The Seattle-area entrepreneurs today announced a $4 million seed round led by Instacart and Coinbase investor Initialized Capital, with participation from Lemnos Labs, Liquid 2 Ventures, CrunchFund, and Fuel Capital. Angel investors Steve Jang, Lee Linden, and Geoff Entress also invested.
The new Bellevue, Wash.-based company is called Privacy Labs. The co-founders are staying quiet in regard to details about what exactly they are building and the technology that powers the product. But the general idea is to help everyday users “take control of their data” and to “decentralize” the internet.
“We are excited to bring our unique mix of experiences developing security products and consumer products to bear on the most important and challenging consumer privacy and security problems we all face today,” Sreenivas told GeekWire.
Here’s a bit more from the company’s press release:
As mobile device usage has exploded, consumers have wanted ease and access to their data at their fingertips. Technology companies defaulted to centralized services running in the cloud as the easiest way to meet this need. As a result, consumers have unknowingly traded the privacy and security of their data for access to these free services. Subsequent leaks and reporting have made it clear that entrusting third parties with sensitive personal data opens consumers to the risk of hacking and government surveillance overreach.
Here’s a description from the company’s website:
Our purpose is to help people be free, private and secure online. The last two major computing revolutions brought us desktops on every desk and a mobile phone in every pocket. We are on the verge of a new computing revolution – one that puts the user and their data first by decentralizing the net. This will require new approaches to user experiences, design, marketing, engineering and delivering products to users. We are building the foundation for this transformation.
There are also some other clues that point to what Privacy Labs is building. The company created an open source project this past June called Project Oasis, which allows users to “reclaim their email from centralized services like Gmail and store their data on hardware they own.” From the Project Oasis GitHub page:
Oasis automates the setup of a Raspberry Pi email server meant to run from inside your home. In the home environment, ISPs and user equipment can make it difficult to externally reach home-based email servers due to port blocking. Also, in most cases it’s expensive to obtain a static IP address which is necessary to successfully run a mail server.
To work around these issues Oasis provisions a cloud-based component that acts as a gateway to your home-based Raspberry Pi server. This cloud component is stateless and all data received is immediately forwarded to your pi for safe storage.
In October, the founders showed off their “personal email server” at a Maker Faire event in Oakland.
“Unsurprisingly, many people made references to Hillary Clinton’s private email server,” Sigurdson wrote in a blog post that has since been taken down. “It’s not a coincidence that someone concerned with their privacy would have an email solution that is similar to what we’re providing. It’s the best way to ensure that you maintain control of your personal data. She hired IT consultants and spent thousands of dollars for her solution. We are focused on delivering a secure, simple and easy to use product that is accessible to everyone.”
Sreenivas and Sigurdson previously co-founded Mobilisafe, a Seattle mobile device security startup that raised investment from Madrona Venture Group, Trilogy Equity Partners, and T-Mobile’s venture arm before it was acquired by Boston-based Rapid7 in 2012. They also worked together at T-Mobile as mobile software architects prior to launching Mobilsafe.
Sreenivas, a Stanford grad, also spent more than three years as a software engineer at Lockheed Martin. Sigurdson, a Harvard grad, worked at Wave Systems for nearly eight years before joining T-Mobile.
The co-founders plan to use the fresh funding to bring on another eight or so employees. As a result of the new funding, Initialized Capital Managing Partner Garry Tan is joining the board.
“As engineers, designers, and product makers, we have a duty to create secure, private, and easy to use ways for people to communicate, store all their information, and own it completely,” Tan said in a statement. “Technology cost curves, the rise of very powerful open source, and the core product/engineering expertise of the Privacy Labs team means we have a chance to create a world where free citizens have exactly that.”