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CEO of PrivacyWall Jonathan Wu on why the future of search engines is rooted in consumer privacy

Jonathan Wu developed his company PrivacyWall as a response to the invasive technology used by BigTech companies to track their users and their online activity. He is passionate about giving consumers control over the way that their data is collected instead of submitting to the power of these companies. PrivacyWall is an easy to use search engine that protects users’ privacy and is paving the way for the future of the online world and the way that our data is used.

Welcome Jonathan, can you start by telling us about yourself and how you became interested in the field of cybersecurity?

I’m a co-founder of PrivacyWall, which is one of the fastest-growing private search engines. I was lucky to be able to go to Stanford, where I studied computer science under some incredible professors such as Marissa Mayer, who were also successful startup entrepreneurs. One of my professors, Mark Leslie, started Veritas Software, which was acquired by Symantec. Hearing his story of entrepreneurship inspired me to become an entrepreneur. After graduating from Stanford, I joined Insight Venture Partners as a venture capitalist, where I invested in market defining internet companies such as Web.com and ExactTarget, which was acquired by Salesforce.com for $2.5 billion.

I decided to pursue my dream and I started a successful ad-tech company with my brother. Over time, I became deeply disturbed by the tracking technologies that were being developed to profile and follow users online, often without their knowledge.

What inspired you to develop PrivacyWall?

We are builders, and we initially built a privacy firewall for Windows to block software applications beyond the browser from collecting our personal information. But then we realized there was a much bigger market opportunity around privacy for search.

Over 4 billion Internet users today use a search engine like Google that logs and tracks your activity around the internet. These search engines record your activity even outside of Google, because they operate ad networks that serve ads all over the internet. So, everywhere you go, you are being tracked, and you are being monetized.

Big tech platforms like Google have immense power, and consumers individually have no bargaining power. The search engine market is worth $99 billion in the US alone. Today, Google dominates the global search engine market with 92% market share. Google is a monopoly and consumers have few privacy friendly alternatives. We want to be the best private search engine.

What exactly does PrivacyWall do?

Our mission is to protect your data and your privacy. We don’t track your searches. Privacy Wall search is designed to be fast and secure. When using PrivacyWall, your search is faster and uses less data because we don’t use third-party trackers. We are not a search engine. We are the #UnSearchEngine.

Next to every search result, we have a special link called PrivateView. PrivateView allows anyone to preview a snapshot of a webpage in real-time without revealing your IP address. The website will never know you visited. The website will not be able to track you or retarget you. The website cannot cookie you. All the website sees is that PrivacyWall visited.

Why is this beneficial for search engine users?

Customers love us because we respect their privacy, and they trust us because we are their privacy champions. When consumers know they are being watched and followed around by Google, they self-censor their searches and they do fewer searches. They stop being their authentic selves, because they know they are being monitored, because they know their actions are being recorded, and because they are going to be judged. With PrivacyWall, we are empowering our users to just be themselves. Our motto is Be #Different. It’s amazing what happens when people can just be themselves. When customers switch to PrivacyWall, they do a lot more searches.

How important do you think it is for people to be aware of the risks that may occur when browsing online?

When you use a traditional search engine like Google, every link you click on is being recorded. There is simply no choice as a consumer to opt-out of this data-industrial complex. You either accept Google’s user agreement, or you can choose not to use Google at all. Anyone who gains access to your Google account can see every search you have ever made. All your YouTube searches are recorded too. Google’s private browsing mode is a misnomer. Google continues recording your data. Everywhere you go, you are being followed by advertisers, some of whom may have nefarious intentions.

The SolarWinds data breach has shown us just how risky it can be when there is a single point of failure, holding all of your data. It came as a shock to me, how these outdated monopolies have completely failed to protect our privacy and our data security.

Why should consumers choose PrivacyWall as their search engine? What makes it unique?

