PhotoA Seattle-based startup called Privacy Labs recently unveiled a device that allows everyday consumers to send and receive email, as well as utilize contacts and calendar services, from their own personal web domain.

The device, dubbed “Helm,” was born out of the belief that “everyone should have the right to their online lives,” according to co-founder and CEO Giri Sreenivas. Instead of storing information in the cloud, information is stored and encrypted in the device.

“Right now, nearly all of the data that comprises your online life is stored in a massive data center,” Sreenivas wrote in a blog post. “You don’t own it. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it — and you don’t know who can. That dream of a device that would make data ‘ownable’ to the individual — not a stranger — is what led to Helm.”

Personal computer server

In terms of size, the Helm Personal Server isn’t very large; it’s about as big as an upside-down book. It sits on a table or desk, connects to a home network, and pairs with an app that lets users create their own domain name, passwords, and recovery keys.

It costs $499, which includes 128 gigabytes of local storage and a year of email, calendar, contacts, and a web domain for multiple users. After the first year, owners pay an annual subscription fee of $99.

Privacy Labs says it plans to add services other than email, contacts, and calendar. Future services will include photo storage, password management, and virtual private networking.

Although personal email servers already exist, Helm was created with the aim of being easy to configure and maintain for the average user. It takes just three minutes to set up.

“With Helm, you can be safe, secure, and in control, knowing your data is right where it should be: with you, so you can live online on your own terms,” Sreenivas wrote. “It all starts with email, and over the coming months and years, our team will be working on a number of additional services, each bringing you one step closer to total autonomy online.”

Future aspirations

Privacy Labs eventually wants to become a “digital-identity hub” for everything consumers do on the internet, according to Bloomberg. In an age where digital security is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds, Privacy Labs wants to give consumers total control of their data and make it so that companies have to ask for access.

“We want to help people break through the way the internet works today and not engage with Google and other big tech companies,” Sreenivas told Bloomberg, adding that he sees the iPhone as Helm’s only major competitor.

“Apple Inc. has been putting more data and computing processes on the device, and it increasingly stresses privacy benefits. Still, iPhones continue to rely on cloud-based services like iCloud and the devices regularly ping data centers run by internet giants like Google, he said,” according to Bloomberg.


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