With privacy top-of-mind for consumers and businesses, Disconnect offers a feature-packed tracker blocking and security solution

By Editor September 4, 2013
Casey Oppenheim, Disconnect

Casey Oppenheim, DisconnectBy Casey Oppenheim, Disconnect co-founder and CEO

Elevator Pitch: Disconnect develops award-winning privacy and security software that allows you to visualize and block the thousands of invisible tracking sites that collect your browsing history, searches, in-app activity, location data, and other personal info.

Product/Service Description

Disconnect’s browser extensions let you visualize and block over 2,000 third-party sites that track what you do on the web. Disconnect is also uniquely optimized for speed—based on benchmarks of the 1,000 most popular sites, pages use an average of 17 percent less bandwidth and load 27 percent faster with the app than without. And users can block potential sources of malware and encrypt the data they exchange with popular sites so an eavesdropper can’t steal their data or break into their accounts over public Wi-Fi. This video highlights our solution: http://youtu.be/Lvem1Z66C7Q.

Disconnect’s mobile app, Disconnect Kids, is a children’s privacy app for iPhone and iPad. Disconnect Kids is the first, and only, iOS app that stops data about your web-browsing and in-app activity from ever leaving your device. The app works by preventing major mobile tracking companies from making network connections to an iPhone or iPad. This short video shows how Disconnect Kids works under the hood: http://youtu.be/HverdXMmuEE.

Disconnect is pay-what-you-want software. A suggested 25 percent of payments will be donated to nonprofit organizations that share Disconnect’s mission.

Founders’ Story

I co-founded Disconnect in 2011 with Brian Kennish, a former Google and DoubleClick engineer. A couple years ago, Brian noticed social widgets (Like buttons, Tweet buttons, etc.) popping up all over the web. Given Brian’s background (he once worked on ad APIs for Google and ad servers for DoubleClick), he knew that social networks could collect a large chunk of our browsing history through these widgets and could connect our activity to our real names for the first time http://youtu.be/BK_E3Bjpe0E. He wanted a way to use social networks without trading away his browsing history, so he released Disconnect as the first social-widget filter. Since then, Disconnect has evolved into a more complete privacy (and security and productivity) app.

At the same time that Brian was building the original Disconnect extensions, I recognized that unwanted collection of personal data online was a major and growing consumer rights issue. Fast forward to today, and consumer advocacy remains a critical component of our mission and how we allocate our time and resources. To formalize this aspect of the business, we recently become certified as a B Corporation, a designation which gives us the flexibility to spend more time than a traditional company on activities such as consumer education, petition drives, and close collaboration with non-profits.

Marketing/Promotion Strategy

We’ve grown through awesome word-of-mouth distribution, press coverage and some fun popular videos that you can check out on our YouTube page: https://youtube.com/disconnecters

Market Opportunity

The personal data revolution is gaining steam as people realize how much of their personal information is being tracked online. The recent revelations about government tracking millions of people through private companies like Google and Facebook have brought online privacy into mainstream focus.

How We Differentiate From the Competition:

Our goal is to ship the perfect balance of privacy, security and usability. The Disconnect extension has a visually rich interface that collapses what’s often a laundry list of tracking requests into expandable categories, that charts the time and bandwidth you’ve saved and the requests you’ve secured, and that comes with a ‘Visualize’ page option to represent tracking graphically. Disconnect also upgrades your connections to popular sites to SSL whenever possible to prevent eavesdropping over non-secure networks, and Disconnect’s method of filtering is optimized for speed to accelerate the web as much as possible—27 percent in our benchmarks.

Our Disconnect Kids app has no competition, as it’s the first mobile app in its category and the only iOS app that stops data about your web-browsing and in-app activity from ever leaving your device

Also, we’ve structured ourselves so our interests line up with the interests of Disconnect users. As a B Corp, social values and consumer advocacy, not just profits and losses, are embedded in our performance measurements. We make money straight from users so we work for you not for advertisers or data brokers. About 25 percent of our revenue (the exact amount is determined by contributors) goes to privacy-protecting nonprofits like the EFF and the Tor Project so the cause of online privacy is generally advanced. And Disconnect is open source so developers can inspect or fork our code.

Business Model

The pay-what-you-want model is still an experiment for us, but the early results are promising. Our numbers so far are similar to freemium businesses, with around three percent of Disconnect users choosing to pay.

Current Needs

We’ve just finished raising an A round, and recently hired engineers that previously worked at Google, Microsoft, and the NSA.

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Disconnect logoWebsite: www.disconnect.me

Founder: Casey Oppenheim, Brian Kennish

Headquarters: Palo Alto

Year Founded: 2011

Facebook: facebook.com/disconnecters

Twitter: @disconnectme

Pinterest: pinterest.com/disconnecters