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January 23, 2015

Kim Dotcom Soldiers On with 'NSA-Proof' Skype-Killer

Mega is growing! Controversial tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom has released a Skype competitor dubbed MegaChat—a browser-based encrypted video calling and file-sharing app.

MegaChat, which is now in beta, is all about privacy and Dotcom’s concept of Internet freedom. It’s meant to be “NSA-proof.” Right now it offers video and audio calling, with text chat and video conferencing planned as additions. Dotcom said that users have already placed over 500,000 calls since yesterday when it went live.

It’s no coincidence that Kim Dotcom first announced MegaChat in February last year, when he connected WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and whistleblower and insider threat poster boy Edward Snowden with an encrypted VoIP call.

MegaChat is being positioned as a secure alternative to Microsoft’s Skype, which Snowden documents have shown cooperated with the National Security Agency in its widespread data harvesting on U.S. citizens. It employs User Controlled Encryption (UCE), which means it provides users with a decryption key to send to people to allow them to access files and messages. In the past UCE has been shown to be hackable however—so Dotcom is also offering a bounty to anyone who finds a security bug.

The move comes as the saga of Dotcom, a Germany-born hacker, continues to drag on.  In the 1990s he faced convictions for computer fraud, embezzlement and insider trading. But he went on to start Megaupload, a Hong Kong-based file-sharing site that the U.S. government saw as a haven of international piracy. In January 2012 the Feds and local authorities raided his mansion in New Zealand, and shut down Megaupload altogether. Many, including Steve Wozniak, criticized the US government for its actions, calling them outsized and unwarranted.

New Zealand threw Dotcom in jail but refused to let the Americans extradite him. Now out on bail, he still faces criminal charges in the U.S. of copyright infringement, online piracy and money laundering, plus a civil case brought in April 2014 by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

In July 2014, he added a civil forfeiture case to the mix, when the US attempted to seize millions of dollars in bank accounts in Hong Kong and New Zealand, multiple cars, four jet skis, the mansion, several cars, two 180-inch TVs, three 82-inch TVs, a $10,000 watch and a photograph by Olaf Mueller worth over $100,000.

In January of 2013, he started Mega, a new site for exchanging files that was devoted to “privacy,” Kim said, not piracy. It counts 15 million users and has so far avoided government crackdowns.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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