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Upcoming app aims to give you big leg up in online privacy battle

When you think of data breaches and privacy violations, Facebook probably comes to mind. The company's privacy policies went under a microscope after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And, Facebook is under new scrutiny after it came to light that the company granted Netflix, Spotify, Amazon and others access to mass amounts of user data.

Consumers might feel helpless in not knowing how to fight back or may not understanding how it affects them. FigLeaf, a startup founded by Slava Kolomeichuk and Yuriy Dvoinos, is developing a cross-platform app to give users insight into how their personal data has been affected and new tools to control access to their private information.

"We want to empower users and give them the tools to have a choice to remain private online," Dvoinos, who also serves as FigLeaf's Chief Revenue Officer, told Download.com in the company's first public interview about its plans.

FigLeaf has a team of 100 that has been working on a new solution to the privacy problem, Dvoinos told Download.

Through the app, users will also get tools to take back their private data and have the final say in who can or cannot have access it. Dvoinos said that even if a user chooses to remain completely private and not share any data, they should still be able to enjoy the internet.

FigLeaf's app, which is still in private beta testing, will be able to discover if and where your personal data has been leaked in a data breach. Understanding how exposed you are is the first step to improving security, according to the company.

One of the ways FigLeaf determines how much of your data has been compromised is by scanning the dark web. When a user types their email address in the app, it runs a scan and shows the user how many accounts are at risk.

If a user's information was part of a data breach, passwords were also leaked.

"Right away, the customers can see how and what their exposure is like," Pankaj Srivastava, FigLeaf's COO and CMO told Download.com. "So when we think about the function for our privacy app, Figleaf, when we think about it and think one is first we need to understand how you are exposed. Next we need to secure that information."

Srivastava said that companies in the business of stealing data count on users having the same passwords for multiple accounts.

FigLeaf helps users construct more secure passwords, encrypts them, and can sync them across devices. Srivastava said that the company won't have access to the user's passwords.

Another tool that FigLeaf will offer is a way to create a dummy-email account that connects to your real one. The user will perform any online transactions with the false account and in the event of a data leak, personal data is protected.

The app lets you pick and choose which websites or companies can have access to your data by simply flipping a toggle. It's similar to customizing your settings in any other app.

Dvoinos said the ability to fully protect personal data today isn't available, but he hopes FigLeaf can change that.

"There is a very big reason privacy is in the headlines in most of the press throughout the world," Dvoinos said. "If you think about it, the way the internet is structured, you have to give up your private data. You don't have another choice, and this is a very big problem."

Entities that track users and then experience data breaches can result in serious consequences for the end-user, according to Dvoinos. These security violations can lead to account takeovers and other financial problems.

Srivastava said that companies who take advantage of users and steal data benefit from users thinking that the issue of compromised private data doesn't affect them personally. According to Srivastava, when you browse a website, the site follows you to other websites and slowly creates a profile. Based on that profile, companies make decisions about what you get to see online, what you don't see, and sometimes what you can purchase.

The reason Dvoinos and Kolomeichuk started FigLeaf is summed up in the company's mission statement: When privacy is a choice, humanity is free.

"In an environment where you are completely surveilled, you would definitely change your behavior, and if you apply that analogy to the online world, this is exactly how the world is structured right now," Dvoinos said.

FigLeaf's approach is to give users the best of both worlds: complete privacy and a regular online presence.

"We protect the connection and remove all the trackers," Dvoinos said. "Whenever you go online, most of the websites implement [at least] 80 trackers."

FigLeaf's product stands out amongst potential competitors in the privacy space in how the team gathers the intelligence, Dvoinos explained. Knowing how the stakeholders operate and how they store stolen data is key to fighting back.

FigLeaf isn't the first program hoping to affect change in the way of internet consumer privacy and data. The startup company Hu-manity launched the #My31 app and claims to give users legal control over their personal data with an ownership title.

The anti-Facebook app, MeWe, is more directly working in competition against the world's largest social media platform with user protection and privacy as its main goal.

It remains to be seen how the FigLeaf app will fare outside of beta testing, but the plan outlined by Dvoinos is a combination of reactive and proactive.

FigLeaf's app is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2019 and will be featured at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of February. For now, users can download and try out the Windows or Mac private beta. The Android and iOS beta versions will be available soon.

This first appeared on CNET as Exclusive: New app to protect your privacy will run on iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac