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How decentralized models are reimagining the cloud

Google cloud services
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The popular saying, “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” is a lot more easier to comprehend now that privacy on the Internet has become a hotly debated topic.

The dominant centralized cloud storage model, used by such marquee providers as Google Drive to Apple iCloud, Dropbox to pCloud, is increasingly being put under pressure from decentralized services that not just offer the same conveniences as the centralized services, but with added security and privacy features.

Fran Villalba Segarra, CEO, Internxt helps us wrap our head around how the decentralized model translates to cloud-based services, and what advantages does it extend to the end user.

What is decentralized storage and why do you think it is better than the traditional approach advocated by the big hyperscalers?

Cloud storage is classified as decentralized if the storage system is distributed around the world, and centralized if the storage system is singularly controlled. 

In the centralized version, the storage system is maintained by the cloud controller, and it is operated by the central server in the cloud controller. All the hosts are allocated with only one storage system for storing the images, files, and data. 

In the decentralized version, a group of clusters with different storage systems for different clusters are used. Therefore, the group of hosts in the cluster will use the storage system related to that cluster, but not the other storage system of the other cluster.

This provides higher levels of scalability, redundancy, and durability in decentralized architectures.

If a decentralized component is compromised or encounters a runtime error which is unrecoverable, the worst-case scenario is that the component goes offline, while the rest of the cloud continues to function normally. This design presents a fail-safe which increases cloud stability. 

What is Zero-Knowledge Encryption and why should consumers care?

Zero-Knowledge Encryption means that no one, except you (not even the service provider) can access your secured data. 

This is the crucial point - even with totally encrypted files, if the server has access to the keys, a centralized hacker attack can get access. 

Zero-Knowledge Encryption is a much safer way of securing data than Encryption-in-Transit, Encryption-at-Rest, and End-to-End Encryption. Here’s why:

1. Encryption-in-Transit secures a message, while it is being transmitted between two parties. (i.e. between your computer and the cloud provider). 

2. Encryption-at-Rest protects the file or data on the server while not being used.

3. End-to-End Encryption is a system of communication where only the communicating users who have the key can read the messages.

Zero-Knowledge Encryption deals with this matter by hiding the encryption key, even to the storage provider, resulting in an authentication request without any password exchange. 

The reason consumers and businesses should care is because Zero-Knowledge Encryption ensures their data is protected from hackers, Big Tech or other bad faith actors online. 

You talk about how services like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and iCloud all have permission to access your data and how Internxt doesn't. Why do you feel these other services do that still despite consumers being more aware?

For far too long, companies like Google, Microsoft, or Dropbox have abused their position and violated their users’ privacy. 

Recent events have highlighted the problems that their business models can create. Protecting their users’ privacy conflicts with their business model, which is to use your data in order to serve you targeted ads. That’s why these companies collect more data than what is actually needed. 

Google is a US-based company. The United States (unlike Europe, where companies like Tresorit, pCloud or Internxt are based), is known for its aggressive privacy violations. Google is also closed-source and doesn’t feature client-side encryption.

The reason these services still have hundreds of millions of users worldwide and continue to ignore the fact they seemingly don’t care about user privacy is because they’ve become complacent. When you have so many users, the duty of care for their privacy diminishes. 

I do believe we’re at a point where this has to change, and we’re already starting to see that with more people using different services. Awareness amongst users is growing related to their policies around privacy, and that will continue to happen.

So far Internxt has launched Drive and Photos - what is the vision for the company going forwards?

Our goal is to create the world’s safest and most attractive cloud storage service available today. 

We also recently launched Internxt Photos, which competes with Google Photos to provide a fully private picture backup experience on the go. 

We’re essentially taking services that people and businesses use every day and creating a new version that is dedicated to protecting the data of users, and in a slick and intuitive interface. 

No one wants to use a service that is complicated or time consuming. Simplicity is really important to us too. We are also working on Send, Mail, Calendar, Passwords, and more. 

We’re a young open source project that's competing with huge tech giants that have had years and many more resources to polish their UX. We’re also using technologies that make our service much more secure, private and complex. 

We’re close to one million users so the next ambition for us is to hit the next million and continue to scale. What really matters to us is our users so we’re always listening to their feedback on the features they’d like to see.

Talk us through why Internxt decided to go the blockchain route? Why is this better for privacy-focussed services?

Decentralized cloud architectures are becoming increasingly popular. These architectures allow for cheaper, more secure, robust, private, and reliable features than those that centralized architectures can provide. 

The traditional centralized storage model is used by all the “big name” providers including Google, Dropbox, Apple, Tresorit, ProtonDrive, Sync, pCloud, MEGA. Users’ data is stored on physical servers that are owned and operated by the cloud provider. 

Decentralized cloud architectures are mainly offered by companies such as us, Sia, Storj, MaidSafe, Filecoin. Some of these offer client-side encryption, whereas some don’t.  

However, that just isn’t enough when looking to truly protect user data, which is the core reason we decided to go the blockchain route. We want our users and their data to be fully protected. 

Unlike any other cloud storage services, Internxt Drive client-side encrypts the user’s data and fragments it so that only they can access it. It brings all the benefits of the cloud without compromising your privacy.

Your company is a newcomer to the very crowded cloud storage market. What makes you think that you will succeed against a myriad of competitors out there?

Privacy is becoming a huge growth driver for Internxt. Every day, more people and businesses start caring about what happens with their data and how it is being used. 

Documentaries like The Social Dilemma and The Great Hack have made people more aware of how their data is used by the platforms they engage with. 

Most of all, people and businesses want to keep it safe from hackers, Big Tech and other companies that want to use it for financial gain. So that’s why services like ours and others in the market are becoming increasingly popular.