How Google Monopoly Will Help Us Improve TheGoodData

When a company like Google does not have competition, it has no incentive to be the best in the market anymore. A Google monopoly doesn’t need to put all its efforts on satisfying its users and clients. It can focus on maximising its revenue and profit.

google monopoly

Image from CreativeBloq

We have recently suffered the downside of this monopoly. One month ago our Chrome extension was taken down from Google’s Chrome Web Store as we informed in our collaboration platform. It was done in an obscure and unfair way. We never received an email warning about Google’s decision and there was no direct way to get an explanation for their decision.

Google’s monopoly does not need to spend money on people answering emails from developers. It just needs to set up some algorithms that decide which extensions to allow or block. Ours was blocked.

Since we didn’t know the reason and didn’t have the opportunity to speak to any representative, we have released a new extension with many under the hood changes in the hopes that one of them had an impact in the algorithm that had taken us out. We succeeded, since our extension is again live. Or not, since we know about other extensions like disconnect.me that was also taken down and readmitted with no change on their code.

The short term implication on TheGoodData has been the drop in users after being out of the market for almost a month. The most relevant effect on our tactics has been that one of the tweaks that we have done to the extension was taking out the code that allowed us to anonymously sell some browsing data to a data broker.

This second effect leads to a more strategic implication. It makes us rethink the whole commercial and financial approach. In some way, Google’s monopolistic practices are forcing us to be more innovative.

We already had several commercial actions in the pipeline, the 2 most important ones being the following:

  1. a revision of our home page in order to make our story easier to understand. You can have a look at the draft wireframe here
  2. building up “TheEvilData” landing and infographics showing you the list of trackers and websites that are worst in class based on our users’ browsing data
  3. drawing how advertisers and data brokers think we are based on the browsing data that we collect

Google hurdles have made us think about these other actions (linked to the corresponding github issue):

  1. building a firefox extension
  2. making the service more engaging by letting users vote for the projects they want to fund. This will probably make us stop working with Zidisha, since they don’t have an API and the breadth of projects is a little more limited than others like justgiving, ammando or globalgiving
  3. looking for sponsors that want to donate some money for the data users have browsed, in a similar way that Charity Miles is sponsored by companies that rewards miles run by their supporters. This will be a temporary solution until we gain enough volume to deal directly with data buyers without putting the extension at risk of being banned again.

Until we find some companies or organisations that  want to sponsor users data there will be some private sponsors that will donate the following amounts:

  • 1 USD cent per query made by our users
  • 1 USD cent per 100 sites visited by our users

What do you think about those actions? Should we do anything else? We would be glad to get your ideas!

Nuala O’Connor & Alan Henry on Privacy

We previously featured MIT PhD candidate Jean Yang and her perspectives on the subject of privacy.

Featured on the blog today are Nuala O’Connor (@privacymama / CEO of @CenDemTech) and Alan Henry (@halophonnix / Deputy Editor @LifeHacker).

Here’s their QnA on why privacy matters!

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TGD: Why are you passionate about privacy?

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Nuala O’Connor | Pic from @privacymama

1) NUALA O’CONNOR:

“It’s my children’s future that makes me truly passionate about privacy.

I’m committed to helping shape a world where we are not forced to cede all of our privacy, and where our personal thoughts, expressions, and communications are not all collected by the government.

We need private spaces to create, to grow, and to be human. Even in an always on, always connected world, I am confident we can achieve a balance both between privacy and surveillance, and between information sharing and innovation.”

Nuala O’Connor is a mom, tech diva, and CEO of The Center for Democracy & Technology. Follow her on Twitter @privacymama.

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TGD: Why are you passionate about privacy?

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Alan Henry | Pic from Lifehacker

2) ALAN HENRY:

“I’m passionate about privacy because at its core, privacy is a basic human right, but not in the way that most people think. Most people think privacy is this amorphous ability to keep your personal business to yourself without being watched, but it’s much more than that. Privacy gives us the freedom to keep our actions—from the library books we read to the things we buy online—from having any impact, positive or negative, on the rest of our lives. It gives us the freedom to grow and change our opinions, and learn new things and look back on the way we used to be without fear that what we used to say and think will haunt us. It gives us the option to choose when we’re marketed to, and when our information is marketable, rather than have that dictated to us by the people looking to make money on us, or take our money from us.

In essence, privacy is about the ability to control your own destiny, and how you interact with the world around you—from other people, to the companies you patronize, to the government you live under. It’s about being able to actively steer that destiny, without taking a backseat to it with the illusion of you having had some input.”

Alan Henry is Deputy Editor @Lifehacker and the classiest geek you’ll ever meet. He tweets @halophoenix.

Jean Yang on Privacy

We recently contacted a few industry experts to share their opinions on a subject that matters to them.

Featured on the blog today is Jean Yang — a final-year PhD  student at MIT and Harvard alumnus. Her research interests include programming language design, and privacy and security. She was in a Gigaom Structure podcast in January 2015, discussing internet misogyny and programming for privacy.

Here’s what she had to say!

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Jean Yang | Photo by Daniel Jackson

TGD: Why are you passionate about privacy?

JEAN YANG: This is a good question. I am interested in privacy because I’m deeply interested in people sharing information with each other.

