When browsing the web, we all leave a trace.
Unique identifiers known as digital fingerprints reveal web activity, and that’s valuable data to advertisers and marketers who want to know how to target consumers, said Chandler Givens, a former lawyer turned entrepreneur.
With TrackOFF, Givens and cofounder Ryan Flach have a way to put a glove on web habits.
The product also protects cookies and IP addresses, but the Mt. Vernon-based startup is focusing in on digital fingerprints because they remain active even if cookies or other info are turned off. Data brokers have been turning to this new kind of data as awareness about privacy has grown.
These data brokers populate “a large and opaque industry that’s main goal is to just collect consumer data, package it and sell it,” Givens said.
While working as a privacy lawyer in Chicago, Givens saw the legal side of what allowed the companies to keep going. The laws themselves were out-of-date, and the legal questions mostly come down to whether people have consented to give up their data through terms of agreement or other means.
Givens and his college friend Flach, a software engineer by trade, decided to address the problem further. “Let’s put some energy into figuring out exactly how people are being tracked online, and how we can put tools into consumers’ hands to protect themselves,” Givens said.
Launching in 2015, the startup founders picked Baltimore because it was relatively cheap to start a business in the city. The buzz around cybersecurity in the area due to its proximity to NSA headquarters and the startups that are sprouting up from former workers also got their attention.
For the last year, the company has been bootstrapping, selling TrackOFF on a subscription basis. Eight people are now working on the product.
Givens said there is a perception problem in the market with companies that advertise security, but actually just sell off data.