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Theme fund: NGI0 Discovery
Start: 2019-04
End: 2020-08


Social discovery over mail-based chat

Why make humans be the only ones to search new content that is relevant to you, if bots can be made to do the same on your behalf? The DeltaBot project will research and develop decentralized, e2e-encrypting and socially trustworthy bots for Delta Chat ( Bots will bridge with messaging platforms like IRC and Matrix, offer media archiving for its users and provide ActivityPub and RSS/Atom integration to allow users to discover new content. Our project is not only to provide well tested and documented Chat Bots in Python but also help others to write and deploy their own custom bots. Bots will perform e2e-encryption by default and we'll explore seamless ways to resist active MITM attacks.

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 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.

Tools like Whatsapp, Signal and Telegram has become a mainstay for individuals, businesses and even local governments as a low-threshold channel to reach out to people, be it for a friendly chat or customer support. The services promise their users that everything they share and discuss is shielded off from spying eyes. Nothing is said about the metadata that shows who talks to who, and where they are. And these still suffer from issues of centralized services maintained by one party, like censorship and country-wide bans. A Signal user cannot communicate with a Telegram user through either service. And all of them can be blocked easily.

Actually secure, private and decentralized chat is important to offer users but also businesses and governmental organizations a transparent and trustworthy communication channel. This is especially the case when sensitive and personal data is shared and even more so for people living in less democratic societies who run the risk of being arrested or harassed for who they talk to or what they say. Everyone has the right to confide in someone, be it a friend or a professional, and be sure what is said does not leave the (virtual) room. For journalists, activists, whistle-blowers and vulnerable minorities, this right can be a matter of life or death.

Delta Chat upholds this universal right to privacy. Instead of using a new technology that can be easily blocked, it uses the most widely used and decentralized messaging system on the internet, e-mail. That means Delta Chat is able to share encrypted messages without a central server that stores metadata or login where someones credentials can be recorded. Users can chat with anyone who has an email address: the recipient does not need to have the Delta chat app to reply. They simply reply to the e-mail they receive. With funding from NGI Zero new features for search and discovery of content elsewhere are added, and connections are made to other decentralized messaging platforms. Users can more easily find new content and interesting contacts while being sure that their search terms or results are not logged by any third party somewhere along the way. Users should not (and usually will not) give up functionality for security and privacy. This project can help make make decentralized messaging services like Delta Chat become more versatile and attractive chat alternatives.

Run by merlinux GmbH

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 Discovery 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 825322.