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Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2020-10
End: 2022-10
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Services + Applications

Sylk chat

Add instant messaging features to Sylk

Internet communications privacy is important to users, and there is a limited set of encrypted multiparty audio and videoconferencing solutions available to consumers and businesses today. The market, predominantly occupied by proprietary services that often require risky plugins, lack introspection and transparency, proved to expose users to significant security and privacy issues. This trend must be counteracted by better open source equivalents. Sylk provides a multi-party video encrypted conferencing solution meant to run on an end user computer or a mobile device. It is based on the WebRTC standard, and has a focus on user privacy and easy of use. This project will add one-to-one and group chat capabilities, allowing users to for example have end-to-end encryption or maintain long term group chats like other messaging apps do.

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. And sometimes, like when there is a large global pandemic requiring everyone to stay home as much as possible, there is no alternative to moving entirely online.

It still sometimes feels magical to hear the voices and see the faces of the people we talk to across the internet. However, not every way we connect is equally clean and honest under the hood. Users have a hard time to understand how for instance privacy and security 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 a fair and transparent service but on secretly extracting data from their users and selling that (together with other derived information) to others.

Ever wonder why advertising companies have paid tens of billions of dollars for buying messaging apps they give away for free, without ads? A lot of interesting behavioral information can be learned without knowing what you say, so the problem is not solved by just encrypting messages. The app itself is the issue: if you want to be reachable across the internet, you have to constantly let the communication provider follow you wherever you go. Other interesting parts are who talks to whom, when, and where they are in the real world while they meet on the internet. Exposure of this data through centralised messaging networks 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 confidentiality and privacy when they communicate, and who can blame them? 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.

Sylk is one such alternative, supported by NGI Zero: it is a mature private and secure system for video and audio calling that grew from an open source videoconferencing tool. You can install Sylk on your own infrastructure, completely free of charge - and with the ability to make it do whatever you need it to do, on your own terms. Businesses like the internet provider or the IT company around the corner can run it for their customers, or you can run it for your family yourself. You can use Sylk in the browser, or download one of the open source apps for mobile phones, tablets or desktop computers.

In this project Sylk will add privacy-friendly group chat features, that will allow it to become a full-fledged alternative to proprietary solutions like WeChat, Whatsapp and Telegram.

Run by AG Projects B.V.

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.