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Privacy Tech | News aggregator seeks to deliver personalized stories without collecting data Related reading: FTC-Facebook settlement to include board-level privacy oversight

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Veryan Goodship believes the data economy has reached its peak, and he hopes his fledgling solution can thrive in an era when consumers have become more privacy savvy.

Goodship is the founder and CEO of Truba News, a news aggregator tool designed to create a personalized experience based on the stories users choose to read.

Truba customizes the news stories a user sees without the collection of personally identifiable information. In a phone conversation with Privacy Tech, Goodship said the only data Truba collects is an individual’s username. The tool uses machine-learning algorithms to track interactions that take place on its dashboard.

Truba is attempting to break onto the scene as internet patrons are becoming more cognizant of tech companies' data-collection practices. A survey conducted by Arms Treasure Data found 77 percent of U.S. citizens felt tech companies track their online activities, and another survey performed by Blis revealed 62 percent of Americans were more aware of marketers' data-collection efforts now than they were a year ago. When RSA asked respondents about tailored ads generated from their information, only 17 percent believed that use of data was ethical. Pew Research Center has also done its fair share of studies on targeted ads and misinformation

The dashboard lists out several articles, each with an image, a headline and the news source. If a user clicks on the image or the headline, they will see a brief preview of the story. When a user clicks on the source, they are taken to its website to read the entire article. Goodship said Truba’s algorithms can determine whether a user previews a story or leaves the dashboard to read the full article. All these interactions are tied only to a username and will help Truba offer similar stories for future uses.

Goodship believes Truba differentiates itself from other news aggregation services through its avoidance of real names, IP addresses and other identifiers.

“Part of the problem with these machine-learning products is that you need to collect data on users in order to actually predict what they want. The whole business model behind these companies is to collect data on people and to resell that data to others,” Goodship said. “We decided we can collect data on a specific user but only if we connect that to a user ID and never sell that information to anyone else, that’s a way to keep it private.”

Goodship set me up with a very early version of Truba to try out. The interface is easy to use, and I was able to search different topics with ease. The dashboard is broken down into six sections of news: crime, sports, business, politics, tech and entertainment.

I looked up stories on my most pressing interests: Marvel movies, Boston sports, upcoming concerts, and it obviously goes without saying, data privacy. Each time I was given relevant, recently published news stories. The dashboard is not necessarily flashy, but it serves its purpose.

While Truba currently allows users to test out the dashboard, Goodship notes its personalization algorithms are still in development: This became apparent to me when I saw that the sports tab was filled with stories about rugby. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the sport immensely, but it is not one I follow closely. I am interested to see how accurate Truba can be when it reaches the capabilities Goodship laid out during our chat.

In order to receive personalized news stories, users will need to pay CA$5 for the premium version of Truba. Since the service prides itself on the minimal amount of data it holds on its customers, I was naturally curious about how it handles customers’ financial information.

“Unfortunately, according to online payment regulations, the payments need to be tied to an email address. The payment information is kept on servers at Stripe and is not associated with any other user information that is kept on our end,” Goodship said in an emailed statement. “If a user doesn't want their payment information to be associated with them, they would need to use an email address that they explicitly use for privacy purposes.”

Goodship said Truba is primarily a B2C service, but added it could be used in a professional setting by analysts who wish to stay on top of industry trends. Goodship is focused on clients primarily in North America and the U.K., but a French version of Truba is expected to come down the pipeline.

He notes it is very difficult to create a news aggregator, as they are “technically complicated and challenging” and require a lot of capital.

“If you are able to raise that money, you need to justify how you are going make a return. Collecting data on people and selling it to markets is a business model and that is popular out there and a lot of people are trying to follow it,” Goodship said. “We are at the peak of that market. I don’t think it’s going to continue to be as glorified as it is right now.”

Goodship believes business models built on lots of data collection is on the downturn and that stems from consumers’ growing appreciation for privacy. It is why Truba was built with a privacy-by-design approach, as Goodship believes that is the way the market is trending.

It is also why he offered this warning: “If you don’t build your application from the ground up with privacy in mind, it is a lot harder to retroactively apply those privacy principles.” 

photo credit: jesse1dog When you have read the newspaper .... via photopin (license)

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