One of the biggest and most unexpected news from the tech world this week was the acquisition of Keybase by Zoom. Video communications app Zoom is one of the big winners of the current COVID-19 pandemic but received criticism with regards to privacy and security. In contrast, Keybase has done a lot of exciting things in the realm of zero-knowledge, end-to-end encrypted tools for individuals and businesses alike, but appears stuck in their nerd and crypto niche.
I found out about the acquisition on Twitter, where a lot of people have negative attitudes and loudly proclaim deleting their Keybase accounts. The Keybase blog post doesn’t sound overly optimistic in terms of its future, and many expect the app to land in the Incredible Journey graveyard in the foreseeable future.
Selling their startup is a decision that I don’t assume any founder takes lightly, so I am very wary of accusing anybody of being a sell-out. At the same time, I am worried because every M&A activity decreases the number of independent players on the market, and loss of competition generally hurts consumers, so I always feel a little sad. A good counter-argument, however, is that we have a strong dominance of the so-called GAFAM - Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. Two independent players teaming up stand a better chance against the behemoths.
I am cautiously optimistic here. Zoom’s biggest competitors are Microsoft (with both MS Teams and Skype) and Google (Meet), both of which are part of a business application suite. Keybase has a team product with team chat and file storage, all end-to-end encrypted. Zoom could merge with this to move beyond video calls and offer a full zero-knowledge collaboration suite for businesses. Also, even if it doesn’t play out like this, bringing encryption to mainstream Zoom is a huge win.
I don’t expect the Keybase app to shut down soon as I assume it’s not too costly to keep it up, and last but not least, the Stellar foundation might step up. We could even end up with an open-source Keybase server. Their client-side code is already open-source. Still, I’d love to hear more about their plans soon to get a bit of confidence before investing time and effort in using Keybase.