Email Bunker: Startup Is Offering In-Home Servers

With Gmail under fire for letting app developers access email data, here is a new type of email service that promises to not let anyone access anything.

Launched this week by Giri Sreenivas and Dirk Sigurdson, Helm provides consumers with their own cloud-based email servers, which they run out of their homes. All Helm wants to know about you is your name, address, payment information, domain, DNS records and so forth.

Like all such schemes, Helm was started with only the highest ideals in mind.

“We the people have a right to live life on our own terms,” the Seattle-based founders say in their mission statement. “To know where our data is stored, and to have control over it at all times. To protect our families from unwanted intrusion and invasive surveillance.”

They add that "people have a primary connection to the physical place where their stuff lives."

Unlike services like Yahoo Mail, Helm will not be tracking peoples’ email activity to serve up to advertisers.



There’s only one hangup — the price tag. It costs $500 to purchase a Helm server, which looks like an upended book or a small tent. And there’s a $99-per-year subscription charge, although the first year is for free.

For that price, you also get 120 gb of storage, an improvement over cloud-based email providers like Google that “only offer you 15 GB across all services,” the company says. “Then they charge you monthly when you need more storage.”

And you also get a “custom domain registration with DNS records and unlimited email account and aliases.” 

Two questions. What’s the profit potential for something like this? Are they going to run into the ground after a year of giving away free subscriptions? Or are they going to nick you with incremental fees for almost everything, finally offering Netflix as well?

More importantly from our skewed perspective, what does it mean for email marketers? Are Helm’s spam folders going to be virtual digital moats that flag almost anything?

In fairness, that doesn’t seem to be the main value proposition — it’s more about data control.

In that way, it’s not unlike Solid, the product being offered by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the world wide web, and his new company Inrupt. Solid allows individuals store their data, including email addresses and social media activity, in a  Solid POD (personal online data store). Outsiders can’t touch it.

There seems to be a trend building around the central idea of data control.

Helm doesn’t seem to be offering to protect social media activity yet: It observes that “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.”

It remains to be seen whether Helm will be a disruptor in the email space. If it looks like they are a real threat to Gmail, Google can always buy them.



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