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Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2019-04
End: 2020-11
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A secure mobile messaging client

Conversations is an Android client for the federated, provider independent network of instant messaging servers that use the Extensible messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP). It aims to provide a feature set and a user experience that is on par with other well known messaging services. While Conversations is capable of sending end-to-end encrypted text messages, images, short videos and voice messages it currently lacks the ability to make voice and video calls. This project is about adding A/V call capabilities to Conversations in a manner that is compatible to other XMPP clients. To achieve compatibility Conversations will implement the Jingle protocol extensions including XEP 0353 (Jingle Message Initiation) for a smooth user experience across multiple devices.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

One of the things people enjoy the most about the internet, is that it enables them to talk to others remotely almost without limit. Internet allows anyone connected to keep closely connected with friends and family, and help their kids solve a math problem while they are at work. People collaborate with their colleagues from the couch of their living room, the cafe where they enjoy lunch or on their cell phone on the bus to the gym. Businesses can easily service their customers where this is most convenient to them, without having to travel themselves. This is so convenient, that some businesses have already moved entirely online. Internet communication has become the nerve center of whole neighbourhoods, where people watch over the possessions of their neighbours while these are away for work or leisure.

However, users have a hard time to understand how privacy is impacted if they use the wrong technology. Because internet works almost everywhere, the natural privacy protection of the walls of a house, a school or an office is gone. Unlike the traditional phone companies, many of the large technology providers run their business not on delivering an honest service but on secretly eavesdropping on their users and selling information to others. It is mostly not about what you say, so it is relatively easy for providers to allow some form of privacy by encrypting messages. The more interesting parts are who talks to whom, when, and where they are in the real world while they meet on the internet. if you want to be reachable across the internet, you have to constantly let the communication provider follow you wherever you go. This makes the private and professional lives of citizens an open book to companies that with the help of AI and other technologies make billions from selling 'hidden data' normal people are completely unaware of even exists. And of course in societies that are not so democratic, this type of information is critical to bring down opposition and stifle human rights.

Users assume the confidentiality and privacy when they communicate, and they are morally justified to do so. There is nothing natural or final about internet communication providers having access to all this very personal information - or going down the dark path of selling data about customers. The cost of this in terms of internet usage and computer power needed is actually negligible, and so all it takes it the availability of open alternatives that people can use. Conversations is part of the puzzle: it is a mature open source messaging client that anyone can install anywhere for free. Businesses like the internet provider or the IT company around the corner can run the associated services for their customers, and individuals can run it themselves from their home. Among other things, the project will add the last missing critical component, video calling, to Conversations. It will not force a new standard, but instead uses internet standards to do so. This means it contributes to a richer ecosystem, where people do not have to use a single piece of software to communicate with others - and anyone can innovate. And by switching, people can regain their privacy and make communicating via the internet as secure and confidential as we all need it to be.

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.