Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Katherine Albrecht, author, radio host, privacy advocate, Harvard graduate, and VP of Marketing for Ixquick. While you may not have heard of Ixquick, two of their properties are starting to get a lot of attention: StartPage and Startmail.
You've Heard Of Snowden, Right?
Unless you've been living in a cave for the past few weeks, Internet privacy has been a very hot topic. One month ago, the Guardian broke a story revealing an order from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing the NSA to collect the phone records of every Verizon customer. A short time later, Edward Snowden revealed an NSA surveillance program known as PRISM, that provided a government back door into nine major Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook. This has caused a lot of debate, and brought internet privacy to the forefront.
Can You Really Browse Privately? Katherine Albrecht thinks so, and that's why she joined Ixquick as the the VP of Marketing, where she has helped to launch two new products - StartPage, a private portal to Google results, and StartMail, and upcoming completely private encrypted email service. Katherine has been tacking privacy issues head-on since 1999, when she became a privacy advocate to raise awareness about supermarket loyalty programs. Her research showed those cards are really not about discounts, but entirely about getting as much data on you and your buying habits as possible (more on this at her website NoCards.org). When she saw the good privacy work that Ixquick was doing, she joined them in 2009.
So, what is their mission? Bringing privacy to the Internet.
- No record of users' IP addresses.
- No tracking cookies.
- No collection of personal data.
- No sharing of personal data with third parties.
- Secure, encrypted connections (HTTPS/SSL)
- A free proxy service that allows anonymous browsing of websites
In 2009, when Katherine joined Ixquick, she helped to create the StartPage service, which returns 100% Google results in total privacy (the Ixquick search engine still returns completely private results from other search engines, except Google).
Now the company is taking on Mail. Startmail hasn't launched yet, but with over 4 million unique monthly hits already to Startpage.com, they have a large base to pull from, and more than 45,000 people signed up to be beta testers. Startmail aims to keep your email a private interaction between you and the person you have shared it with. That means that not even the people at Ixquick can read it.
Will People Pay for Privacy?
Katherine believes they will. The company is still working on the pricing, but she told me it will likely be around $5 to $7 per month for a completely encrypted premium account.
What About Social Media?
Of course, being CEO @MarketMeSuite, the social media marketing platform, I had to ask Katherine about her thoughts on Social Media. Is there an appropriate use for Social Media, which is inherently public?
"Social media is a giant billboard, she said. "Billboards are great, don't get me wrong -- but don't put a picture of yourself in your underwear on one."
This led me to ask whether Ixquick may decide to launch any social media networks of their own in the future. Katherine said that Startmail is really the proof of concept. If their hypothesis is correct, and people are truly willing to pay for their privacy, then there could be an entire suite of privacy driven tools to help their users navigate the internet while keeping things they expect to be private, private. That could even extend to social.
"Imagine a network where only you and the people you choose to share with can see something and there's no unencrypted record of it anywhere. Imagine this was the same for file sharing in a Dropbox style utility.... there's so much we can do if Startmail is a success."
Privacy in a Public World
Katherine and I had a laugh at the irony -- she's a privacy advocate who leads a very public life, but the distinction she made is perhaps the crux of everything she is trying to do with Startmail and Startpage:
"Privacy isn't about living a completely private life in which I share nothing; it's about me having the freedom to decide what I share."
What are Your Thoughts?
With the recent Snowden revelations, is privacy more on your radar than it was before? Does Startpage and Startmail resonate with you? What do you think about internet privacy as a whole?