Adblock Plus and (a little) more

How Trusted News works · 2018-06-13 15:00 by Mario König

We at Eyeo care as much about promoting trustworthy content on the web as we do about your privacy. Apart from Trusted News’ important mission and core values, we’re focused on providing an extension that relies on processing information locally on your computer without ever sending any personal data or browsing history to our (or anyone else’s) servers.

So, let me introduce you to Trusted News, explain how it works and what’s happening in the background while you browse the web.

A decentralized, serverless classification approach

Trusted News works in a mostly serverless, decentralized way without the need to check the websites you browse with external services. Everything you do while Trusted News is enabled stays on your computer and will never be shared with our servers or any other third-party services.

Extensions and services similar to Trusted News usually rely on a centralized service that accepts input and returns information and further details relevant for users. However in the case of an extension which aims to provide information about every website you browse – like Trusted News – this approach could end in a privacy nightmare, i.e. each website you visit would need to be sent to an external service in order to fetch information about it. To mitigate this problem, we use a serverless approach in our extension.

Once a day, Trusted News fetches a publicly available list of websites that are ranked by their level of trustworthiness. As soon as you visit a website, Trusted News looks up the URL locally in this list of websites and displays the level of trustworthiness and general classification. The only time Trusted News calls home in the background is to download an up to date list of classifications (this happens once a day). Neither your browsing history, nor any information about individual websites is ever transmitted.

In detail: what kind of data is captured?

There are exactly two instances during which Trusted News calls our servers and thus shares the bare minimum of information needed for the application to work:

1. Once per day, Trusted News downloads a new list of ranked websites. While the download is initiated, the following data is sent to our servers:

  • The data your browser automatically sends to a server while requesting a file download which contains:
    • the name and version of your browser
    • the name and version of your operating system
    • the exact timestamp of when you requested the file
    • your IP address
    • your computer’s locale
  • The information our servers need to know about your installation of Trusted News in order to provide our service, which is limited to:
    • the version of Trusted News running on your computer
    • the version of the website list Trusted News last downloaded
    • the number of times the website list was downloaded without failure (capped at a low number to increase privacy)

2. If you decide to share feedback about website classifications with us, the feedback will be sent to our servers once you click “send.” This call to our servers contains the following data:

  • The data your browser automatically sends to a server while requesting a file download which contains:
    • the name and version of your browser
    • the name and version of your operating system
    • your IP address
    • your computer’s locale
  • The information you provided as feedback, which is limited to:
    • your rating about the accuracy of the classification of a website
    • any optional written feedback you provide

None of this can be used to identify you as an individual nor does the data provide any insights about your browsing behavior – and we’ll keep it at that.

Data sources

Another, very important aspect of an extension like this – which aims to indicate the trustworthiness of websites and news platforms – is to provide unbiased, autonomously assessed information. In order to achieve this, we partnered with MetaCert, one of the largest and most reputable information providers of website content and trustworthiness. MetaCert regularly crawls the web for new and existing websites, automatically assesses their content and lets real human beings classify the information they provide. And to top this off, this process is currently being relocated to the blockchain in order to let users and partners democratically vote on classifications. The feedback you can optionally provide within Trusted News directly influences this.
Furthermore, MetaCert works hand-in-hand with other fact checkers to enrich their already extensive classification process by assessing information that is already out there and publicly available.

That’s not to say that we will not further expand our network. We plan to partner with more and more fact checkers after the initial release of Trusted News in order to provide the most well-rounded and balanced pool of website classifications. Stay tuned for even more data. ;-)

“If you don’t pay for the product, then you are the product”

In the software world, there’s a saying that goes something like, “If you don’t have to pay for a product or service, that product or service is most likely profiting from selling your information.” And in the light of recent privacy scandals and big players selling your private data to others, we want to directly address this. We’re not interested in your personal data nor are we intending to make money with Trusted News! :-)

Trusted News began as an experiment of a few developers who usually work on Adblock Plus. The goal was to come up with a proof of concept for an extension that doesn’t call home while still heavily relying on a lot of external data. Mix this with the hot topic of fake news and you get Trusted News.

Our own personal gain from Trusted News is exactly that: a perfect way to experiment with decentralized applications and privacy-friendly services to build upon. It would be a shame not to share it with the world, wouldn’t it?

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Comment [2]

  1. Michael · 2018-06-13 16:55 · #

    No thanks!

  2. ABP user · 2018-07-04 05:19 · #

    Thank you.

Commenting is closed for this article.