Kim Dotcom, the controversial German expat living in New Zealand whose file-sharing site was busted by U.S. federal agents, has launched an end-to-end encrypted voice and video chat service that operates through the browser and is free to anyone with an account on his service.
To say Dotcom is controversial is like saying Steve Ballmer is a little loud. Born Kim Schmitz in Germany, he set up his company, Megaupload, as a file-sharing service. The site was accused of supporting and even condoning illegal activities such as piracy. He bounced around a few countries before settling in New Zealand in 2010, where he thought he'd be safe from the law. He thought wrong.
On January 19, 2012, federal agents from the U.S. and local New Zealand authorities arrested him and seized all of his assets, from cars to bank accounts to Megaupload itself. The case has slowly fallen apart and New Zealander's have come to resent the U.S. investigators' intrusion and the way the raid was handled, but he has a deportation hearing to the U.S. to face criminal charges of encouraging piracy and copyright violations this summer.
Since regaining most of his assets, he started a new file-sharing service called Mega. The service has 15 million registered users who will now have access to MegaChat, which promises to keep audio and video chats secure and private. Dotcom announced the news via Twitter.
Among the many news items leaked by Edward Snowden was the claim that Microsoft helped the NSA circumvent Skype encryption, giving the NSA free reign to spy on any Skype user. Dotcom himself has claimed "No U.S.-based online service provider can be trusted with your data. Skype has no choice. They must provide the U.S. government with backdoors."
At this stage, only audio and video chat is available. Video conferencing and text chatting will come later.
While Mega is great for file sharing, its track record for security is a little dubious. Right after its launch, there was criticism of the implementation of the site's security, from cross-site scripting flaws to poorly implemented encryption, and later it was found that Mega passwords could be extracted with basic hacking tools.
Plus, Dotcom himself has claimed that there are backdoors in Chrome and Firefox, so if you are using them to browse, how can he guarantee end-to-end encryption?
No doubt hackers on both sides are putting MegaChat through its paces, so we should know in a few days or weeks if it lives up to the promises.