Private search browser Cliqz buys Ghostery ad-tracker tool

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Mozilla-backed Cliqz, a German startup building an anti-tracking browser with a built-in private search feature powered by aggregated usage of its products, is acquiring the consumer assets of ad-tracker privacy tool and browser extension Ghostery. Terms of the all-cash deal have not been disclosed.

“By combining algorithmic and blocklist anti-tracking approaches, Cliqz and Ghostery will together further raise the benchmark in privacy protection,” Cliqz writes in a press release announcing the move.

Cliqz is acquiring Ghostery’s anti-tracking browser extensions and mobile apps, meaning it will be gaining the latter’s 10 million active users — hoping that will help spur international growth.

It’s not acquiring the company outright. Parent company Ghostery Inc, which is reverting to its prior name Evidon, will continue in what is described as an “enterprise-focused digital governance businesses” — focused on privacy compliance, including for ad industry groups wanting to adhere to the self-regulatory AdChoices program, but also for tracking compliance with compulsory privacy rules.

New York-based Evidon claims it’s seeing increased demand for its b2b digital governance services, pointing to incoming privacy regulations — such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will bring in steeper fines for data breaches when it comes into force in 2018 — as spurring corporates to take a closer look at their processes.

“The EU’s GDPR in particular has catalyzed the need for digital governance and clients are approaching us with an increasing set of demands,” said Scott Meyer, CEO & co-founder in a statement.

Evidon will continue to be fed aggregated anonymous tracking data from opt-in users of the Cliqz-operated Ghostery products (which will also continue as standalones, as before, via the suite of browser extensions and Ghostery Android and iOS mobile apps). “This deal will ensure that clients retain access to Ghostery data about trackers, and enable Evidon to focus exclusively on the significantly growing B2B market,” added Meyer.

The combined algorithmic and blocklist anti-tracking approaches will be merged by Cliqz into a new tech that will be implemented across both Ghostery-branded and Cliqz-branded products. Cliqz reckons the combined tech will “improve website loading time by blocking common trackers and protect users from increasingly aggressive data gathering methods”.

At this point Cliqz has about 1M monthly active users via its Firefox extension and standalone desktop and mobile browsers.

And while it’s been mostly focused on German-speaking markets to date, it’s actively stepping up efforts to grow beyond that — recently launching a beta version of its browser in France, and with designs on a US launch in the near future (it says it’s also added beta support for US-English for its quick-search feature).

Cliqz says it’s hoping ownership of Ghostery’s assets will help it accelerate its products into other markets. “We plan to launch in the US and some Western European markets soon,” says a spokesman. “The Ghostery acquisition will be a big help. Ghostery users around the world can opt-in to contribute anonymous statistical data via our Human Web technology.

“We will use this data to build web indexes for other countries/languages, so that our core product Cliqz quick-search will be able to support other markets quickly.”

Of US-English quick-search results, he adds: “The quality of the US search results will be satisfying at the start and with the help of Human Web quickly will improve quickly to reach the same level as in German.”

He also confirmed Ghostery’s former parent will not have direct access to Ghostery generated user data, going forward. “Ghostery users will be able to contribute data voluntarily and strictly anonymously to Cliqz,” he said, noting that the data collection process in Ghostery products will be changed to Cliqz’s Human Web technology (i.e. its aggregated, anonymized data collection process).

“Human Web is built on privacy-by-design-principles. It rules out that any PII [personally identifiable information] is stored on Cliqz’s or Ghostery’s servers,” he adds. “Cliqz will provide Evidon with a subset of the data that enables Evidon to continue their B2B services.

“Basically, Evidon will only get aggregated data about trackers (a “map of trackers“). Which trackers are on a website? How prevalent is the tracker in the web? No information about users whatsoever. Cliqz and Ghostery will never share any data about individual users with anyone. (Even if we wanted, we wouldn’t be able to, as we don’t store any.)”

Cliqz has previously discussed its plans to monetize this pro-privacy approach and usage of its free, anti-tracking browser and search products via a companion Cliqz Offers app — that will be designed to broadcast all offers to all users so Cliqz does not need to track individuals’ browsing habits to power ad targeting. Rather tracking of browsing habits occurs locally, on a user’s device, allowing for the tech to display pertinent offers to users without Cliqz itself needing to be party to its users’ browsing behavior.

The Cliqz Offers app has not launched yet, but the spokesman noted it is now working with its first pilot customers to launch their first campaigns — saying a soft launch is coming soon and the official launch is planned for later this year.

As well as hoping the acquisition of the Ghostery consumer business will boost Cliqz global user-base, Cliqz says it’s negotiating with other potential partners, naming entities such as anti-virus companies and mobile carriers as those it’s seeking to work with to try to raise its profile.

The Munich-based startup has been majority-owned by international media and tech company Hubert Burda Media since 2013.