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Theme fund: NGI0 Discovery
Start: 2020-10
End: 2022-10
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Automated e-mail address porting to a new provider

There is no search for email addresses, like there was in the days long gone of the phone book. Once an old contact disappears (e.g. moves jobs, changes provider), even hough you may have exchanged many emails with that person you can not discover which new email address(es) go(es) with that old contact.

The Automated E-mail Address Porting project (AEAP) wants to allows you to find the new email addresses of these existing email contacts. The project will research and develop the porting of an e-mail address to a new provider. We will implement, document, user-test and release a porting mechanism for Delta Chat, a leading end-to-end encryption mail client. Users can decide they want to use a new provider by entering credentials for a new e-mail address. The outcome of the AEAP project will be Delta Chat Desktop, Android and iOS releases to all app stores, providing seamless porting of e-mail addresses. Changing an e-mail provider will not depend on the consent of the existing one. GMail and various other "free e-mail" provider lock-in strategies will be weakened, also through the e2e-encryption that our AEAP effort spearheads.

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.

Email to this day is among the most popular online communication services and is used by governments, companies and organizations to talk to clients and share files. Even though email was designed without privacy or security in mind. When you send an email, anyone that can gain access to your mail server or the mail server of the recipient can read your mail, from top to bottom. And copy it, for later usage. Or modify it. It is often compared to sending a post card, and of course in many cases there may be little harm in others reading what the weather is like in Athens. But what if you want to use email to send something confidential, something you do not want to share with others? Like a love letter, a political rant or an important contract? And what if you can't actually trust the mail man, for instance because the other party is using a free email service known to search through everything? Or what if you live in a country that has an unhealthy interest in bringing down certain political voices, or are part of a cultural minority that is at risk?

Users could try to host their own email server, or if they are not so technically inclined switch from one of the 'free' email providers (that are usually after your (meta)data and are known to read your messages) to hopefully more trustworthy independent parties that simply charge a monthly fee and in exchange, keep your email safe, private and abuse-free (no spam coming from your address, for example). Switching email providers, unfortunately, is a rather painful experience, which is kind of the point: one way to keep you engaged is to offer an easy to set up account that once you are hooked is hard to get out of with all your data intact.

With the GDPR in mind, data portability should be nothing less than a minimal requirement for any online service. After all, it is your data. Because tech monopolies are yet to offer proper data porting, this project is an effort to offer alternative tools to switch from one email provider to another without losing mail or contact information. That is what this project aims to do for Delta Chat, an end-to-end encryption mail solution that allows you to chat and email privately and securely. Users will not need any information or consent from their existing email provider to have their email and contacts securely transfered to a new, hopefully more reliable provider. And using Delta Chat users would also gain a handy instant messaging app that allows them to communicate encrypted end-to-end to their friends and family.

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.