Big Brother, in its governmental and corporate forms, has been watching us for many years. One of its most aggressive ongoing forms started with the USA PATRIOT Act of October 2001, which laid the foundation for an unprecedented mass surveillance apparatus which extends beyond American borders. Meanwhile, companies like Google and Facebook have built multi-billion dollar business models out of the sale and collection of user data. Under this framework, being watched, located and data mined all across the internet seems to be inescapable.
Thankfully, there is a counter-movement which seeks to use strong cryptography in order to maximize individual privacy and security. As a reaction to the revelations provided by individuals like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, internet users have become more savvy and inclined to make use of applications that don’t track them and don’t associate their browsing activity with their identity.
Not so long ago, Google seemed to be a ubiquitous behemoth with whom nobody can compete. But in recent years, we’ve seen how DuckDuckGo has taken on the mission to replace “googling” by granting privacy and anonymity, ProtonMail has become a serious contender to Gmail while offering end-to-end encryption, the Tor browser has become just as user-friendly as Chrome and the open-source instant messaging app Signal has become the standard in confidential communication.
And then there is Graphite, a service which tries to take on two of the Orwellian data-mining tools that one can find in Google Suite: Docs and Drive. By offering user-owned encryption keys and a team system which keeps away unwanted intruders, groups of individuals and companies can manage their documents and work on collective projects with more confidentiality.
Since Bitcoin Magazine last reported on the collaboration between Graphite and Stealthy, the application has undergone more development. Some issues have been polished and the product is now ready to face off with the big, colorful G. What follows in this article is a side-by-side comparison of their features and functionalities.
Graphite vs. Google Docs
First of all, let’s mention the great features that might convince you that Graphite is a worthy Google Docs competitor.
For starters, it’s worth emphasizing the open-source nature of the software. Anybody can download the client from GitHub, audit or make changes to the code and even run it on a self-hosted server, which guarantees more privacy than Google’s cloud storage. This is an advantage in itself that many enterprises should consider leveraging if they care about privacy and confidentiality.
Furthermore, as Graphite lead developer Justin Hunter explained, the feature can also circumvent potential cases of censorship.
“If Graphite were to ever be blocked in a country (meaning access to graphitedocs.com was blocked), users in that country could run Graphite on their computer without having to access graphitedocs.com,” he said. “For real-time collaboration to work in that situation, the users would also need to run the Graphite server locally, which is also open source. It provides a websocket server that enables those real-time connections. While a fork is not necessary to do all of this, a clone of the repositories is.”
Secondly, it’s encrypted with keys that you, the user, control. Therefore, you can make sure that the people who contribute to documents are the one you choose; nobody else who gets the link is able to read the contents. This is useful for journalists who want to protect their sources, NGOs that work with multiple partners but require more privacy and businesses that need to share files and can’t afford to have leaks.
If you choose convenience over data autonomy by using the online service (as opposed to self-hosting Graphite locally), you may also opt in for some interesting Pro features: You can create forms, share documents and edit them in real time with an entire team that you establish; upload files as large as 25 MB each; and manage teams which automatically receive their own encryption keys.
Graphite vs. Google Drive
The service still isn’t as generous as Google Drive in terms of storage space (which allows you to upload entire gigabytes), but the advanced cryptography and security make up for this temporary limitation, as improvements are coming.
“Graphite’s free version is a lightweight version of Google’s G-Suite, whereas the Pro version gets a lot closer to the additional tools one would expect from G-Suite,” Hunter said. “With Graphite Pro, you get contacts mapping and property editing of your contact. You get Graphite Forms, which allows…