I am Ravi Dwivedi, a free software and privacy activist. I help free software projects Debian and LibreOffice. Currently, I am a part of prav project.
I would like to post about prav app project which is developing messaging apps for popular platforms to make privacy and software freedom accessible to general audience.
In a world where using WhatsApp has become a norm, that wasn’t really a choice.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 17 members from Maharashtra, and a few from various other states. Details are at https://prav.app/become-a-member.
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.
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 - Prav app
To help you explain Prav, we’ve put together a poster below which you can share with people
- We are currently in private beta testing. Attached below is a screenshot of prav app. If you’re not ready to join as a member yet, you can still sign up to be a beta tester. This will give you early access to the app, where you can test out features and let us know what is or isn’t working. Register here: Private Beta Release Party - Prav app
Besides the above, you can learn more about the project by visiting our website, https://prav.app. Alternatively, you can call or email any of the undersigned for more information and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have:
Email: prav at fsci dot in
Praveen +91 9561745712 (English, Malayalam, Hindi)
Ravi +91 9535650745 (English, Hindi)
Badri +91 9442990598 (Tamil, English)
Vinay +91 9108313399 (English, Kannada, Telugu)
Credits: Pirate Praveen for drafting the first version, Ravi and badri for adding points and improving it. Badri for the poster.