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We all use the internet as a matter of course and feel relatively safe when doing so – until the next tale of data misuse sweeps through the media. However, most of us quickly return to business as usual. I discussed data security with Jean-Paul Schmetz, founder of the start-up Cliqz, which has developed the world’s first browser with an integrated search engine and anti-tracking technology. In this interview, he explains what safe surfing has to do with an expedition to the highest peak in the Himalayas.
Jean-Paul, what’s the worst thing that can happen to us “normal users” online?
In the best-case scenario, nothing happens – you just see constant adverts that seem eerily tailored to your interests. However, the worst-case scenario is much more serious and has already occurred: In 2006, for example, AOL suffered a major data leak in which users’ browser histories were published for a few hours. The effects were catastrophic. We know of at least six users whose lives were destroyed as a result.
But most of us don’t really have anything to hide!
If someone were to read out your browser history, you just wouldn’t go online for a few days. It’s as though someone has broken into your house and rummaged through your belongings – whether you have anything to hide or not. For you personally, the idea of the NSA or Donald Trump knowing your online movements will seem less dramatic – but imagine all your neighbours or colleagues finding out exactly what you do online and what interests you...
So how does the Cliqz technology work?
What Cliqz does here is really very simple: We completely detach the data about your online behaviour from all data that could be used to identify and track you. Our anti-tracking function pre-installed in the browser virtually masks website visitors. To the trackers – advertising networks, social networks and analysis software – everything looks the same and no distinctions can be made, so they can’t find out anything about you as an individual user.
Could you give a visual example?
Imagine you want to climb Mount Everest or go on a jungle expedition. You wouldn’t simply set off by yourself – you’d want someone with you who knows the terrain and can protect you from danger. That’s how the Cliqz browser works: The integrated search engine shows you the way and our data protection functions keep you safe. We make sure that our users’ private information stays private – without restricting what they can do. So you can concentrate on your online journey of discovery without feeling uneasy or worrying about who could be reading your browser history.
The easiest thing would be for legislators to protect us against online data misuse…
That’s true. But I remember a time when it wasn’t compulsory to wear seat belts in cars – it was up to the individual. Today, we wear belts voluntarily because we know about the dangers.
Jean-Paul Schmetz is Chief Scientist at Hubert Burda Media and the founder of Cliqz, a Burda and Mozilla holding. Based in Munich with 130 employees, the start-up offers browsers and browser extensions under the Cliqz and Ghostery brands. These anti-tracking technologies protect the privacy of millions of internet users worldwide. Its rapid search engine with an independent web index is an alternative web navigator that is independent of the large suppliers and protects data. The company is currently developing a totally new type of technology to show users tailored offers while also protecting their privacy.