Disconnect, An Ex-Googler’s Social Enterprise/ Privacy Startup, Raises $3.5M, Extends To More Browsers

Posted: June 17, 2013 in GT, Startup, Technology
Tags: , , , ,

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As we continue to see more details brought to light in
how the government requests and uses information
about what we do on the web and on our mobile
devices, an ex-Googler and a consumer rights
attorney who have dedicated themselves to helping
users remain private have raised some funding to do this better and in more places. Disconnect, the startup behind the Disconnect.me
extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari browsers,
which lets users of Facebook, Google and Twitter
keep themselves from being tracked by third party
sites, and the Disconnect 2 app that covers some
has raised a $3.5 million Series A round. At the same time, as a measure of dedication to its
principle of being positioned not for profit but for
social good, Disconnect has been designated as a B
Corporation, a semi-charitable certification. With the
tax breaks and other help that this offers, it will let
Disconnect dedicate time to raising awareness and campaigning as well as to creating for-profit products. “As a B Corporation, we’re able to spend more time
than a traditional company on activities such as
consumer education, petition drives, and close
collaboration with non-profits,” Gus Warren, a former
Venture Partner at FirstMark Capital who is part of
Disconnect’s executive team, noted in a statement. “Disconnect is committed to benefiting not just
shareholders but all stakeholders, including the
public.” Warren will run the company’s New York
office. This most recent round of funding was led by
FirstMark Capital, and comes on the back of a
$600,000 seed round announced in March 2012. That
round was led by Highland Capital Partners with
participation from Charles River Ventures, and angels
including David Cancel, Mark Jacobstein, Ramesh Haridas, Vikas Taneja, Chris Hobbs, and Andy
Toebben. Founders Brian Kennish, formerly an engineer at
Google who left to work on this full-time, and Casey
Oppenheim, a consumer rights attorney, say the
startup will be using the funding first of all to help with
the launch of Disconnect 2 for Safari and Opera
browsers. Disconnect 2, launched in April 2013 as a Chrome
and Firefox extension, blocks some 2,000 third-party
websites that track you across the web. That vastly
expands the power of the service that initially focused
on a handful of portals Disconnect.me first kicked off
when Kennish was still at Google and created the Chrome extension for Facebook specifically, in
October 2010. Kennish notes that Disconnect 2 has gotten more
than 250,000 new users since launching in April and
that all the startup’s apps combined have more than
1,000,000 weekly active users. Within the current
range of software, it is charged on a pay-what-you-
want model. “Like Humble Bundle,” says Kennish, who adds, “Some of our
upcoming releases will also include freemium
features.” In addition to helping block some 2,000 third-party
sites that track users’ browsing histories, the
Disconnect 2 extension also helps filter out malware
and encrypts data that you share on sites “to prevent
wireless eavesdropping.” The company also promises
that by cutting down on a lot of the tracking noise, users are actually able to see faster-loading pages
and use 17% less bandwidth on average. “Increasingly, people want to know who’s tracking
them online and want to have a say about what
information is being collected about them,”
Oppenheim noted in a statement. “Our software is
designed to put users back in control so they can
decide how their personal data is used,” adds Kennish. Longer term, the company also hopes to focus more
on protecting users around the various features of
data mining. “We’ve always thought one of the
biggest threats to people’s online privacy is just how
big data mining is getting,” noted Kennish. “There’s so
much personal data being collected about us in so many places now and all that data is susceptible to
being used in ways we don’t want. So our goal is to
help people minimize the unwanted collection and use
of their data. We started by tackling third-party
tracking because most people don’t know their
browsing history is being tracked by thousands of invisible websites they’ve probably never even heard
of.” The company is also becoming increasingly focused
on security services? “We think there are way
too many holes in online consumer security, which
recent events have made even more obvious, and we
want to help plug some of those holes.”

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