Social apps have long provided privacy settings to help you manage who can see your posts. Yet, time and again, we find ourselves surprised to learn that we’ve given away more than we intended — whether it’s a years-old tweet that lands us in hot water, a Facebook post we never intended our ex to see, or something even more serious. Jumbo, a new privacy assistant app for iOS, attempts to take the guesswork out of privacy settings. While the app is hindered significantly by restrictions from social media platforms, it could prove useful to anyone who wants to reduce the amount of data they have left around the social web.
Jumbo is the brainchild of Pierre Valade. He began working on the app after his previous company, the social calendar app Sunrise , sold to Microsoft. “The climate around privacy changed completely last year,” Valade tells The Verge. The Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal brought new attention to the way that data given away years ago could come back to haunt us. Valade and his six-person team based in New York began developing an app they hope will come to feel like your digital lawyer, a “data fiduciary” that manages privacy settings on your behalf.
The result is Jumbo, which is now available on iOS. (An Android version is forthcoming, the company said in a blog post.) For starters, the app manages your privacy on four different services: Twitter, Facebook, Google search, and Amazon’s Alexa. In the future, Jumbo plans to manage your privacy on Instagram and Tinder as well.
As a frequent tweeter, I was most interested in Jumbo’s Twitter cleaning service. Connect your account, and Jumbo will delete tweets on the time frame of your choosing. (I chose to let tweets expire after a month.) Your Twitter password is saved to the iOS keychain, not Jumbo itself — part of the company’s effort to collect as little data about its customers as possible.
Tap a “start cleaning” button, and Jumbo will delete your tweets while moving them into an archive that’s available inside the Jumbo app. The archive isn’t particularly useful — at the moment, it has no search function, so you’ll likely want to export your tweets to a desktop file as well — but it works well enough as a no-frills archive.
Due to restrictions with Twitter’s API, Jumbo can only delete your last 3,200 tweets. (This is true of other tweet-deleting services as well.) The app also needs to remain in the foreground while it performs its cleaning. Switch to another app, and it may stop working. As a result, if you have tens of thousands of tweets, you’ll need to go back and manually run the cleaning service every few days. Afterward, Twitter will start returning tweets beyond the 3,200 you just deleted so you can get rid of more. This is a recurring theme in Jumbo at launch: it’s a great idea, but its user experience is marred by API limitations.
By comparison, the Facebook experience is better. Connect using Jumbo, and the app will go through the company’s 40 or so settings and change them to limit the visibility of your posts. Rather than ask you to make more granular decisions, Jumbo offers “weak,” “medium,” and “strong” privacy settings. The medium setting makes most of your profile information available only to friends; the strong setting makes most of that information visible only to you.
Facebook offers no API to let developers change privacy settings, so Jumbo has to fudge it. In essence, the app uses scripts to mimic the process of clicking on the various settings to change them to your liking. “We’re not doing anything you wouldn’t be able to do yourself,” Valade says. “We’re trying to be a third party who works on your behalf to help you simplify and make decisions about a complex system.”
Jumbo can also limit the amount of time that Google stores your search results, and it can delete the voice recordings that Amazon stores from your Alexa usage. In the future, Jumbo hopes to let you clean up your public Instagram posts and delete your Tinder conversations.
All of this remains at least somewhat contingent on the tolerance of the companies whose settings Jumbo manages. Valade says he did not contact Facebook, Twitter, or others during the development process. It’s possible that they could seek to restrict it from inserting itself in between users and their privacy settings by introducing a CAPTCHA, for example, or by taking legal action. Doing so might earn them a round of bad press, but they could also argue that an app like Jumbo creates security concerns for users.
But the Facebook boss spent $30 million on the properties surrounding his Palo Alto home in a desperate bid for a little privacy, while companies just like his stripped it away from their customers. Privacy law firms exist to conduct audits and help companies take remedial action, but they are just not practical for smaller firms.
Even if it manages the risk from the platforms, it still has to build a sustainable business. (The company has raised $3.6 million in venture capital from investors, including Thrive Capital.) Jumbo will be free at launch, and Valade says the company plans to eventually charge power users for extra features. While people will often say they care deeply about privacy, it’s unclear how large the market is for the smartphone users who are willing to pay for it.
All of that said, as an idea, Jumbo’s time has come. A service that stays on top of tech companies’ ever-changing privacy settings and manages them toward the most restrictive settings would be a welcome addition to the tech world. I hope something like it can survive, even if I worry that it can’t.
Milking Facebook’s stewardship of WhatsApp for all it’s worth, Zuckerberg was intentional about pitching his new centralized yet private future for Facebook around the model of the encrypted messaging app, a platform so antithetical to Facebook’s broad mission that its founders left in disgust after cashing their checks.