The VPN provider created its new privacy tool in order to help consumers regain control over who has access to their data. Upon a customer's request, Icogni can identify and communicate with dozens of data brokers so that their details can be deleted from these companies' databases.
However, Incogni users will also be able to follow the progress on how many companies were contacted, which ones have deleted their data and which are in the process of doing so.
Incogni is now available for $7.99 a month or for $47.88 for the year in both Europe and the US where GDPR and CCPA require companies to give or delete information they hold on a person if they receive a formal request to do so.
A difficult and time consuming process
Data brokerage firms currently own data on hundreds of millions of consumers with some of the top names in the industry boasting up to 1,500 data points per consumer. In addition to contact credentials such as a user's phone number and home address, the information they collect can also include details on a person's ethnicity, religion, marital status, hobbies, media usage, purchase and search history or even their political affiliation.
As part of their research into the data brokerage industry, Surfshark's team contacted 36 data brokers on their own to show just how difficult and time consuming this process can be.
Getting a final response took a little over six days from when the team sent its first email to each new data broker and more than 20 days with each established one. However, as the 36 data brokers contacted by Surfshark make up only one percent of the existing market of 4,000 companies, it would take 66 years to finalize one person's data inquiry requests manually. Additionally, 63 percent of the large data brokers the company contacted asked for additional personal data such as a bank statement or even an e-signature to complete the inquiry even though this wasn't necessary.
Surfshark CEO Vytautas Kaziukonis provided further insight on why the company decided to create Incogni in a press release, saying:
"Data privacy is becoming an increasingly alarming issue, yet many people are still unaware of the hidden market that data brokers operate in. As the sensitivity and scope of data they possess widens, so does the need to be able to opt-out of it. However, based on recent studies, the actual process of taking back data is an extremely tedious procedure, which requires legal knowledge and lots of persistence. Incogni aims to help users opt-out of these practices more efficiently and exercise their legal right to privacy easily.”
Handing over power of attorney
In order to have Incogni work its magic with data brokers, potential customers will first have to sign power of attorney documents.
Although doing so might raise some concerns, a company spokesperson explained in an email to TechRadar Pro that Surfshark has been very conscious of ensuring that power of attorney only gives it the right to reach out to data brokers, make data deletion requests and to withdraw consent to process a customer's data.
However, if a company objects or ignores these requests without substantial grounds, Incogni can then submit a complaint to local data protection agencies to renew their data protection practices and processes.
Thankfully though, power of attorney automatically stops being valid once all of a customer's data removal requests have been processed and confirmed by the companies involved that a person's data has been removed.
The scope of Incogni's power of attorney is very narrow and has been specifically tailored to only be used for data removal from data brokers. As transparency is critical when it comes to sensitive topics like personal data, Surfhsark plans to edit Incogni's landing page copy to be absolutely clear about this before users sign up for the service.
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After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.