Over the past year, a lot has happened that we have not always been able to share on our blog due to all the work going on. Recently, we have been focused on building a completely new version of ProtonMail for web and mobile (which you can preview at beta.protonmail.com). We’re also working on launching Proton Calendar and Proton Drive out of beta this year. But today, we wanted to share a few non-product updates.
Presence in Brussels
As part of our increased European focus, we have recently become more active on public policy matters in Brussels, which is the seat of the European Union. Even though Switzerland is outside the EU, we have strong economic and business ties with the rest of Europe. A large portion of Proton’s users and employees come from the EU, and we also have offices in the EU.
Examples of the policy work we are now doing in the EU include our recent stance against anti-encryption proposals and our support for the Digital Markets Act. In line with both our culture of transparency and EU regulations, we are also now registered in the EU’s transparency register. Through our work with the EU, we hope to provide a voice for European citizens who are fed up with big tech abuses and government overreach into our private lives.
CRV divestment and partnering with the community
In 2015, Charles River Ventures (CRV) and Fondation Genevoise pour l’Innovation Technologique (FONGIT), made a small minority investment in Proton. Earlier this year, to align our shareholders with our ethos of putting users ahead of profits, the shares held by CRV have been transferred to FONGIT, a non-profit foundation. FONGIT’s mission is to foster sustainable economic development in Geneva, and it will also safeguard Proton’s Swiss identity. At the same time, we have also invited some of our individual users and supporters from Switzerland to become shareholders of Proton so that the community will be represented among Proton shareholders. As a result of these transactions, CRV has sold all the Proton shares that it previously held. Proton continues to be an independent company owned and controlled by our employees, who hold the vast majority of Proton shares.
Proton’s Taiwan office
All the way back in November 2019, we opened an office in Taipei, Taiwan. We intended to announce the office’s formal opening in February 2020, but after the COVID pandemic started, we decided to delay the announcement. One year later, COVID is still here, and so is our Taipei office, which has grown to become a major engineering and support office.
The main service that we provide, email, needs to be available 24/7, and having an office in Taipei allows us to reach 24/7 coverage because it helps cover the night shift in Europe. But it also gives us a presence in Asia, which is a critical frontier for internet privacy. Indeed, in 2020 and 2021, we have seen increased demand for ProtonMail and ProtonVPN in places like Hong Kong, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Our presence in Taiwan allows us to better serve the Proton community in Asia.
We decided to locate Proton’s first Asian office in Taipei because Taiwan shares our deep belief in freedom and democracy. Taiwan ranks the highest among Asian countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index (even above the United States). Taipei also boasts a deep talent pool, and we look forward to better supporting the growing Proton community in Asia in the years to come.
Going remote in the US
For many years, Proton maintained a small outpost in San Francisco. This was done to assist with our 24/7 operations as San Francisco is 9 hours behind Switzerland, where we are headquartered. During the COVID pandemic, the small number of staff that we have in the US (2% of our total team) transitioned to working remotely on a permanent basis. As a result, we will no longer have a presence in Silicon Valley.
New Proton datacenter
Last year, we asked the Proton community to help us select new datacenter locations. This was necessary because Proton is growing rapidly. Because of this growth, we had to move out of the Swiss bunker where ProtonMail was first hosted into a larger high-security datacenter in Zurich. We are quite different from most tech companies in that we do not use cloud service providers (such as Amazon Web Services) so that we can better safeguard our independence and the privacy of users’ data. We also do not rent servers or networks, preferring to own all of our hardware, operate our own networks (we are a member of RIPE and act as our own ISP), and own our IP addresses.
While we operated for many years solely out of Swiss datacenters (in Geneva and Zurich), this strategy poses several long-term risks, particularly as we roll out new bandwidth and storage-intensive services such as Proton Drive. First, there is a lack of geographic diversity, as placing all our servers in one country is essentially placing all our eggs in one basket, which reduces resilience. Second, Switzerland does not host any of Europe’s main internet exchange points, which means limited bandwidth and latency.
To address these risks, we have opened a new datacenter in Frankfurt next to the DE-CIX, Europe’s largest internet exchange point. Frankfurt was the location favored by the overwhelming majority of the community, and we selected it for that reason. The fact that we use zero-access encryption on our servers (meaning the data we store is encrypted so that we cannot decrypt it) means that from a privacy standpoint, we can provide security pretty much regardless of location. However, Switzerland remains our legal jurisdiction under international law, as Proton is a Swiss company and headquartered in Switzerland.
By opening this new datacenter, we expect to be able to provide even higher reliability and faster speeds for users around the world.
In the months to come, we look forward to bringing you more announcements about upcoming Proton products and service updates. And as always, we remain committed to maintaining the highest levels of integrity and putting your interests first.
The Proton Team