Google shifts on email encryption tool, leaving its fate unclear

Despite announcing it almost three years ago, Google hasn't officially put the tool on the Chrome Web Store

Google is asking developers to take over its effort to make end-to-end email encryption more user-friendly, raising questions over whether it'll ever become an official feature in the company’s browser.

On Friday, the search giant said its email encryption tool, originally announced in 2014, was no longer a Google product. Instead, it's become a "full community-driven open source project," the company said in a blog post.

The tool is designed to work as an extension to Google's Chrome browser that uses the OpenPGP standard to encrypt emails, ensuring that only the recipient can read them -- and not the email provider or a government.

The main goal of Google's project was to make OpenPGP easier to use. It was announced amid growing scrutiny over U.S. surveillance efforts following disclosures from noted leaker Edward Snowden.

However, the search giant hasn't made the extension officially available on its Chrome Web Store. Instead, the project's source code has only been made available on GitHub, a software collaboration site, making the extension harder to install, especially for non-technical users.

The GitHub page also hasn't been frequently updated, so it's unclear how serious the search giant has been about the effort, or if others will take up the project.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But the GitHub page is offering the source code to what's called E2EMail, a Chrome extension that works with Gmail. "At this stage, we recommend you use it only for testing and UI feedback," the page says.

basic E2EMail

A screenshot of the E2EMail extension.

Back in Dec. 2014, Google also said that its end-to-end encryption tool still wasn't as "usable as it needs to be," pointing to the problem of managing the public keys used in PGP encryption. Often, the keys necessary to exchange secure messages are held on a public server or sent via email, but the authenticity of the user providing them is never verified.

Last month, Google announced a separate open-source project, called Key Transparency, that tries to solve this problem. It essentially works as a lookup service for public keys. However, as a safeguard, all the logs can be audited to track for any suspicious activity.

In Friday's blog post, Google said the Key Transparency project was "crucial" to the development of its end-to-end email encryption efforts.

"Key discovery and distribution lie at the heart of the usability challenges that OpenPGP implementations have faced," it said.

Although Google's email encryption tool is no longer a company-led product, Google is still hoping to integrate it with its Key Transparency project, according to the blog post.

In the midst of Google's effort, others are also developing new email encryption protocols, too. Last month, the developer behind Lavabit, an email service Edward Snowden used, released its own open-source encrypted email standard for surveillance-proof messaging.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Googlesecurity

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?