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Snowden-endorsed SpiderOak doesn’t want the key to your private info

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Edward Snowden name dropped SpiderOak as a pro-privacy option for storing items and other communication online. 

A mention from Edward Snowden never hurts when it comes to recruiting new users, especially when you’re a company that focuses on privacy when it comes to storing data.

For SpiderOak, a seven-year-old company headquartered in Northbrook, Ill., with offices in Kansas City, a nod from Snowden has meant a lot more. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian’s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger and reporter Ewen MacAskill, Snowden name dropped the company as a more private alternative to storage platforms like Dropbox.

“SpiderOak has structured their system in such a way you can store all of your information on them with the same sort of features that Dropbox does, but they literally have no access to the content,” Snowden told the Guardian. “So while they can be compelled to turn it over, the law enforcement agencies still have to go to a judge and get a warrant to actually get your encryption key from you.”

The company was founded in 2006 and has since grown to roughly 40 employees, the largest group of which work out of its Kansas City offices. SpiderOak offers cloud storage systems to privately access and sync all of your online data while at the same time encrypting that data to ensure its security.

“As we were going through that build process, one of the biggest questions we had is, ‘Why do we need to have access to anyone’s data?'” Chris Cooley, SpiderOak’s regional business development director based in Kansas City, told SPN. “If you think of it as an analogy, the lock is only as safe as the key is handled. It can be the safest lock in the world, but it doesn’t matter if you mismanage the key.

“We’ve made sure to never have access to the key of unlocking someone’s data.”

SpiderOak is what its creators call a “zero knowledge” platform, meaning even if you were to obtain someone else’s private data, you would still need some sort of code to break its encryption.

“It’s not our business to know other people’s data and share it,” Cooley said. “As a result, that’s where this Edward Snowden thing came from. A lot of these companies (like Dropbox) have access to their data and complete access and control to turn that over to people like the NSA.”

But in a post-Snowden America, the SpiderOak team says the market for privacy-focused technology will only continue to grow.

“If you think about a lot of the applications that people use every day—to-do managers, calendars, reminders, journaling, messaging—on the market right now, there’s really no privacy-oriented version of any of those applications,” SpiderOak’s co-founder and CTO Alan Fairless told SPN. “You can engage the features and benefits of the cloud but you have to share your data with the employees of the company that provides the service and with potential hackers or anyone who wants to subpoena that data.”

Fairless calls the reaction to Snowden’s comments “dramatic” in terms of their effect on the company, which has had media attention from more than 50 major publications at his last count.

Watch the full interview with Edward Snowden via the Guardian’s website

Spreading secure storage through Crypton.io

About a year and a half before the initial Snowden scandal, SpiderOak released a new feature called Crypton.io, a zero knowledge framework for JavaScript that requires no knowledge of encryption programming. The team released the product on GitHub with significant success and response from the developer community.

“Within 24 hours of the launch announcement there were more than 100 followers and stars,” Fairless said. “It’s attracted the attention of some hyper viral leaders in the encryption community, too.”

So far, one of the more successful applications built using Crypton.io is called Encryptr, an open-source, zero knowledge cloud-based password manager and e-wallet to help keep users data protected.

Despite an increase in privacy-focused applications flooding the market and a permeating public awareness regarding online surveillance, Fairless says he’s yet to see a decisive public shift in behavior.

“One of the things we’ve seen immediately is people change their behavior,” he said. “With all of their web traffic being recorded, people feel less free browsing the Internet. They don’t communicate in the same ways.

“In terms of changing how they use existing technology, we haven’t necessarily seen that immediately.”

While the public may not be fully knowledgeable about privacy situations on the web, Fairless says he turns to the developer community when it comes to predicting industry trends and reactions.

“Within the community of developers and people building the next round of startups and so on, the concern is even greater,” he said. “Developers in general are really sensitive to privacy tech issues and I basically look at developers’ behavior as leading indicators of what the public will do.

“We’re definitely going that direction where there’s a coming backlash of privacy invading technology.”

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