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Theme fund: NGI0 Discovery
Start: 2020-10
End: 2022-09


Privacy-respecting site analytics

Transparently handling data in the open creates mutual trust: Offen is a fair web analytics software that gives users insights into the data they are generating by giving them access to the same suite of analytics tools site operators themselves are using. One unique aspect of Offen is requiring user consent before collecting any data. Especially in countries that are governed by GDPR and its siblings this is a real world requirement for many websites. This is not only about collecting data, but also about embedding third party content or similar.

Usage metrics come with explanations about their meaning, relevance, usage and possible privacy implications, and also details which kind of data is not being collected. Users can expect full transparency and are encouraged to make autonomous and informed decisions regarding the use of their data, and operators are being enabled to collect needed usage statistics while fully respecting their users' privacy and data. No user data is being collected until the user has explicitly opted-in. All data can be deleted either selectively or in its entirety by the users.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

As you fire up your computer, laptop or smartphone and click your browser icon to connect to your favorite site, do you know what happens behind the scenes? Many websites actually have dozens of different trackers, and some of these have such a global presence that they can form a pretty clear picture of ones online behaviour. Some argue that privacy is and has been dead for quite some time. As long as users have a quick internet connection and can access the web, email, games and messages without a hitch, they won't complain. But if you question people about the importance of online privacy, usually the answer is that it is indeed important and should be better protected. What is happening here? Perhaps we misunderstand carelessness with unfamiliarity. The technology behind most of our devices, our connection to the internet and the virtual spaces we inhabit is complex, yes, but the solutions we use to access them have also kept actual control away from us under the guise of 'intuitiveness' and 'pick up and play'. Playing here means playing by the rules of the developer, not by your own. What users instead should have are tools that give them actual access to what their devices do, what choices are made, and decide for themselves whether they agree with them or not.

Privacy isn't dead, we just lack the tools to actually protect it. On the internet this would mean users need tools that first give them behind the scenes access and show how they are tracked and profiled. Then they should be able to flip a switch and decide, no, I don't want some unknown company to follow me around and record everything I do.

This is what offen is creating: a tool that gives users just as much insight and control as a website owner has over data gathering and analysis - putting both on an equal footing. And the user remains in full control: before any data is actually collected, users can see precisely what would be collected about them, and who that data would be shared with. Since website owners needs to convince the visitor that they will respect her or his privacy in order to get their explicit consent, the rather than brutally grabbing any data she or he can get how that affects their privacy. Then they can either opt-in. This way, users have the tools and the access they need to make informed choices online and web site operators, who usually just want to know how many views their site gets and where their visitors are coming from, can respect the choices of their viewers.

After supporting development of offen for components like end-to-end encryption and proper accessibility, NGI Zero now funds work to improve performance, allow sharing of data across instances and more to make this privacy-friendly analytic solution more robust and reliable.

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This project was funded through the NGI0 Discovery Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825322.