A former Google data collector has now turned into a data protector.
Brian Kennish, a former Google engineer who wrote advertising apps for the search engine giant, has formed his own startup company to help protect Web surfers from the very data collection services he helped create.
His defection from Google's data collecting ways began about 18 months ago when he was researching a talk on online tracking for DEFCON. At the time, he was knee-deep in data tracking for Google after serving time with DoubleClick. He even helped write some of the original ad servers.
But once he started researching for the DEFCON speech, he began to realize that he had absolutely no clue as to how many third-party places his own data was heading to online. He soon discovered that there were 7,000 third-parties tracking users' activities in addition to the known 1,000 top level sites that collect data on users. Even more, all this data was now being directly tied to real names thanks to Facebook's popularity.
Having a sudden change of heart (or suddenly jolted out of the Dark Side like Darth Vader), he decided to create a Chrome extension called Facebook Disconnect after news surfaced that Facebook had "accidentally" leaked personal data to application developers (a hole which has since been fixed). Once the extension was loaded on Google's Chrome Web Store and users began to download and use his ad-blocker, he decided to leave Google for good.
"I felt like the user wasn't being put first anymore," he said, echoing statements made by other former Google employees who have protested Google's shift. "Compromises were being made today that Google in 2003 wouldn't have made. What I would have called ambition turned into something more like greed."
Kennish formed Disconnect.me in 2010 with fellow Google engineer Austin Chau and privacy advocate Casey Oppenheim. Since its launch, the company has raised about $600,000 in seed funding from Highland Capital Partners and Charles River Ventures. The actual browser extension is now offered for free in Chrome, Firefox and Safari, and even blocks traffic from Google, Twitter and LinkedIn in addition to Facebook. A version for Internet Explorer is coming soon.
So far the Disconnect.me extension has around 400,000 users, but Kennish hopes to have an actual paid service up and running when they reach 1 million users. He thinks there's even a possible market for users to not only control their data, but to sell it. This would work similar to the way people allow ads to be placed on their blogs.