According to Declan McCullagh's WIRED.COM
article "PGP: Happy Birthday to You
", June 5, 2001
marked the ten year anniversary of the release of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy
), a software application that allowed users "to encode their files and e-mail messages using state of the art encryption algorithms
". Phil Zimmerman, creator of PGP
, met with controversy with in the course of the last decade, including such events as a potential patent infringement
upon a rival information security company, a US government
investigation due to federal law
then treating encryption products sold overseas as munitions
, and the relative business success that the product entailed. Zimmerman is heading in new directions with his encryption technology, making it far easier to use (as ease of use is its main stumbling block) and giving the world back its privacy.
While it should be celebrated that Network Associates (the company that acquired Pretty Good Privacy, Incorporated) is still in business and that PGP remains "the gold standard for e-mail encryption" after ten years, it is rather disappointing that technology as important as encryption, which serves to preserve a user's privacy in an online world where practically anything about him can be acquired, depends so much on market trends. It is unfortunate that money determines the rate by which technology is developed. Regardless of whether or not the device or application being developed plays a key role in any important issue, money determines its overall success. What with privacy being eroded away more and more with the pervasiveness and ubiquity of advertisers, it would stand to reason that confidentiality would be considered more precious a thing to keep safe and that more measures be taken to preserve it.
Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) was fortunate enough to have operated in an economics-free zone and to invent technology without financial hindrance. What came out of Xerox PARC were graphic user interfaces (GUIs), the Ethernet, and What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) technology. Those three contributions have helped shape the Internet in tremendous ways and molded the method by which we perceive communication and technology today. They did not have to worry about costs nor did they have to concern themselves with consumer trends. With those barriers out of the way, there was no limit to what they could have developed. Look now at how their ingenuity is at the heart of modern computing. The derivatives products alone like DSL, Windows, et al would not have been possible if not for the pioneering ventures these people had.
Without the hindrance of profit margins and market share, encryption technology should advance well because of its significance to what its function is. Until the world can live without a paycheck, important things like encryption technology may just have to take a back seat in the development car until someone figures out a way for people to make cash from it. Only then will they appreciate its importance.