The 1Malaysia E-mail Project

There was great furor yesterday on Twitter with the #1malaysiaemail hashtag. I’m happy to say I did not participate :) However, I’ve been thinking a lot about it, especially since I’ve heard about this for a while, and heard about Tricubes being awarded the project. If you don’t want to read everything, scroll down for “What’s definitely possible”.

First, the facts:

  1. This is a private sector funded project. The RM50 million is the investment Tricubes is making, as part of the ETP. And the period of investment? Till 2020.
  2. There is collaboration with Microsoft to provide these services.
  3. The purpose? Stated below:

The 1Malaysia Email project is a government initiative in providing a unique and official email account and ID for the citizens of Malaysia.

This initiative will serve to allow direct and secure communications between citizens and the Government, as well as enhance the delivery of Government services to consumers and businesses alike.

What’s definitely possible

I see this as an ID-based project that helps you log on and use government services. We’re moving into a digital era, and I see us eventually receiving our quit rent notices, and more all via e-services. I think the providing of email is just a by-product. I’m banking on the fact that we’re all going to have MSN Live ID’s for all Malaysians above age 18 to access all kinds of services that helps with e-gov stuff. There will be messaging, but this isn’t entirely email as we’re used to.

We can probably draw parallels with the National Strategy on Trusted Identities in Cyberspace that the United Stats is proposing.

I see the API as something like Facebook Connect.

Update (20/04/2011 – 16:12): I just had another thought. Malaysia is a hub for software piracy. Maybe there will be a tie in with Microsoft Office Live, and then SkyDrive will provide cloud storage services, all with the 1Malaysia ID. The potential for this is huge (and can make people rock up to the portal…).

Random thoughts/questions

Do we need another email account? A lot of people have their own Hotmail, Yahoo! as well as Gmail accounts. These accounts also usually tie in with some form of instant messenger like MSN, Yahoo! Chat, and Google Talk.

However the purpose of this 1Malaysia Email project is for direct & secure communications between citizens and the Government. Phishing is becoming a real problem, and banks are facing this, for example. Maybank has a new authentication method with a picture+passphrase, while HSBC does two-factor authentication with a hardware device. As the government starts sending out emails, the phishers will start conning people. However, email is easily receivable, and phishers in theory can just email you the moment they have your email account details (it doesn’t help unless your email address is private, no?) So maybe the phishing argument goes away…

But maybe it is not email. Maybe its receive only from the government, and everything else from the Internet is denied. Or its like how Facebook Messages used to be — only members can send you email (it’s not like that now, more people have @facebook.com email addresses). And if someone tries phishing, well, we’ll know who they are, since their accounts are tied to their IC numbers!

And since its all web based, we have it all over SSL (HTTPS). Bypass the need for PGP/GPG encryption ;)

The claim is that this is a web portal. So it is webmail. Will there be IMAP? People are getting mobile these days, and are reading emails on their Blackberries, mobile phones, tablets, etc. If the service is webmail only, I wonder what the uptake will be like. Remember, if its yet another INBOX to check, there is less chances of people using it. And if you do not engage or use the service, you’ll miss government emails.

How is everyone getting an ID? Do you choose a username? Is it based on your identity card (IC) number? Is it based on your name as per IC? Signing up will of course be something that happens against your IC number — thats a given.

Who reads your email? I for one will not be promoting my 1Malaysia email address. I don’t see people printing business cards with their email address @1malaysia.com.my. I do not know if administrators will read my emails, though I highly doubt this, as all large services have checks and balances for this. But I should be allowed my paranoia ;)

What about continuity? 1Malaysia is Najib’s thing. Before him, Badawi had his own mantra (which I don’t recollect). And before him, Mahathir had Vision 2020. Will this email account be around forever, I don’t know. But I’ve had the same email address since the 90′s, and I’m unlikely to ever give that up.

I’ve seen rumours that this is meant to be a portal, which includes: email, social networking, online bill checking and payment, plus there are claims that there will be an API to extend this so others can build applications. Immediately I think MyEG, and for me MyEG is a stock to buy (surprisingly, remains unchanged today on the KLSE). The claim though is that it isn’t like MyEG: “Khairun said the portal was different from the MyEG website, which focused on the payment of bills and summonses, as it would allow interaction between people and the Government.”.

Do we need another social network? Can we keep up with more than 3 social networks, to begin with? Do we only want to be friends with other Malaysians or be friends with people globally? There are so many ex-Malaysians I’d like to keep in contact with, and I’m sure TalentCorp would like to contact them too, but if its tied to an IC number, you lose it the moment you give up your citizenship (as an aside, average time I’ve seen for people that go to Australia? 3-5 years).

