I tried Mine’s ‘right to be forgotten’ tool and, yup, my privacy is a disaster

The European Union may have ruled that residents have a “right to be forgotten,” (RTBF) but actually tracking the spread of your data online and then getting it removed is a logistical nightmare.

Tel Aviv-based Mine hopes to change that. The startup is building a platform that aims to be a one-stop shop for discovering your digital footprint and submitting RTBF requests. After chatting with cofounder and CEO Gal Ringel, I decided to give Mine a whirl.

And ye gods, I am a walking privacy disaster.

According to Mine, each consumer averages at least 400 companies that have access to their digital data, of which 80% are services the individual no longer uses.

However, Mine found that I had given my data to 848 companies. Gulp. With a footprint that large, systematically contacting each company to ask them to delete my information would be daunting.

Ringel argues that rather than causing despair, such knowledge can be viewed as the first step toward regaining control.

“We don’t use the word ‘privacy’ because many people think that has been dead for a long time,” Ringel said. “We think privacy has evolved into data ownership. With these new regulations, we can give our data to whoever we want, sign up for a service, and then take it back when we choose.”

To understand how Mine works, let’s start with a short refresher on the regulations involved. RTBF was given new life by a European court in a case involving Google. In May 2018, the EU General Data Protection Directive went into effect and further codified RTBF into law. This was followed in January 2020 by the California Consumer Privacy Act, which similarly requires that people be able to access and delete data.

While officially limited by geography, these rules have prompted a growing number of companies to set up clearer processes for responding to such requests from consumers. With data flowing across borders and companies and datacenters, it’s even hard for some companies to know definitively whether an individual’s data was or was not handled in one of these regulatory zones. So in that sense, you can make a request without having to prove location.

Mine is taking advantage of this with a new service that just launched this year. The company has been using machine learning to scour company websites to decipher their RTBF procedures.

A consumer can connect their email account to Mine, which uses machine learning to search the subject lines of all emails. The system has studied the privacy policies of each company to determine what kind of information you likely had to turn over to register or make a purchase, and it factors that in as well. As such, Mine doesn’t read the body of the email or store the information.

Ringel said this is just a starting point, as the company will continue to add other sources to the platform. For now, a user can connect their Gmail or Microsoft Outlook email. “About 90% of companies that have your data can be found in your email inbox,” he said.

I connected my personal Gmail account, which returned a hit of 848 services. Of those, Mine said 175 have my financial data, 484 have my identity data, 120 have behavior data, and 24 have social network data.

The second step is to request deletion. Each of the 848 companies Mine found was displayed in a grid with the company’s icon. When I clicked on a company, a “reclaim” button appeared on most, but not all. As Mine learns about new services, it begins searching out their privacy rules and RTBF procedures.

Clicking the button generates a request to that company to delete data. I clicked on six companies whose names I didn’t recognize and am now waiting to be notified about my request.

Ringel said since launch Mine has sent 20,000 RTBF requests, with 64% completed successfully. “That means that companies are taking GDPR very seriously,” he said.

Mine is also working with many of these companies to improve their RTBF process. If Mine catches on, it’s easy to imagine companies being overwhelmed by requests. Ringel doesn’t want that to happen, and it offers feedback to help simplify and manage such requests.

Ringel said he also expects the machine learning to develop rapidly and to expand beyond its current 10 languages.

So far, the company has raised about $3 million in venture capital, and it plans to seek another round soon. As for the business model, the company is developing a premium level of services that will include additional tools for monitoring and managing a consumer’s data footprint, including notifications about data breaches.

“We think we’ve proven that if you take the GDPR and you make it accessible to the average person in a simple-to-use application, they will take action on their data,” Rigel said. “We want to give you the confidence to go online and have fun and not be afraid to give companies your data.”

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