Sat. Jun 6th, 2020

New App Manages Your Privacy For You, From Facebook to Alexa

In theory, most people care about their privacy online; however, controlling it is another matter entirely. Since your data is spread out across every account you sign up for, and even some that you don’t. Generally the only means to protect yourself is to painstakingly change each privacy setting for dozens if not hundreds of accounts–the average person has 191 accounts to keep track of–which quickly becomes overwhelming.

All of the features are things that users can already do on their own, of course. But Jumbo’s interface turns what was once an onerous user experience into something so simple it’s delightful: The app’s little elephant mascot mimes putting your boxed-up data into a moving truck as you wait for the app to clean your accounts and button up your privacy settings.

The elephant, states CEO Pierre Valade, is a metaphor he likes to use for tech companies such as: Facebook, Google, and Amazon are all like elephants that never forget anything you’ve done. In contrast, “Jumbo is this elephant who happens to have a bad memory.

Once you download the app, you’re prompted to input your username and password for each of the services you want Jumbo to deal with on your behalf. As someone who cares about privacy, that instantly made me nervous: Did that mean the company has access to all my accounts as a result? According to Valade, all the processing happens on your phone–that means that all the data, including your passwords, stays on your phone and never communicates with a server. Jumbo doesn’t even ask you to make an account. Valade says Jumbo doesn’t have a database of users, and only tracks people’s behavior within the app, like what time people open it and which features they use–not who they are–to understand how people are using it. However, he also recognizes that gaining users’ trust will take time. In addition, he plans to ask independent auditors to verify that Jumbo does all its data processing on people’s phones without the use of servers.

There are some challenges with running all the processing locally. At the moment, you have to keep the app open for it to work and users have to manually ask Jumbo to clean out their data again. But for CEO Pierre Valade, these challenges are worth it. “I think privacy is often like that,” he says. “It comes with a trade-off of user experience. When that’s the case, we’re always going to choose what will protect our user best.”

Valade is an entrepreneur with a background in UX design who last built a calendar app called Sunrise, which Microsoft bought for $100 million in 2015 and had millions of users (the company shuttered the app in 2016). Jumbo launched last week, and already has 40,000 users and dozens of glowing reviews in the App Store (as well as some users pointing out issues with how much time it takes to run the cleaning process). Currently it’s only available on iOS, but an Android version is coming later this year.

Valade is hoping to further his user-first philosophy through different features in the app–like the “smart security” tool, which can change your Facebook settings for you. At the moment, the feature asks users if they want weak privacy, medium privacy, or strong privacy.

Jumbo’s business model isn’t ad-based, unlike services like Unroll.me, which performed the useful service of unsubscribing you from mailing lists you don’t interact with but then sold the information it found in your inbox. Instead, the company will run on a freemium subscription business model, where users or enterprises can pay for more advanced features. Valade is aiming to launch some of these paid features by the end of this year.

Sequentially, the goal is to have people not think about their privacy at all. Valade imagines that people may one day trust Jumbo with their email, and the company could look for accounts that could be cleaned up or made more private that way. He also sees Jumbo as a GDPR assistant, referencing Europe’s strict data privacy laws that include rights like the ability to request that a company delete all its data on you. Jumbo may also be able to send emails to companies on European users’ behalf asking companies to delete their data, exercising this right to be forgotten.

Valade foresees there might be some roadblocks with Facebook. Furthermore, he doesn’t see Jumbo as anti-social media. Instead, he’s hoping Jumbo will fix the problem of privacy settings. Valade, just wants to make sure people have the right tools.