Protonmail, a browser-based encrypted email service, opened up to the public this week after a lengthy invitation-only beta period. The company and its servers are based in Switzerland, not far from CERN, where some of its researchers worked, and the service offers end-to-end encryption designed to work entirely in a browser.
Below is Protonmail's 2014 promotional video for its initial Indiegogo campaign, where it raised more than US$500,000. Note the section in the middle that explains how the service works. The company claims it has more than 1 million active users.
Protonmail has a base level of service that is free to users, and the company has heretofore used a donation model to help cover expenses. That free level of service remains—but for the public launch, Protonmail announced paid upgrades.
For €5 per month or €48 per year, users get support for custom domains and aliases, 5GB of storage instead of 500MB, higher message sending limits, and priority customer support.
While most of those features are available for "free" through a variety of services, Protonmail isn't rifling through your messages for advertising and it sends email without ever holding the encryption keys on its servers.
"Do people want to pay for privacy?" Cofounder and CEO Andy Yen told Vice's Motherboard. "We'll know in a month or two what the outcome of that is."
It's a good question, as other for-fee encrypted email services have struggled. While there is lots of noise made by lots of folks about privacy and security, the reality is that the entire planet seems content to use ad-supported services from Google, Yahoo!, and others.
But Protonmail may have picked the most opportune time to launch in the history of the Internet. Apple's ongoing fight with the FBI has raised the concept of privacy and encryption to what is most likely its highest profile ever.
Protonmail is designed to work in a browser, but the company also has an iOS app and an Android app. Both apps support both the free and paid service.