surprising. In some key respects, a blockchain-based email solution seems like
an obvious proposition. It would address several problems associated with
traditional email services on which users send, receive and store email using
centralized servers owned by a commercial company.
challenge is the privacy of users. Today, most consumers use email services,
like Gmail and Yahoo Mail, that are free of direct cost. (You can also set up
your own private mail server if you want, but most consumers
don’t know how to do that and the host infrastructure could prove costly.)
users pay in the form of personal data. Email providers collect personal
information about users and use that data to serve ads to them. Sometimes data
collection includes, but is not limited to, reading users’ emails. Most email providers promise
that users’ messages are parsed only via automated tools, but this can still
feel like a privacy intrusion for consumers.
email solution would address this problem by obviating the need to rely on
commercial companies to provide email services. The infrastructure required to
host email servers and store messages could be distributed across a blockchain,
where no single party would have the ability to read each user’s messages.
and the data attached to them can be lost in a number of ways. Users might
accidentally delete them. They could be overwritten by storage servers that run
out of space. Glitches on the infrastructure of email providers might lead to
data loss (which has happened in the case of services like
Gmail, albeit not in a way that led to permanent data loss).
these risks would disappear if emails were stored on a distributed database.
The failure of a central email server would not cause data loss, because there
would be no central server on a blockchain-based email solution. Server storage
capacity would be virtually unlimited, as long as the blockchain that was used
to store data could grow as needed. It might even be possible to recover
deleted messages via a method such as accessing an off-chain node that has preserved email data
common challenge with email today is authenticity. It’s trivially easy to set
up an email account in someone else’s name, and it’s difficult for an email
recipient to confirm that an email originated from where the sender claims it
did. Timestamp and routing data in email headers could also be manipulated.
blockchain-based email system could provide built-in message authenticity that
would be virtually tamper-proof. Because the blockchain serves as an immutable
record of transactions, it would become much easier to confirm exactly when and
by whom an email was written or received. Short of hacking the blockchain
itself, no one could modify blockchain-based email records.
Existing Decentralized Email Solutions
the apparent value of a blockchain-based email platform, relatively few
projects exist in this market.
that do include the following:
- John McAfee SwiftMail, a private messaging service founded
by John McAfee, according to the project’s website. It appears that it can
only exchange messages with other SwiftMail accounts, so this is not
exactly a general-purpose email service. But it’s close.
- CryptaMail, which does appear to be a true email
service. It’s currently in beta.
- Proemtheus, which offers email services built on the blockchain. The company
also appears to be building a larger decentralized platform on which cloud
storage and other online applications can be run.
the number of real-world users of these services appears to be small. That may
be due, in part, to the fact that some potential users have expressed concern about whether the companies
truly protect users’ privacy and what would happen to users’ messages if the
companies shut down.
email servers have other kinks to work out, too. Perhaps the largest is the
massive amount of data that would need to be stored on the blockchain in order
to run a large-scale decentralized email platform. If you want to store all
users’ messages on a blockchain, your storage needs will quickly climb into the
terabytes. It’s unclear whether today’s blockchains could handle that level of
other hand, this challenge is similar to the one that blockchain-based cloud
face, and they have strategies in place to address it. Moreover, in the case of
email, it should be possible to decentralize email without actually storing all
messages on the blockchain; message transactions could be recorded on the
blockchain while messages themselves live elsewhere for permanent storage.
email services also need to be able to prove to users that data is indeed
private. The best way to do this is to make the source code for
blockchain-based email servers available. For now, however, that is not
happening; none of the services listed above appear to be open source.
in order to protect the privacy of individual users while registering emails on
a blockchain, a decentralized email system would require more sophisticated
access controls for blockchain-based data than most blockchains provide
natively today. In other words, you’d need a way to make sure that authorized
users could read their own email, but not the emails of other people who also
use the decentralized service. This obstacle should be easy enough to overcome,
however; access control features for blockchains can be implemented, and they may become more
common as blockchains evolve.
decentralized email systems are promising, yet to date, little progress has
been made in implementing them. That might change as specific problems, such as
data storage scalability and proof of user privacy, are overcome by developers
seeking to decentralize email for everyone.