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This new app manages your privacy for you, from Facebook to Alexa

Jumbo is like a concierge for privacy, cleaning out your old data and maintaining your privacy settings across your accounts and apps.

This new app manages your privacy for you, from Facebook to Alexa
[Image: courtesy Jumbo]

In theory, most people care about their privacy online. But controlling it is another matter entirely, since your data is spread out across every account you sign up for, and even some that you don’t. Often the only means to protect yourself is to painstakingly change each privacy setting for dozens if not hundreds of accounts–the average person has 191 accounts to keep track of–which quickly becomes overwhelming.

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A new app called Jumbo is aiming to solve privacy’s biggest design problem by providing a single, simple interface that gives you an easy way to access your settings from one place. Right now, the app can set your Facebook settings to the most private possible version, delete old Tweets, clear your Google search history regularly, and clean out all of the voice recordings Amazon has stored based on your interactions with Alexa. This summer, Jumbo will also offer the ability to set your Twitter, Google, and Amazon accounts to the most private settings possible, all from within the app. A feature that can clean out old posts on your Facebook, Instagram, and Tinder accounts is coming soon.

All of these features are things that users can already do on their own, of course. But Jumbo’s interface turns what was once an onerous user experience into something so simple it’s delightful: The app’s little elephant mascot mimes putting your boxed-up data into a moving truck as you wait for the app to clean your accounts and button up your privacy settings.

The elephant, says CEO Pierre Valade, is a metaphor he likes to use for the big tech companies: Facebook, Google, and Amazon are all like elephants that never forget anything you’ve done. In contrast, “Jumbo is this elephant who happens to have a bad memory,” he says.

[Image: courtesy Jumbo]

Once you download the app, you’re prompted to input your username and password for each of the services you want Jumbo to deal with on your behalf. As someone who cares about privacy, that instantly made me nervous: Did that mean the company has access to all my accounts as a result? But as Valade explains, all the processing happens on your phone–that means that all the data, including your passwords, stays on your phone and never communicates with a server. Jumbo doesn’t even ask you to make an account. Valade says Jumbo doesn’t have a database of users, and only tracks people’s behavior within the app, like what time people open it and which features they use–not who they are–to understand how people are using it. However, he also recognizes that gaining users’ trust will take time. He plans to ask independent auditors to verify that Jumbo does all its data processing on people’s phones without the use of servers.

After learning that my data wouldn’t be sent to the cloud, I entered in my credentials for Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Within a minute or so, the Jumbo app had cleaned out these accounts and ensured my Facebook privacy settings were up to snuff. I double-checked my Amazon account after to ensure that it had worked. It had: All my Alexa recordings had thankfully been deleted.

There are some challenges with running all the processing locally. At the moment, you have to keep the app open for it to work and users have to manually ask Jumbo to clean out their data again. But for Valade, these challenges are worth it. “I think privacy is often like that,” he says. “It comes with a trade-off of user experience. When that’s the case, we’re always going to choose what will protect our user best.”

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Valade is an entrepreneur with a background in UX design who last built a calendar app called Sunrise, which Microsoft bought for $100 million in 2015 and had millions of users (the company shuttered the app in 2016). Jumbo launched last week, and already has 40,000 users and dozens of glowing reviews in the App Store (as well as some users pointing out issues with how much time it takes to run the cleaning process). Currently it’s only available on iOS, but an Android version is coming later this year.

[Image: courtesy Jumbo]

Valade is hoping to further his user-first philosophy through different features in the app–like the “smart security” tool, which can change your Facebook settings for you. At the moment, the feature asks users if they want weak privacy, medium privacy, or strong privacy. “My assumption is that most people choose strong,” Valade says. After some testing, he’s thinking about removing the weak and medium options altogether. But he doesn’t presume to know what privacy best practices are: He wants to bring advocacy groups into the decision-making process to ensure that Jumbo is making the most privacy-focused decisions on people’s behalf.

Jumbo’s business model isn’t ad-based, unlike services like Unroll.me, which performed the useful service of unsubscribing you from mailing lists you don’t interact with but then sold the information it found in your inbox. Instead, the company will run on a freemium subscription business model, where users or enterprises can pay for more advanced features. Valade aims to launch some of these paid features by the end of this year.

Ultimately, the goal is that people won’t have to think about their privacy at all. Valade imagines that people may one day trust Jumbo with their email, and the company could look for accounts that could be cleaned up or made more private that way. He also sees Jumbo as a “GDPR assistant,” referencing Europe’s strict data privacy laws that include rights like the ability to request that a company delete all its data on you. Jumbo may also be able to send emails to companies on European users’ behalf asking companies to delete their data, exercising this right to be forgotten.

Valade anticipates there might be some roadblocks with Facebook. “Do they want to help us do the right thing for users even if they’re making less money per user?” he says. “Or do they want to make it as hard as they can, whether by making the user experience to change your settings even harder or trying to threaten us legally or whatever means they have? It’s up to them.”

However, he doesn’t see Jumbo as anti-social media. Instead, he’s hoping Jumbo will fix the problem of privacy settings. “I just want to make sure people have the right tools,” Valade says. “If the services aren’t building those, we’re going to build that. We’re going to make it easy and in one place so it’s not annoying.”

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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