Driving the ephemeral web with WebRTC.
PRISM. Snowden. NSA. Big Data. This all leads people to think hard about their privacy. Does it even exist in today’s internet? Apparently not. But WebRTC can change a bit of that. There are many initiatives today geared towards decentralization of the web, and Secretly Meet is such a project.
Its sole purpose? To make sure you can have a secured, private exchange of data with another person over the web, from your browser. While it is no different than other collaboration and data exchange tools, there are a few distinct things to note here:
- It is a one man show, created by Orfeo Morello (@orfeomorello), an Italian developer
- It is placing privacy and ephemeral communications at its center
- It doesn’t care about voice and video sessions
- It is built with WebRTC, specifically the data channel, to achieve minimal backend tracking capabilities
Orfeo was kind enough to spare a bit of his time to answer my questions.
What is Secretly Meet all about?
It is a web application that puts in contact two people quickly in a safe way, without leaving any tracks about the exchanged information (text, links, videos, photos and more). When the user closes the browser, all the content is wiped out.
“Secretly Meet” allows you to create a short-lived web meeting room where all the content lives within your browser. A server is used only to perform the initial handshake between the browsers and the server, after this phase the browser serves all the content shared in peer-to-peer way.
What compelled you to develop such a service?
The initial idea was born around the middle of November of 2013 after reading an article on a blog which talked about the fact that Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion in cash. SnapChat allows you to share the photos that self-destruct after being displayed. So I thought why not create something that goes beyond: why allow the destruction of images only, when you could do to an entire website?
Recently people are realizing how important it is to use tools to defend their personal sphere or in the case of companies that want to protect their business ideas from spying competitors. Many web services have decided to start their business focusing on privacy; the most famous case is the success of the search engine “DuckDuckGo”. So I decided to create a tool that tries to address these issues of privacy in a simple way and to put privacy at the center of the product.
What excites you about working in WebRTC?
WebRTC is a technology that immediately impressed me. I have many years developing software solutions and I have followed the evolution of technologies. A few years ago to be able to use a webcam or a microphone in a software solution, were necessary to install the products of third-party plugins, made with heavy technologies such as Flash or Java applets. And now with WebRTC, thanks to a simple call to getUserMedia saves hours of development work.
What signaling have you decided to integrate on top of WebRTC?
As for my choice of framework that implements the technology I decided to use PeerJS. PeerJS uses PeerServer a simple custom nodejs server for session metadata and candidate signaling. My choice was driven by the fact that I thought that the framework was mature because it was chosen as a basis for development by the Japanese company NTT. They created Skyway that is based on PeerJS.
Backend. What technologies and architecture are you using there?
The backend system is implemented in Java in particular I used the Spring framework. I do not use any database at the moment since the system does not retain any information about the participants and the data exchanged. Most of the application lives in the Client side
Where do you see WebRTC going in 2-5 years?
The future of this technology will depend a lot on how many big names in the industry will decide to implement it in their products; you notice the absence of Microsoft and Apple. I fear that Microsoft, as usual, will decide not to embrace the standards and develop a custom solution by making the developers’ life more difficult. Maybe Apple will add to the Safari browser the support of the technology once it will be finalized and ready for production.
If you had one piece of advice for those thinking of adopting WebRTC, what would it be?
Take care about WebRTC, it is a technology that is slowly starting to become a standard but it can already be used in production. For those people approaching it and want to develop a solution based on this technology must take into account the risks and additional costs of development in the attempt to eliminate some incompatibility between different browsers.
What’s next for Secretly Meet?
Surely the further development of the system will be improved in with regards to safety of the data exchanged between users. I also intend to create REST APIs that will be made available to anyone who wants to interface to the system.
Follow us on @secretlymeet.
The interviews are intended to give different viewpoints than my own – you can read more WebRTC interviews.