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Respecting Data and Enhancing Privacy in the Era of Cloud Collaboration


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    Conventional wisdom has long held that privacy is dead in the digital age. Users, it was believed, were willing to trade their personal information for simple cloud-based collaboration experiences. However, recent developments in the tech industry, particularly with Apple and Google Workspace, are challenging this notion. Privacy is not only alive but is quickly becoming a key capability upon which these tech giants are competing.

    And, earlier this week, Swiss privacy company Proton launched Proton Docs, positioning it as a secure alternative to Google Docs for individual consumers and small businesses (SMBs).  Proton Docs offers end-to-end encrypted (E2E) document creation, editing, and collaboration, integrated with Proton's cloud storage product, Drive. The implementation is similar in numerous respects to Google Workspace Client Side Encryption (CSE).  Both solutions encrypt user data client-side before the information is stored in the cloud – which guarantees that not even cloud application providers can access users' content or metadata.

    Unlike Google Workspace and Microsoft Office 365 which are targeted toward commercial and government organizations of all sizes – Proton’s offering is tailored for individual consumers and SMBs.  Thus, the reality of privacy-enhanced cloud collaboration looks like this:

    1. Privacy-conscious individuals and small businesses are the primary adopters of Proton's privacy-enhanced apps in their current form.

    2. Commercial businesses and government enterprises are fully committed to Google Workspace and Microsoft Office 365 which are very deeply ingrained into corporate workflows.

    3. A growing percentage of commercial and government enterprises are rightfully concerned about the implications of entrusting all of their sensitive data to Google and Microsoft, and therefore they are adopting solutions like Virtru to separate trust.  Separating trust means they can simultaneously leverage the power of cloud collaboration suites, but without sacrificing control of their sensitive data.

    Looking ahead, what's most plausible for the future of privacy-enhanced cloud collaboration?

    1. A growing niche market for privacy-first solutions like Proton Docs, particularly among individual users and small businesses that prioritize data privacy.

    2. The continued dominance of hyperscaler suites (Google Workspace, Office 365) in the corporate world, especially for larger organizations.

    3. Increased adoption of third-party encryption and privacy tools like Virtru among businesses using mainstream cloud collaboration suites, allowing them to enhance privacy without completely overhauling their productivity ecosystems.

    In conclusion, while Proton Docs represents a commendable advancement in privacy-focused productivity tools, its primary impact in the near term will likely be in reshaping expectations around data privacy for individuals and SMBs. For larger organizations, the future lies in finding the right balance between functionality, convenience, and privacy - a challenge that will continue to shape the productivity software landscape. The smartest among them will partner with privacy-enhancing technologies like Virtru, enabling them to leverage cloud collaboration tools without fully entrusting their data to tech giants.

    Matt Howard

    Matt Howard

    A proven executive and entrepreneur with over 25 years experience developing high-growth software companies, Matt serves as Virtu’s CMO and leads all aspects of the company’s go-to-market motion within the data protection and Zero Trust security ecosystems.

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