One-Liner Pitch: The browser extension helps users monitor and block more than 2,000 websites from collecting their data online.
Why It's Taking Off: Disconnect.me was founded by an ex-Googler to put users in control of their browsing history.
Brian Kennish spent more than a decade building the software that allows companies to track your data online. He developed ad servers for Double Click in the early 2000s, and then joined Google where he worked on the search giant's first AdWords API. But then he became a heavy Facebook user, and his thinking about ad-tracking technology started to change.
"I really enjoyed using Facebook, but the fact that their social widgets were popping up all across the web meant that by virtue of my using Facebook, I was also giving Facebook a big chunk of my browsing history," Kennish told Mashable in an interview. "That just seemed like a part of the deal that I didn't sign up for."
In 2010, Kennish took "a couple hours" to put together a browser extension called Facebook Disconnect that blocked third-party websites from sending data about users back to Facebook. As he describes it now, the tool was partly intended to give himself a way to keep using Facebook without having to give up his browsing history. But it ended up gaining a fair amount of media coverage, and was downloaded tens of thousands of times.
At the time, Kennish was still employed as an engineer at Google, which was then building its own social network called Google+. He said that Google employees were told not to talk about his project for fear of fueling the media narrative about the rivalry between Google and Facebook, but the "unofficial reaction" inside the company was that it was a good idea. Still, "some of them wished it wasn't developed by a Googler as a side project."
Kennish left Google shortly after to focus on building tools that would help Internet users track and control what data they share online not just with Facebook. He launched Disconnect.me the following year to do just that. The browser extension, which received a major update earlier this week, helps users easily visualize and block more than 2,000 websites from tracking their data online, as well as encrypting the data they do share with websites.
"The vast majority of users don't even know that this stuff is going on, and certainly don't know how their data is being used," Kinnesh said, adding that he believes the best person to solve this problem would be someone who helped create it someone like himself. "In a way, I feel like these tools had to come from an insider."
There are a couple of other services such as Ghostery that provide more private browsing options, but Kennish has broadened the uses for Disconnect beyond this function. The latest version of Disconnect also promises to make web browsing faster by reducing bandwidth usage by 17%, and loading pages 27% faster.
Disconnect.me raised $600,000 last year, and recently passed one million weekly active users. As part of version 2.0, the startup has introduced the option for users to pay what they want for the extension, marking its first move towards monetization. Although it has only been a few days, Kennish said the number of users who have opted to pay for the extension has "exceeded everyone on the team's expectations."
Image courtesy of Disconnect.me