Exclusive: ProtonMail Denies Planning ICO, Says Works on Other Blockchain Projects

ProtonMail’s co-founder Andy Yen clarified for Cryptovest the rumors surrounding a potential ICO by the company and provided details on upcoming blockchain projects.

ProtonMail, the world's largest encrypted email service with over 1 million users, has rebuffed rumors it is working on an initial coin offering (ICO) project. However, Andy Yen, one of the three co-founders who started the company in 2014 at the CERN research facility, told Cryptovest that ProtonMail has been studying the potential uses of blockchain technology in the sphere of transparency and security, a key issue for its products and services.

In a breakdown of events, it all started when a job offer appeared on ProtonMail’s website a few days ago, seeking a blockchain developer with “experience in developing secure Ethereum smart contracts” that has “participated in [a] successful ICO”. After that, the internet exploded with rumors that ProtonMail is planning an ICO.

Confirmation seems to have come when Bart Butler, the company’s CTO, sent out a tweet speaking of tokens and insisting that this isn’t a cash grab. We later took a look at a ProtonMail-owned website called ProtonCoin, which states that ProtonCoin is “the building block” for a decentralized project that aims to revolutionize participation rights on the platform.

We asked ProtonMail for clarification on this and a spokesperson denied any intention of the company to start an ICO.

“These rumors are just rumors actually,” the spokesperson said.

The fact that the job ad still listed participation in a successful ICO as a prerequisite was still a bit suspicious, however. We also noticed that Bart Butler’s tweet disappeared shortly after the fiasco began.

Seeing as ProtonMail was willing to communicate with us, we asked about the website and Bart Butler’s tweets. This got us in direct email conversation with Andy Yen.

“The views expressed by our employees on social media are their own, and not necessarily the views of the company, and there are certainly a lot of diverse views within the company. Bart’s tweets were deleted because they were misinterpreted by people who are quickly jumping to conclusions without being in full possession of the facts,” he said.

That deals with the tweets, but what about the job listing asking for previous experience writing Ehtereum smart contracts and participation in a successful ICO?

“We are actively conducting research into using blockchain technology to solve the key transparency problem. ProtonMail is one of the world’s largest key directories, so this problem is very relevant to us,” Yen told us.

This is the first time that we hear of this project, but he declined to provide any further details about it, citing that “it is still an early stage project” and that the company doesn’t want to announce things prematurely.

Yen also helped clarify ProtonMail’s future intentions with blockchain technology a little further.

“What is true is that there are a number of novel ways blockchain can be leveraged to improve email security, ethIKS [...] being just one example. We are active in research and development in this area, and are also hiring to strengthen our research efforts in this area. But researching applications of blockchain to email security does not imply we are going to do an ICO. If anything, it shows that we are doing things the right way - finding good use cases of blockchain instead of trying to cash into the mania.

In my opinion, one of the big problems right now is that any company that is doing work on blockchain is automatically assumed to be preparing an ICO. People seem to be unable to believe that there are companies out there who are not trying to make a quick buck, and are actually trying to use blockchain for relevant and useful things. It is sad that our efforts to use blockchain the way it is intended are not being supported by the community, and that instead, people are jumping to conclusions. As it often happens when people jump to conclusions, they jump to the wrong one,” Yen added.

Regarding the ProtonCoin domain, we can simply visit a Reddit thread started by a spokesperson for the ProtonMail team that made some clarifications on the subject.

“Protoncoin.com is indeed owned by ProtonMail, but the site contains no details as you might have noticed. We actually own hundreds of Proton domain names, many of which are parked in this fashion, to prevent trademark infringement by others,” the company said in its statement.

While there are still some questions regarding the ProtonCoin domain, the responses we got from the company helped clear some of the fog regarding a variety of subjects including the specific scope of ProtonMail’s blockchain research.