprised by the pro-privacy rhetoric and actions coming out of
> traditionally user-privacy-hostile shops like Apple, Microsoft, and
> Yahoo.  I don't know for sure, but I suspect that some of the other
> stack vendors have identified a weakness in Google's business model and
> are attempting to exploit it.  (It seems to me that Google is *really*
> good at monetizing user's data by looking at it in aggregate.  If
> another vendor gets only a small benefit from that monetization because
> they're not as good at it, then one business ploy is to take away your
> competitor's advantage by making that monetization more difficult.)
> If it is true that Hotmail or Yahoo were willing to forego revenue from
> content sensitive advertising, it might be possible to build a business
> case for in-stack OE with E2E semantics and an interoperability story.
> As a case in point, Apple does seem to have built an actual E2E secure
> iMessage. (To my great surprise.)
> Solving the business case for E2E email still leaves us with the search
> problem, though.  I've got no bright ideas for how to solve that.
> -andy
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