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Why privacy must be at the core of every tech product


Did you know Ingrid Ødegaard, the author of this piece, is speaking at TNW2020 this year? Check out their session on ‘How to compete with tech giants’ here.

In a world where tech products are now our lifeline to the world, what challenges and considerations are facing those who build them? Whereby’s co-founder Ingrid Odegaard met up with Jon von Tetzchner, founder of web browsers Vivaldi and Opera to talk about why privacy matters, Norwegian work culture, and designing products with a community of users.

Jon von Tetzchner is a pioneer in the browser world, having first created the web browser Opera in 1995, and is now founder and CEO of Vivaldi, a feature-rich privacy-focused browser. Whereby and Vivaldi share some of the same roots; started and headquartered in Norway, with both founders having spun their initial companies out of the Norwegian state-owned telco, Telenor.

I invited Jon to chat about the role technology plays in the current situation and to hear his reflections on why privacy is only increasing in importance, particularly with end-users becoming more and more conscious and concerned about how their personal data is being used.

Ingrid Ødegaard, co-founder and chief product and technology officer at Whereby:

Jon, this is the second independent browser company you’ve started. Why do you feel that it’s important to have competition within the browser market?

The web browser is a tool that people spend a lot of time with, and there was a time when we were actually quite close to only having one. If that had been the case, we would have been left with just Internet Explorer, which dominated the market fully for a long time. I don’t think anyone would have been happy with just one option, because even Microsoft themselves were not satisfied with Internet Explorer. It just shows the value of competition and how it drives the quality of software. Because of competition, we push each other! Browsers are very important because they are probably the most used pieces of software we have. So, having a choice and variety of browsers to choose from is crucial.

At Vivaldi, you work closely with your users, adapting the browser to their needs. How do you do that and what drives your priorities?

Instead of doing what people usually do when they develop software, which is looking at what others are doing, how people are using different software, and relying on aggregate data to make decisions, we prefer to listen to what people say.

We have a group of volunteers called “The Sopranos” within the Vivaldi community who help us test our browser. They spend a lot of time trying to help us to help others and we typically release builds to this group once a day or sometimes more often. We then release snapshots to the wider community once a week (or more) and that allows us to get continuous feedback on what we are doing. Our community connects in forums with almost 700.000 registered members, and they get free email and blogging services alongside the forum access.

We have a mixture of good and bad feedback which come from people who typically have very strong and constructive opinions. Regardless of the type of feedback, it is invaluable to us because it helps us build a better product.

In general, we try to build a product that gives people flexibility. We all have different ways of working. So with a tool that you use as much as a browser, being able to adapt it to your preferences is clearly important.

In this current crisis, a lot of people have been forced outside of their comfort zone and have had to explore new tools and different ways of working. How do you think this will affect the way companies and people collaborate in the long term?

A lot of people have had to work in a different way lately. But for us who work (literally) on the internet, this way of working isn’t new. Understandably, however, many are trying to find ways to replicate the feeling of being in the office.

When faced with a difficult situation, the natural reaction is to seek the comfort of being together with the people we trust and are used to working alongside. When everyone is sitting at home, we have to try and find ways to turn it into something positive rather than negative. As of now, it’s my impression that a lot of people are learning that this can actually work really well! If some of the new ways of working stick, it may have accelerated a development that would have happened either way within the next three to five years.

In Vivaldi, when we have a new need or problem to solve, we try every tool available to find the best fit. That’s how we ended up using Whereby as our go-to video meeting tool across the company. Did you know that you can use tiled view in Vivaldi to open a video meeting next to whatever web page you’re working on? We are seeing similar things from our new users, as other people start looking for alternative browsers. We are confident that we can be a better tool than other browsers out there. As soon as you spend more time online, you start organizing data and organizing what you’re doing – and you want a browser that helps you do this!

Vivaldi browser works great with Whereby video meetings