Malaysiakini reports: “We will focus on delivery of notices and bills, MYEG is about online payment,” CEO Khairun Zainal Mokhtar told a press conference after the announcement. If you are not compelled to login, will you see the notices and bills? I don’t think so!

Have they thought about storage and quotas, assuming that people actually somehow decide to use this actively?

This is not compulsory for Malaysians. So what is the unique selling point? Opt-in emails from the government? I have a MyEG account because I want to renew my road tax. Or settle summonses. I rather have my notices and bills sent to my personal email account, which I read. I’m unlikely to want to see bills and notices sent to a portal that I have to login separately.Will they then send me an email saying I have a message waiting for me? That’s highly possible :)

I have lots of questions. This system will be rolled out sometime in July this year. I’m disappointed that its all Microsoft based, since there are some amazing opensource ID management systems around, but c’est la vie. Go with the provider that fits the bill!

If anyone from Tricubes/Microsoft wants to share more technical information, I’d be curious to hear about it.

P/S: Many told me about Tricubes being a dodgy firm, having issues on the stock exchange, etc. I don’t know anything about Tricubes besides what I’ve read in the media. So that’s not relevant to the technology discussion I’d hope to have here (if at all there will be discussion).

  • Fabio

    Glad to read your writings! I hope more Malaysians can be objective and constructive like you. Most people in Facebook and Twitter that I’ve seen lambasting the project don’t really know what on earth they are talking about in the first place but just to follow the masses.

  • http://twitter.com/houseofannie Nathan Lau

    It looks like the intended domain is myemail.my. I looked at the site earlier today (when it was still up – now it looks like it’s been taken down) and it was claiming to offer 25 GB email storage for everyone who signed up. And the signup form allowed you to submit for an alias of your choosing (I assume someone will be doing some validation to ensure no untoward aliases are created).

    I like your thinking that they are going to restrict emails to just gov’t senders or only the myemail.my domain. That would be a distinct possibility.

    If the gov’t is going to use this portal to send you notices and bills, they’re going to have to make it compulsory. Evidence for this is their reported KPI of 50% adoption in a year and eventual 100% adoption sometime later. I assume this “sometime later” is when every Malaysian has fast and stable Internet access.

    • http://bytebot.net/blog colincharles

      Hi!

      Cool, I’ll check out myemail.my when its up (and I’m near a computer). Thanks for that Nathan. 25GB is amazingly large, kudos to Tricubes/Microsoft. And myemail.my is so much better than 1malaysia.com.my. I’m happy to have a @mac.com email account, and I’m sure I’ll be just as happy to have a @myemail.my email account :)

      50% adoption in a year? Is that like ~8 million folk (who are aged 18 and above)? That’s a tough KPI to reach possibly, so best wishes there. Is there a penalty to not achieving the KPI?

      cheers,
      -c

  • http://kaeru.my Khairil Yusof

    I don’t buy the line, that because it’s privately funded, public shouldn’t be in an uproar.

    Private sector funding for a possibly compulsory or important government services does not mean the public money will never be used. Anything involving the government and citizens requires a high level of transparency and public discussion.

    Think of tolled city roads or what was previously privately owned city and bus rail services for Kuala Lumpur (DRB-Hicom Intrakota, Star LRT, Putra LRT). Those were privately funded, and we tax payers nicely bailed them out via Prasarana to a tune of a couple of billion dollars.

    Then you have to think of government agencies as users and/or clients. Malaysian government is largest spender of IT. There is a lot of potential to funnel a lot of money to TriCube and partners.

    Will the API be royalty-free and not RAND which Microsoft likes so much?

    Will we need Microsoft software to develop government applications for it?

    If say it ties in to Sharepoint, will that be the only platform that government services have to be developed on?

    I’m cynical but past experience says that anything involving Malaysian government, government linked companies and Microsoft is rarely just about the technical benefits.

    The dodgy company is important. It has loss all it’s money in 3 years from IPO and has overdraft charges of over RM600K if I recall from browsing the financial report. Banks need guarantees to give a loan of RM50Million to companies with track records like this.

    The public uproar is good, it forces the government to share the details both technical and government relationship with this provider.

    Now if they only cared as much about other bigger issues, Malaysia would be so much better.

  • http://malaysianwireless.com/ Kugan

    would have preferred something like xxx@1malaysia.my …:P

    • http://bytebot.net/blog colincharles

      I think you can get @1malaysia.my email addresses. @wonojo has setup the service quite some time back and has offered it for free. Do check, as I recall I saw some invite a while back.


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