I love the social spaces that the internet creates. I’ve had an email address since 1995 and a website since 1997. I’ve always loved the random connections I make online that sometimes turn into very real friendships. Through encouraging my friends to do more online, I’ve realized that reliably preserving privacy is a crucial part of making people feel comfortable enough to participate in online spaces. We’ve got a long way to go and I’m excited to work on solving this problem.

Another reason I’m interested in privacy is because I think there is a *ton* of very cool data that we can have our hands on if people trusted us to preserve their privacy. Right now, there are interesting public data sets about things that are already pretty much public: for instance, census data on how people live and how people commute. Every now and then people with access to more secret data will do something fun with it. A great example of this is OKCupid analyzing dating profiles and messages to bring us data-backed stories on how people represent themselves and court each other online. Imagine a world where this kind of data could be made public for anyone with spare time to analyze–while preserving guarantees about the privacy of individual people. I don’t know whether such a world is possible and what exactly it would take to get there, but I’m excited to see what happens.

Finally, it’s just really intellectually fun to think about how information flows in order to reveal secrets. I like designing programming models because I like thinking about how people should think. Applying this to privacy means I get to think about how people should think about how secrets gets revealed. Meta fun. 🙂

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Thanks to Jean for sharing her insightful thoughts! Stay updated with her posts and projects via the following links.

Jean Yang Online: Website | Twitter | Quora | Github

Research and Values

A couple of weeks ago we ran a workshop organized by Iban Benzal. It was great in many aspects.

First of all, for the attitude and knowledge of the participants, many of them service designers or marketeers. Secondly, for the way that workshop was carefully set-up, with different exercises aimed to get the most insights and ideas about personal data and how to build a service around it. Finally, the venue was fantastic. Having a warm and inspiring atmosphere like the one at Islington Hub helps with these events!

The workshop was divided into 4 different exercises (if you want to get into the details, you can read this Evernote).

Exercise #1 was particularly interesting for us. It was about associating pictures to concepts. The 3 concepts were personal data, online data, and companies that use our online data.

thegooddata_workshop_6

One of the most valuable insights we got was the difference people made to personal data vs online data. The vast majority of the people in the workshop knew and accepted that companies were using their online data, so in exchange they could receive free services. On the other side, people perceived personal data as something much more intimate: pictures, letters, thoughts, etc. They were all much more concerned and secretive with that data. It is therefore important that we make clear that what we want to secure, process and trade is the online browsing data that people know is already being sold.

A similar finding was raised in the second exercise where people discussed how much of their online data they felt they owned. Again, people recognised that they aren’t behaving as proper owners since they are all using services without reading their T&Cs, but being somewhat conscious that they are giving away that data by accepting them.

A different response was given when we asked if this was fair, if this is the way it should be. Some people showed their strong feelings that things should work in a different way, and that we should have someone or some entity that helps us understand what we are accepting and defending our interests when terms are not fair.

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It was also interesting to receive feedback to some specific features we have in our development pipeline. Most of the people preferred those that provide more visibility about the type of data being collected and about how advertisers think TheGoodData looks like. We are thus working on launching some basic functionalities around those needs.

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Finally we ran a co-creation exercise where attendants — divided into two groups — had to build a new homepage. Both groups ended up with a proposal that positioned TheGoodData as a pure privacy tool, as an anti-databreach or as a data lawyer.

workshop exercise 4-5

Playing this safeguard role is part of TheGoodData mission, although it will not be how we ultimately position ourselves. It is not that we are not that, but we are more than that. And here is where our vision and principles come into play.

We have a vision were people enjoy ownership of their data. That means that people can keep it safe if they want to, but mostly that they can master it and decide whether to share it or not, and get the best terms if they go for the first.

That vision derives into seven principles that we want to transmit. Principles of positiveness and of social good. We are strong believers that we can do great things with our data provided that we master it. That is what we want to communicate as a company, and that is what we are refining through surveys and workshops, while keeping our vision and principles at the top.

TGD_Principles

Again, special thanks to Iban, workshop participants, and Marc Pascual for the great pictures.

Putting Us In Your Place

When ideating a service, it is very tough to put yourself in the end user’s place. We have been thinking about privacy and social good issues for years, and this background makes us consider that there are many concepts everybody is familiar with.

Reality is such that we all have plenty of problems and issues in our heads — we usually can spend very little time adding new ones. This is surely the case with TheGoodData. As we have seen from a recent survey, our very first challenge is to explain the problem that we are trying to address (and the way we propose solving it) in a much simpler way.

We are currently running that exercise internally. Part of it involves requesting some potential users to share their thoughts with us via usertesting.com. If you are not familiar with this tool and you are into building up and marketing new services, we strongly recommend it (or a similar one). It is an eye-opener and, in a sense, it is also humbling to see in certain aspects how far we are from passing through our goals and solution.

The great thing about it is that we know much better now the messages that we have to fine tune, and the things people like the most and the least about our proposition. It makes us much more optimistic because the tweaks that are needed are perfectly doable. The effort we put into these tweaks will make our service more attractive and easier to understand.

Let us share with you those videos. If you have time, go through any of them. They speak for themselves!