Shop on Amazon and then later, you will see ads for the same, recommended products as you sign into Facebook. Twitter recommends you follow the Twitter profile of a blog you were just looking at. Then you open your mail and get coupons for your weekly grocery delivery. How did they know it was you, you may well be asking. Businesses are using a variety of ways to track your internet usage and they do know it’s you, or at least your computer. But two Germans are trying to give users their browsing sovereignty back.
Christian Bennefeld knows all about trackers. For his previous company, he observed the surfing behavior of customers of retailers and advertisers. “But strictly in line with data protection, without creating a profile spanning multiple websites,” the mathematician is quick to assure. In 2013, he withdrew from eTracker and raised €600,000, around $671,000, to start eBlocker through crowdfunding after seeing how his competitors weren’t following the rules. “The data collected, particularly by US giants, is definitely going too far.”
The protective device connects to the home network and blocks trackers, but still allows website operators to collect data from actual page visitors. Others, like Google, says Mr. Bennefeld, remain locked out.
Hermann Sauer and his device, the Trutzbox, take a tougher stance. His device is a router, firewall and email server all rolled into one device, even making encrypted telephone and video conferencing possible. It locks out everything, giving Mr. Sauer to boast that “not even the NSA can eavesdrop on my data.” He’s been working on the device for three years.
But security has its price. A number of smartphone apps, like WhatsApp or Facebook, no longer work when the user activates the maximum filtering. Some websites, which are intensively based on tracking, would be displayed incorrectly when the highest level of protection is enabled, which is why the box makers have adapted the filter individually.
The devices in the default setting are also unable to block trackers in the case of encrypted websites – recognizable by the abbreviation “https” in the address, which means secure “hyper text transfer protocol.” Those wanting protection activated for these sites as well, must install additional security files in their computer, smartphone or browser.
Both Mr. Bennefeld and Mr. Sauer admit that anyone wanting to remain completely anonymous online, must accept small sacrifices in user friendliness.
And then there is the price. The boxes will set people back between €219 to €329, with some updates and subscription fees. Whether average consumers consider it worth the investment, compared to free ad blockers and filters is yet to be seen.
This story originally appeared in Wirtschafts Woche, sister publication to Handelsblatt. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.