Extension Developer Interview: Coffee With the Abine Team

Update Oct 30 2014: the DoNotTrackMe extension has been renamed to Blur

This is the fifth article in a series of interviews with Opera extension developers. We want to shed a light on what drives them, what their workflow is like, which tools they use, what their plans for future extension versions are, and so on. For this interview, we sat down with Zach Rachins from Abine, which is the company behind the DoNotTrackMe extension, and asked him some questions over a (virtual) coffee.

What is Abine?

Abine was founded on the principle that consumers deserve better privacy options. Today’s default in an online, interconnected world is for your info to be tracked and recorded. Abine gives everyday people easy and convenient privacy options when they need them most.

Can you give a short introduction to DoNotTrackMe?

DoNotTrackMe protects your online privacy. Whereas some privacy extensions just focus on the passive web tracking done by advertising networks, social networks, and data collection companies, DoNotTrackMe also helps users protect their email address, phone number, and credit card info from getting into the hands of third parties.

How many people work for Abine? Where are you based?

We’re based in Boston, and currently there are about 20 people in our office plus at least one dog.

Abine team
The Abine team

How did Abine come up with the idea behind DoNotTrackMe? How did it start?

The company’s founding came from recognizing that there were two massive trends heading on a collision course. First, online activity was starting to become a necessary part of almost everybody’s lives, from children to grandmothers, and second, the massive amount of commercial data collection and tracking that was starting to happen.

As for DoNotTrackMe, each of the founders had a specific focus on different aspects of online privacy, from looking at all the activity in the browser from JavaScript trackers and web beacons, to thinking about identity theft and the personal information that users give directly to websites. That led directly to the specific features that we’ve built into our extension.

How is DoNotTrackMe different from other similar extensions?

DoNotTrackMe is different from other extensions in two main ways:

First, the scope of privacy protection we are providing is much greater. We are not just focused on one thing that other extensions are focused on (blocking web trackers); we’re looking at all interactions with websites.

Second, we simply have a different business model. We don’t make money through advertising or charging fees to advertising companies. We offer people privacy services directly, and ones that are good enough for them to pay for them. Abine is a company on the users’ side that will provide them with an ongoing set of privacy features that can compete with the advances of the commercial tracking and data collection.

How come Abine’s extensions are free? How do you make money?

While DoNotTrackMe is free, there are premium features including Masked Phones, Masked Credit Cards, and more for $5 per month. Anyone can use DoNotTrackMe for free to stop web tracking and protect their email, which is made possible by the group of people that pay for the Premium features.

What is your idea-to-development workflow? What’s your UX process like?

We do agile development, so we spend a lot of time actually making prototypes. And not as much time noodling on the perfect design. That means that we hone our user experience by actually using our prototypes, and taking changes to the extensions out for a spin in the real world. Since our extensions interact with the web it’s really the only way. We do go through user testing processes, but primarily we eat our own dogfood and rely on being heavy users of our own extensions.

Which tools have been particularly useful when developing extensions? (text editors, libraries, testing tools, etc.)

There is a war amongst our editors between Sublime Text 2 and PhpStorm, so I don’t have an easy answer to that. We also moved from SVN to Git and, like the rest of the world, we’ve found Git to be fantastic.

What can we expect in upcoming versions? Where do you see your extensions evolve?

We continue to add privacy features for our premium users on a regular basis. Our goal is to expand how we help users to cover all the ways that they interact online. For example we started with blocking online trackers, then expanded the scope, offering Masked Emails, Masked Phones, and Masked Cards to cover the interactions users have directly with websites. And we’re going to be continuing that trend, finding ways to help users as new intrusions to privacy appear.

Thanks for the interview, Zach!