Companies storing people’s personal data increasingly give consumers the ability to delete their accounts and other information. In fact, it’s often required by new privacy laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.
But what happens if you’re not even sure which businesses have your information?
That’s where a startup called Mine comes in. The Tel Aviv-based company, which launched in January, combs through your old email messages to remind you where you’ve created accounts or agreed to receive marketing messages in the past. In many cases, it will also give you a link to click to dispatch a message invoking your “right to be forgotten” by a certain business, useful whether you want to protect yourself against future data breaches or just don’t want to hear from a certain company anymore. Those clicks generally trigger emails to the company in question, and users may need to interact further with those businesses to fulfill their requests. Mine reports that it helped send more than 130,000 requests in less than a month of operation.
“We allow any person to discover his or her digital footprint,” says cofounder and CEO Gal Ringel. “Obviously companies fail to protect our data, so this is why we think that consumers should take a much more active approach in managing their data.”
Hundreds (or thousands) of accounts to track
Based on a study of 30,000 of its users, Mine said Thursday that it found the average user had emails indicating they were in the databases of 350 companies, with the top 5% of users having 2,834 companies with access to their data. If anything, that’s an underestimate, since Mine doesn’t know about companies that have your information but haven’t sent you an email.
Ringel emphasizes that most companies you do business with will at least send a welcome or confirmation message to your inbox. Through a survey, the startup found that 90% of respondents were surprised just how many companies had access to their data.
Gal Ringel, CEO, Mine
In the last two years, privacy has really become mainstream.”
“We find a lot of data that you’ve already forgotten about,” says Ringel.
So far, Mine can support requests under the European GDPR and the California law, and it plans to add official support for additional privacy laws worldwide. It’s primarily focused on European users so far, though Ringel says the company plans a formal U.S. launch within the next couple of weeks.
“I think in the last two years, privacy has really become mainstream,” Ringel says.
Mine isn’t the only company to offer to help you manage your online privacy: In addition to adblockers and other tools such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger that limit the data you share as you browse the web, there are services like Jumbo Privacy, which helps you manage your privacy settings in other apps. Social media services and other companies like Google that let you log in to other sites and share information with third parties also offer increasingly streamlined ways to see and manage what data you’re sharing.
Mine’s goal, says Ringel, is to make understanding and managing who has your data simple and painless even for less tech-savvy consumers—something like using a tool like Credit Karma to track your credit and spending.
Ringel, who previously served in the Israeli Defense Force’s cyber-focused Unit 8200, also acknowledges one semi-paradox about Mine: In order to use the service to purge your online data, you need to enable its AI systems to sift through your email inbox. It is a bit alarming—when you register with Gmail, Google asks you to give Mine access to “view your email messages and settings”—but Ringel says the company’s systems only look at the subject lines and from-addresses on your messages, never at the message bodies.
The company also doesn’t permanently store that information, only processing it briefly and retaining your name, email address, and the list of businesses that have sent you messages. “We don’t keep any trace of the emails or subject lines in any persistent place,” Ringel says.
Mine has gone through a third-party security audit that was part of the process to get access users’ Gmail inboxes, and both Mine and Google have security systems in place that would spot if hackers tried to use its digital keys to your inbox for unscrupulous things, Ringel says.
At the moment, Mine is free for anyone to use, but the company plans to offer premium services in the future that make it even easier to complete requests to delete data, either by organizing companies based on activities, like those involved in a recent trip, or other categories to enable single-click data deletion.
The company is also considering offering options to companies to help streamline the format of requests coming in through the service. The GDPR doesn’t require consumers to send requests in any particular format, Ringel says, which can make requests require individualized processing by receiving organizations.
“We want to create a bridge between users and companies,” he says.