Spotify alums create Canopy content suggester that won’t steal your data

Personalization has a high price. All your data is absorbed by the servers of a company where they can do whatever they want with them. But Canopy is a new beginning of content discovery that has invented an impressive technology that allows you to learn about yourself anonymously while all your data remains on your device. Built by the co-founder and CTO of Echo Nest, the music data creation company that Spotify acquired to push its recommendations, Canopy wants to turn privacy into a competitive advantage. Plan to equip any content application with its technology that will crunch your biographical and behavioral data on your phone or computer, so that everything you send will be clues to what you want to see or hear next.

But first, Canopy will launch its own proof-of-concept application early next year that suggests long-form articles and podcasts based on your taste and activity. "There has not been a great solution for private discovery, we think the reason why people have not been excited about privacy is that they have not seen the opportunities," says Canopy founder and CEO Brian Whitman. "We are totally changing the exchange of Internet values," adds Canopy's product strategy director and former Music Publishing Director, Spotify Annika Goldman. Matrix Partners is betting on Canopy's secure privacy vision for the future, leading an initial round of $ 4.5 million for start-up.

That seems sensible, considering that Whitman built one of the most loved content recommendation engines in the world: Spotify's Discover Weekly. "I've been doing music recommendation stuff since 2000," Whitman tells me. He left in 2015 and began to become disillusioned with "how much power we had put in customization and algorithmic decision making. All of your information goes to your servers. "The Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal only confirmed their opinions." All of this data is now being used against people, you get bad recommendations, bad ads and people are getting radicalized. "

A year or two ago he began to discuss the idea of ​​creating a content recommendation engine that does not require your real data as inputs. He came up with a solution where "Instead of sending thousands of data points to the server, we can keep all of that personal data on your phone," explains Goldman. "Let's take Spotify for example. You listen to a song You know where you heard it, you know how long you listened to it, you know what you did next, all these things you do not need to know to make music recommendations. "We condensed and summarized all that information and sent it as a single vector, in effect, a summary of the things that you might like and we made it impossible to reverse engineer the vector to understand the data that lies behind it."


She compares the system with A model of the world of contents in the Canopy servers. Instead of sending your past activity, personal information and intentions, just send a set of coordinates where you want the recommendations to go next. The Canopy team of 11 people is now developing their application that will ask you questions and observe your consumption behavior to adjust your suggestions. Because podcasts and longer articles are not owned by any service, they are an easy starting point for Canopy, although it is eventually expected to be agnostic. And since you should never absorb your data, there is no risk of it being stolen in a violation.


That's a great selling point for software as a Canopy service; plans to license its technology to other applications. "Being able to build a platform that can understand your data without the responsibility of user data is a game changer," Whitman says.

However, the biggest question the company faces is, "Do people really care about privacy?" Every day we hear about a new hacker attack, data exposure or company that sells our private information, but we're still browsing, even Facebook's growth rate has only been reduced slightly due to all its privacy issues, but Goldman believes that's because it's become so overwhelming that people "He has a head in view of privacy." "Oh, my God, all my data is out there. I'm at risk "What do I do about it?" "Well, I want to give people a way to do something about it." That is, trust Canopy instead of data capturers.

But if people can not be taught the value of privacy, it's hard to see the partners worry about building in the Canopy system. Whitman admits that services would have a modest impact on the accuracy of their recommendation if they adopt Canopy. He hopes that users' long-term good will compensates for that. On the horizon, he predicts that "there is a great awakening of consciousness."


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