Alternative app stores for Proton Mail’s Android app

UPDATE Sept 8th, 2019This blog post has been reported in some mainstream media as Proton Mail is considering to “partner with Huawei”. Proton Mail is not partnering with Huawei. We are simply considering allowing Proton Mail to be used by people with Huawei devices. That is very different. A better explanation can be found here.

At Proton Mail, our mission is to make online privacy accessible to as many people as possible. Today, when it comes to Android, the world’s most popular mobile operating system, the primary means of application distribution is through the Google Play store. However, for many people around the world, this is either not an option (like in China) or not a great choice for privacy reasons. 

We’ve written and talked a lot about how Google doesn’t respect users’ privacy. From their not-quite-confidential mode to their privacy smokescreen campaign, Google has tried to offer the illusion of choice and privacy without actually delivering these things to their users — all to preserve enormous profits selling user data to advertisers

However, because Google controls Android, and makes their Play store the default app store on Android devices, it is the only option for reaching the majority of the world’s Android users. A similar situation exists with the iOS app store, which is another example of a distribution monopoly. As such, any app developer (Proton Mail included) must first prioritize these two distribution channels in order to reach the largest number of people.

However, it is also important to support other distribution channels to provide users with more choices and advance our vision of accessible privacy. In this post, we will discuss some of the possibilities we are considering and our plans for this area in the future.

Expanding access to privacy

In order to expand access to the privacy tools we develop (currently Proton Mail, Proton VPN, Proton Calendar, and eventually Proton Drive), we plan to publish our apps on a number of alternative app stores for Android. A few possibilities are presently under consideration.

First, we plan to release our apps on F-droid, an open source Android app repository, which is today one of the most popular alternative app stores. In addition to F-droid, we are also considering a few additional app distribution channels, including the Samsung Galaxy Store, the Amazon App store, and the Huawei AppGallery. Samsung and Huawei are, respectively, the largest and second-largest smartphone manufacturers in the world.

Recently, due to an ongoing dispute between the US and China, it is possible that all Huawei devices globally (not just the devices in China) would no longer have access to the Google Play store, making it impossible for Huawei device users to download or update the Proton Mail app. As Huawei devices are especially popular in developing countries where Proton has many users, publishing on the Huawei AppGallery could become essential to continue supporting these user communities.

When we publish on these alternative platforms, we will be providing additional details and information to the community, and we will prioritize according to the impact. There have been past incidents of fake Proton apps published on other distribution platforms, so we encourage users to be vigilant. It is also important to keep in mind that mobile device security is intimately connected to the preloaded operating system, so whether it is Apple, Samsung, Google, or Huawei, regardless of how you download your apps, you are also relying on your device manufacturer to safeguard your privacy.

If you have doubts about whether a Proton app that you see online is legitimate or not, don’t hesitate to get in touch (via our support site or on social media) to ask us. Our mission is to build a better Internet, where everyone has access to privacy and security, and we look forward to making our apps not only easier to use, but also more widely available. 

Best Regards,
The Proton Mail Team

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