Prav App messaging cooperative

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Praveen Arimbrathodiyil

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Apr 2, 2023, 6:57:50 AM4/2/23
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Hi,


Unpopular policies

In January 2021, popular messaging app WhatsApp changed their privacy
policy to combine all the data it gets with Facebook, giving users only
two choices: accept the new privacy policy, or leave WhatsApp altogether.

In a world where using WhatsApp has become a norm, that wasn’t really a
choice.

There were many users who did not like this new privacy policy. They
tried to leave WhatsApp for other messaging apps, like Telegram and
Signal. A sizable amount of users disagreed with the push by WhatsApp,
but leaving a popular app like WhatsApp comes with its own costs—losing
touch with contacts on WhatsApp. That meant, unless they were willing to
be cut out from a lot of their contacts, people had to still leave one
foot in the WhatsApp door.

How different the situation is with phone numbers! If you had similar
disagreements with a phone company A, you could have easily switch to
any other phone company B and still be able to talk to other contacts by
calls and SMS. Your contacts need not switch to company B to communicate
with you. (In fact, the reason phone companies don’t make decisions like
this is because they know customers will immediately leave them for a
better provider. The ability for users to leave keeps phone companies
under control).
A solution: XMPP

Imagine if all messaging apps were like phone and email, where users of
any app can contact with users of other apps. In the above example,
people would have a real choice to leave WhatsApp and just use any other
service.

This is exactly what we need.

XMPP is a protocol that lets this happen. For the uninitiated, you can
think of XMPP as a superpowered SMS, which works over the Internet and
allows modern features like calls and image-sharing. It’s not a single
company like WhatsApp but a standard that different companies can
provide for.

Messaging apps and services that that use XMPP can talk to each other.
Examples of such apps are: Blabber, Snikket, Siskin, and more (think of
these like Google SMS, Samsung SMS, Silence, and any other SMS app).
Examples of XMPP service providers include disroot.org, poddery.com,
monocles.de, and a whole bunch more (think of these as different service
providers, like BSNL, Vi, or Airtel).

To drive home the point: any user registered on any XMPP service can
talk to other users of any other XMPP service. (disroot.org users and
poddery.com users can send each other messages, just like BSNL users can
exchange SMSes and calls with people on Airtel). This gives users choice
of service providers: a single company does not control everything, and
we won’t be forced to accept arbitrary terms by services like WhatsApp
to be in touch with others.
Ease of adoption

Unfortunately, the current onboarding process on most XMPP services is
not user friendly at all compared to WhatsApp. This issue, combined with
the lack of awareness about XMPP services among common people, has made
mass adoption difficult.

Things don’t have to be this way, and Quicksy is a leading example of
this. Like WhatsApp, Quicksy allows users to register in a few taps by
entering their phone number and receiving an OTP. But because it’s an
XMPP service, Quicksy users can talk to users on other XMPP services.

We are developing the Prav app to complement Quicksy by providing a
compatible app (Prav users can talk with Quicksy users) and offering
more choice to users. People can easily sign up for Prav in the same way
they do for Quicksy, but now they have more than one alternative to
choose from. Before, the choice only existed for people willing to
figure out the complex setup process on other XMPP providers; with Prav
they now have another easy-to-set-up alternative.
Respects users’ freedom

Our app is ‘free software’, which means users get freedom to run, study,
modify, share and share the modified versions. When we say ‘free’, we
mean ‘freedom’ and not ‘free-of-cost’. To avoid ambiguity of the word
‘free’, we also call it swatantra software. Examples of free software
are VLC Media Player, Firefox, Debian, Quicksy, Prav etc. You can learn
more about Free Software and why it is important here 1.

This means that the original source code behind a swatantra app is
freely available for anyone to inspect; people can conduct independent
security audits instead of having to trust a company’s word about what
data they are or are not collecting. Such an auditing can also verify
whether the app sends messages in end-to-end encrypted form or not.

In contrast, WhatsApp does not provide source code for their app and we
can never verify independently whether the app encrypts messages as they
claim.
Running as a cooperative

Choice aside, Quicksy is run by a single person, which has its own
drawbacks—most significantly, having a single point of failure if
something goes wrong. We want to offer Prav as a cooperative, adding
more resilience by managing the service as a group, having a democratic
decision making structure.

In India, cooperative societies can be registered under state
cooperative laws or under central laws. Only people from the same state
can become members if we register under any state cooperative laws. So,
we prefer registering as a Multi State Cooperative Society to allow
people from different states to join as members. Members elect the
leadership team of a cooperative for a specific term and there will be
regular elections to elect the leadership team giving members democratic
control over the cooperative.

Every member will have one vote irrespective of the number of shares
they hold in the cooperative, making it impossible for big companies to
aquire the cooperative and take control of decisions. Acquisition by big
companies is an issue as it can compromise the service: as an example,
WhatsApp was an independent company, but it was eventually bought up by
Facebook, which compromised the service in may ways, such as by
weakening its privacy policy over the years.
Next steps

For this project to be successful, we need more people to join as
members of the Multi State Cooperative Society. By law, we need at least
50 members each from two Indian states before we can do the registration.

At the moment, we have 50+ members from Kerala, 22 members from
Maharashtra, and a few from various other states. Details are at
https://prav.app/become-a-member 2.

By registering as a member of the Prav Multi State Cooperative Society,
you can help us with your experience, knowledge and the amount that you
give for buying shares will help us in funding for the app and running
the service. Plus, your membership will help us cover the legal
requirements for becoming a cooperative society.

In case, we fail to reach 50 members from a second state by June 15 this
year, we plan to register as a cooperative in Kerala. This is an
intermediate measure: we will still work to meet the necessary
requirements in other states, and once that’s done, we will register as
a Multi State Cooperative Society as originally planned.
How you can help

If we don’t get enough members by June 15th 2023, we will have to go
through a two-step process to get members. To prevent this, we’re trying
to onboard members as soon as possible—and we need your help!

You can register as a member and spread the word to your friends to
register as well, by visiting Become a Member -
https://prav.app/become-a-member/

Read More
https://azadmaidan.in/t/prav-app-reclaiming-choice-of-service-providers/83
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