Places – Robust Privacy Dropbox Style

September 17, 2014 12:02 PM


Inspiration can come from anywhere and for a team of PhDs in Cognitive Psychology and Computer Science led by Vigile Hoareau collectively known as Ansamb, the Creole word for together, Edward Snowden’s tweet is it. Hoareau introduces Places, an online Dropbox-styled, uber private platform, cross-compatible with Mac and Windows, that has me interested for purely one reason – privacy.

Snowden’s tweet, or at least part of what inspired Places simply wanted a space on the World “Wild” Web where ” the challenge is to implement end-to-end encryption in a simple, cheap and effective way that is invisible to users.”  Places, Hoareau says is a startup that is centred around privacy. The startup fashioned on Dropbox, claims to be secure and allows messaging and file-sharing. What differentiates Places from the others is the built-in end-to-end, client-side encryption. In layman’s terms, that would mean cyptographically encrypting data transmitted to servers on a network except, the key is with the client. After an early alpha release, Hoareau is petitioning for people to sign up for a beta at

If you want that end-to-end encryption on Dropbox, a third-party service can add the extra dose of security needed although, Places does the work single-handedly.

People on Dropbox or other alternatives, for the most part would not bother taking that extra step to ensure their privacy, because it needs a little effort. In contrast, Places begins with security – using AES 256 and RSA 2048 in addition to PGP end-to-end encryption. The inclusion of the Linux platform in addition to the Mac and Windows versions allows users to host and store their own content on the desktop of their choice. Ansamb deserves credit for thinking about Linux, when most others don’t.

Places operates on centralised servers, encrypting data irrespective of your machine is on or off. With only an iOS app for now, Places syncs content across the desktop and the mobile phone, but rest assured, it simply cannot access your content because it doesn’t hold the encryption keys.

Demonstrating the use of Places co-founder Hoareau says, “The idea for us is that it’s not only an app. It’s a server that runs on your client side. Today if you have important files to share and don’t use PGP this is better than PGP, if you have multiple people and multiple files.” Referring to the supposed nude leaks from Apple’s iCloud Hoareau adds, “If you have to be naked you should be on Places. Because everything will be encrypted. If someone takes the file on the cloud side this file will be encrypted. Nobody has the keys. Only users have the keys.”

Places intends to be an app that “shares” everything, with VoIP being added to a list of features intended for future updates. Places does have some updates due within weeks and that includes an interactive interface with the cloud based file system, in addition to IM based messaging and file-sharing that are already a part of the beta release.

What glues all these features is rock-solid privacy. Their philosophy – share what you want, with who you want and when you want without having to give it all out to strangers.

What Hoareau is stressing about is the shift from web 1.0 to web 2.0. He aims right the undeniable wrong most content producers face on the internet – the lack of control on their own content. Facebook is a good platform to share content on a public platform, but then not all of us prefer to parade every insignificant detail and could do with some privacy.

Ansamb’s Places is developed by some brilliant minds from AI, security, psychology, networks, data and text mining and distributed systems, based in the Réunion Island. This lone French territory closest to Mauritius, may not be accessible to most, nonetheless with telecommuting and virtual offices anyone can be a part of this project. Ansamb’s open sourced code allows for constant editing and monitoring to ensure that the promise of privacy is held and get the project moving along.

Facebook, Twitter and the iOS app which is updated weekly, are a part of the social media marketing strategy, Hoareau is using to garner support. Plans to launch an Indiegogo campaign are under way, with advertisements thankfully cleared out to avoid mining personal data.

Places could not have chosen a better time to come out. Snowden’s leaks, rumours of government surveillance and Apple’s iCloud breach are all reminders of how the internet isn’t safe. Places aims to make it one, but if you’re looking for something stable until then, try Tresorit or just sign up for the beta.