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Blog /Privacy

GDPR could kill the company we built. Here’s what we’re doing about it.

01st Feb 2018 –

It was scary, standing for something that in my mind could change the course of the company. But it had to be done.

In 2008, my cofounder Claudiu and I first met in a hotel lobby on a rainy day in Bucharest. Since then we’ve worked on the idea that became Convert. Now, some years later, we’ve seen other tools, built on similar ideas, race by left and right to take ranks one and two in our industry.

But of course, that’s nothing new. On Valentine’s day in 1876, two men were raced to the patent office—Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray. Only one will be remembered as the inventor of the telephone.

Why feel sorry for ourselves?

10 years later, I’ve learned it really doesn’t matter how careful you follow lean startup models, or how early you enter the market with your invention. It’s about persisting, shouting, and hustling. And the one that cuts the features to the core, and stands for something, wins the race.

Early this year I reflected on how the race was run in those beginning years—where one company ‘outblogged’ everyone in the industry. They took the number one spot. Then, they were passed by two Googlers that perfected the tool.

All the while I was struggling to get out of bed, and going through a nasty divorce. I learned a lot of valuable lessons that year. But I the most important thing I learned was: pick something!

We took two years to pick and zoom into one feature—A/B testing. We played catch up for years.

And now, at 42 years old I was buried under legal documents…again.

300 pages of legal work that could end any man’s life work…

Ah and other 65 pages extra a couple of days later… thank you for adding that to the stack!

GDPR hit me hard.

For weeks, I had a hard time sleeping. The new General Data Privacy Regulation would change the industry forever if it was fully implemented—if those drafts made it into law.

And of course, they did.

But one Saturday, not too long ago, I read some more articles. I developed a new vocabulary: data minimization, pseudonymous personal data. Citizens were saying clearly: “We want you to make our lives better and easier. But stop hoarding data on my personal life.”

And I realized they were right. I felt the same. I just wanted to offer that perfect balance between benefit for the customer, and the company.

But with the passing of GDPR, I realized: Data privacy is a trend I cannot fight. I have to embrace it as a gift.

And the gift that finally our core values align with a huge external event—an event so big that we should ride the wave, and resist the urge to try and swim against the current.

At Convert, we’ve always tried and keep infrastructure simple and authentic.

  • We had many complaints over the years that our analytics was not that sophisticated.
  • We don’t offer drill down reports in user behavior.
  • We don’t offer machine learning or behavioral analytics.

We just offer a solid, simple product—like you can expect from Levi or Ikea. It just works.

The system always stays up; it’s lightning fast. It’s supported by real people that occupy the chat 24/7. And with the way GDPR is pushing marketing—we couldn’t have made better choices.

We choose to be simple in logging data. We choose to not track individuals. We group them in buckets, count the totals—and in that way made a really scalable and fast system that could be made affordable to high traffic customers.

Remembering this, was how I brought about my breakthrough.

“Wait… we choose not to track individual users…

We choose not to track individual users…

Not to track individual users!!!!

That’s it…”

We built the system with privacy at its core—without actually realizing it. We want to be authentic, simple and helpful. And this core value was finally going to align with a new trend in data: just store what you need and nothing more.

I rushed to analyze the system we had with developers and we found enough things to fix before we are GDPR and ePrivacy Regulations compliant in our software (follow the roadmap here).

But for us, it was nowhere near as hard as I expected.

And it turns out the down-to-earth, “keep it simple” attitude, that prevented us from becoming the number 1 tool in our industry, had become, in the end, an asset.

So after a decade of searching, it looks like we’ve found a perfect fit.

We will be the most authentic A/B testing tool on the market. We’ll takes from the website visitors just a little information, and nothing personal—just enough for our customers to learn. For those using our tool to get better offers, and a better experience, to their users. Nothing more, nothing less.

But this was not over…

One scary feature still had to be discussed: “Do Not Track”.

Do Not Track (or just DNT) is a privacy setting end-users can set in most browsers. And it’s exactly what it sounds like.

With it, website visitors can turn on a browser setting telling website owners that, as you’d imagine, they do not. want. to. be. tracked.

Jonathan Mayer and Arvind Narayanan are the two principal researchers at Stanford University who have been working on the Do Not Track technology for years. It relies on information in the HTTP header to universally opt out of all online tracking.

“But how do we support Mayer and Narayanan’s idea?” I asked my co-founder. How do we implement Do Not Track?

I realized an A/B testing tool can have the following options:

  • It finds Do Not Track is important enough to be respected by the tool, without the need for customers to turn anything on or off. It just works.
  • Do Not Track can be turned on or off by users for the entire platform.
  • Do Not Track can be turned on by users of the platform per project, and region (ie. Europe).

And as Claudiu and I were discussing this, he told me: “If you want to do the right thing, you have to role Do Not Track out for everyone. You have to make the tool respect the browser settings.”

Somewhere inside me I had flashbacks of not picking one feature, not picking blogging, not picking shouting with pride, not picking one product. Of being passed by a friendly blogger and by Googlers left and right.

So this time I picked.

I picked privacy.

I picked to add “Do Not Track” for all customers, each time they setup a new account they see it and pick what privacy they want to give to their new projects. I picked to be the outlier tool that does not give 1:1 personalization. I picked to be the most privacy oriented A/B testing tool.

And it’s Scary. And exciting. Something that most likely puts a journey of 10 years of not picking to rest. We picked what we stand for. We picked not to take you as a customer, if you don’t stand for the same.

But it’s ok. Let’s still be friends.

Please pick VWO if you want detailed personal session recordings and heatmaps. They’re a cool team.

Please pick Optimizely for the most detailed user profiles. It’s your best bet, (if you have 100K to spend on software).

But we hope you’ll consider….

  • Picking Convert if you like our carbon positive infrastructure.
  • Picking Convert if you like your servers locked down safe in Frankfurt, Germany.
  • Picking Convert if you like to chat to real people instead of waiting for a ticket.
  • Picking Convert if you think GDPR and ePrivacy Regulations are something to be taken seriously.

I picked. And we love to have you as a customer, if it’s a fit. We find we fit our brand really well now. Maybe for the first time in 10 years.

We picked and found a great fit for ourselves.

And we recommend the same to you.

Pick something, anything authentic. And you’ll be fine.

Originally published February 01, 2018 - Updated September 14, 2020

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