Dan Arel is a journalist, author, and privacy advocate. He's also the owner of ThinkPrivacy.ch
One of the trickiest things for companies or really anyone running a website is figuring out the success of their site, how many visits they are getting, and how they got them, while at the same time respecting their visitor’s privacy.
Many analytics tools exist, but the most popular ones don’t have a history of respecting privacy or even giving the site owner the ability to ensure privacy is respected.
This is what Uku Taht and Marko Saric, two European developers had in mind when they created Plausible, a privacy respecting analytics tool in 2018. Saric saw an issue with how other analytics tools were collecting user data telling me in an interview that he had “become more aware (or less ignorant) about the issues with Google and their business model of surveillance capitalism.”
Saric further explained that “one of the big issues with the business model of surveillance capitalism is the great need for personal data and a need for lots of data. It's in the interest of Google, Facebook, and other big AdTech actors to collect as much data as possible about internet users. This data is then used to analyze and profile users so they can be targeted with personalized advertising. That's how they make money and why they give away tools such as Google Analytics for free. It's part of their business model.”
So Saric and his partner decided they needed to craft an alternative tool that gave the same high-quality results as their competition, with one big advantage: privacy.
“The idea with Plausible was to create a web analytics tool that is completely disconnected from that business model of collecting, mining and analyzing tons of personal data for advertising purposes,” Saric told me.
“That means we had to put the privacy of web users first. This has led us in the direction of minimization of data collection, a subscription business model (we make money from our subscribers paying us subscription fees), compliance with all the different privacy regulations, and so on. In this way, we're trying to make the web a little bit better place for people who visit the websites Plausible is installed on.”
Yet, it’s not just the fact that Plausible respects user privacy that is so unique. It’s also an open-source tool, so the very fact that it’s not collecting user data is verifiable by the users. They also introduced a feature allowing site owners to open up their stats to the public, meaning that for some, you can even verify they are as popular as they claim, which can be great for growing media outlets, and others looking to attract new talent or ethical advertisers.
What really stood out to me, however, was Saric’s commitment to privacy. Not only with Plausible, but for everyone and looking for new ways to tackle the challenges facing the privacy movement. Saric doesn’t think privacy will come from big tech, and he’s not wrong.
He pointed out that surveillance capitalists won’t move to privacy if they think it means losing money, so he urges that “more people start getting involved in creating, building and promoting more ethical alternatives,” like he did.
He also seems hopeful; he sees tools on the market today that excite him and gives him hope. When it comes to privacy-respecting search engines he said, “Startpage is a great alternative to Google search,” and praised companies like Hey, ProtonMail, OpenStreetMaps, Firefox, and others who are creating usable, privacy-focused alternatives to non-privacy respecting competition.
“If Startpage can get millions of people to switch from Google search, Hey.com can do the same for Gmail users and so on and on, you see how suddenly the Internet looks like a much-changed place. A calmer, friendlier, more independent, and more privacy-first place for everyone,” he said at the end of our interview.
It’s this mindset that may very well be the future of privacy and the future of the internet. If big tech won’t change, we have to change, and must become aware, or as Saric said “less ignorant” of the data being collecting and seek alternatives. This action will either force corporations to respect our privacy or see us leaving their services in mass.
If Startpage, Plausible, DuckDuckGo, ProtonMail, and others have found a way to remain profitable and sustainable while respecting user privacy, so can everyone else.
Create your free account to unlock your custom reading experience.