The Snowden revelations led to an increased demand for secure services, something the government has targeted repeatedly, as exemplified by the Lavabit closure and resulting legal issues. It is that secure email void in particular that Andy Yen of Harvard and a team of MIT colleagues decided to focus on, creating ProtonMail in the process.
According to BostInno, the team formed about a year ago following the NSA leaks while working together in Switzerland at CERN. The results of their collaboration is an end-to-end encrypted email service based in Switzerland, where it is beyond the US government's legal reach.
They promise the government won't be able to snoop in their users' emails, with Yen saying, "Even we don't have the ability to read that email." Unlike some services, users won't be required to install any software (which has potential issues if done incorrectly).
ProtonMail just kicked off a beta run, and is free to use for most, with the exception of those designated "power users", who will need to shell out $5 monthly. Those worried the encryption aspect will make it too complicated needed be. Says co-founder Jason Stockman, "If you can use Gmail, you can use ProtonMail."