Your email is safe with us – in Germany

made in DEIn a pre-NSA world, Germany often looked like an oddity with stringent privacy laws that prevented (most) data leaving its sovereign territory. Today? Maybe not so much.

According to Der Spiegel:

Freenet, a listed telecommunications provider known for its strong anonymity protection, has seen an 80 percent increase in new users over the last three weeks. German web hosting company 1&1, meanwhile — parent company to email providers GMX and web.de — has seen a six-figure increase in new joiners over the same period.

T-Online, a business unit of Deutsche Telekom and the biggest internet service provider in Germany, would not confirm their exact number of new joiners, but also pointed to a “stronger interest” in its email service. It remains unclear how many of the new users have set up email accounts in addition to existing ones, and how many have actually cancelled accounts with US providers such as Yahoo or Google.

So a mixed and fuzzy bag. But then Deutsche Telekom also announced a new service with the predictable tag line: “Email Made in Germany.”

…the program includes new security measures making sure that email travelling between three of its email services — T-Online, GMX and web.de — never leave local servers. The provider’s emails are now encrypted, and users are notified when they are composing an email to a recipient whose address does not fall under the program’s protections.

Sounds pretty secure huh? But then influential bodies in Germany are taking the NSA issue one step further.  Thilo Weichert, head of the Independent Center for Data Protection argues that:

“The moment that the data is in the US, it will definitely be used by the NSA, and subsequently by other government agencies including the CIA, FBI and the DEA,” he told news agency dpa in an interview. “If I use Google-Mail, it’s pretty certain that my data will be saved on American servers, and can then be accessed by the NSA.”

There are two things going on here:

  1. “…[your data] will definitely be used by the NSA”
  2. “If I use Google-Mail, it’s pretty certain…can then be accessed by the NSA.”

Which is it? No one can be certain although there is sufficient of a fog over the topic to create the kind of fear upon which eager vendors clamor to feed. But is this a potential panacea? Not so fast. One commenter notes:

While it is a good idea to push these brands, only one of them – T-online – allows people anywhere in the world to register. Both web.de and gmx only offer this service for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. GMX offers gmx.com for others but it does not come with the same privacy guarantees. If they want to take advantage of people’s concerns about US providers they need to make their products available globally and provide English language service.

And there you have it in a nutshell. While I have no problem with German providers capitalzing on the fog surrounding the NSA revelations. it worries me that a continuation of the ‘not invented here’ syndrome that permeates much of what happens in Germany will only serve to polarize opinion and make it more rather than less difficult for non-US individuals and enterprises to make informed choices about how well their data is protected.

Tom Raftery, analyst with Greenmonk believes that ‘Every European country should be doing this.’ Its an entertaining point but given for example the fact that the UK’s GCHQ has been heavily implicated in using similar spying tactics, it is hard to imagine how such a concerted approach will take root.

Den Howlett
Following 20+ years in finance and IT related roles, Den Howlett became a freelance writer/analyst/commenter specialising in enterprise IT. I co-launched Information Week in the UK (1996-7) and was a contributor to numerous UK based trade magazines. Most recently, he was a long term columnist on ZDNet. Today, Howlett provides strategic product direction support to a variety of enterprise vendors along with delivering M&A due diligence services. The raw idea for diginomica came to him at a time when enterprise topics in media were being crushed by consumer stories. There had to be a better way. diginomica is that better way.
Den Howlett

@dahowlett

Disruptor, enterprise applications drama critic, BS cleaner, buyer champion and foodie trying to suck less every day.
Den Howlett

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  • lukemarson says:

    Sounds a bit like fear-mongering to foster domestic growth