Colin Charles Agenda

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 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 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).