Consumers are becoming aware just how powerful Big Tech platforms are. Big Tech companies have the power to de-platform competitors for no reason at all. They are able to direct the public discourse and shape public opinion. Never in history have 3 companies been so powerful and been able to silence dissenting voices in an extra-judicial forum controlled by so few people, none of whom are elected officials. Remember, at Google, the founders, even though they aren’t actively running the company, still call the shots because they hold a majority of the voting rights. You don’t get a vote.

If we don’t restore competition in tech and start creating more consumer choice, our democracy will turn into an autocracy controlled by Big Tech. PrivacyWall is a fierce competitor of Google.

PrivacyWall was born different – in America’s lowest income county, right after Hurricane Maria had devastated our community in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The hurricane killed more than 3000 people, but it didn’t kill our dream for a more inclusive future.

When you use Google, you are choosing a product of the hyper-capitalism that existed in the Gilded Age and still exists today. The unfettered power of Big Tech poses a significant threat to American democracy.

When you choose PrivacyWall, you are not just choosing a search engine. You are voting for a more democratic future.

We made it very easy to switch your search engine to PrivacyWall. As a Millennial, I am not just a CEO, but also pro-bono tech support for my mom. So, I understand how frustrating it can be to use these new technologies. We built PrivacyWall so you don’t need to have a PhD to protect your privacy. With PrivacyWall, you don’t need to install, configure, and pay for a VPN to browse websites privately. Anyone can install our app or browser extension with a single click. This is something that even my mother can do without my help.

You are passionate about helping your community. Can you tell us some more about the charities that you support?

I love Feeding America and I love the mission of World Central Kitchen. What they do is amazing, and I am proud to support what they do. Chef Jose Andres and his team are a real inspiration to me, because he is solving some very challenging problems around social and economic justice.

Personally, I know what it’s like to feel helpless and stranded. When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, I lost the power and water in my apartment. Even the Internet and phone service stopped working. I had to carry my mom down 20 flights of stairs because no one was there to help us. Chef Andres was one of the first people to bring help to the island and he started an amazing movement. Our giving programs are aimed at eradicating hunger and food deserts around the world, and empowering social justice warriors.

As an Asian American, I recognize how lucky I am. Nevertheless, one in 4 Asian Americans still lives in poverty. The concept of the model minority is a myth, designed to create division among people of color. I am proud to support the Committee of 100. Since COVID19 struck in March 2020, there have been over 2800 acts of violence against Asian Americans. These crimes often go unreported. It’s heartbreaking to see essential workers and medical professionals being harassed, shouted at, spat on, shoved around, and attacked on their way to and from work. The Committee of 100 is amplifying these issues that affect all communities of color, which are not being adequately addressed by mainstream media. I respect them for their work. They are led by a classmate of mine from Stanford.

We are living in a time unlike any other, and it’s up to us to bend the arc of history towards a more inclusive future. I learned recently from a Stanford Business School study that 50% of Gen-Z who turned 18 this year are people of color. Only 11% of S&P 500 companies have CEOs of color, and only 6% are female. How can our economy reach its true potential when 50% of the young people today are not being included and accepted for who they are?

That’s why PrivacyWall is committed to advancing digital inclusion and equal access, because dreams are universal, but opportunities are not. That’s why supporting first-generation low-income (FLI) communities is part of our DNA.

I believe opportunities in tech shouldn’t just belong to Big Tech, or those who are lucky enough to be born or raised in Silicon Valley. Through our civic action initiatives, we are empowering low-income and under-served communities to enter the digital age through the Federal Lifetime Internet program. As a platform, we have the power to steer traffic, and we have referred over 50,000 families to the Federal Lifeline Internet Program offering free or discounted high speed internet access, so anyone can learn and work at home.

At PrivacyWall, we encourage our Privacy Champions to volunteer 20% of their time to work on initiatives they think will most benefit the world. We are the only tech start-up to require all of our employees to take a pledge of allegiance to build a more inclusive future. When we onboard our Privacy Champions, we ask them to take the following pledge to each another: “I pledge allegiance to bending the arc of history towards a more inclusive future.” That’s PrivacyWall’s 20% Pledge. I hope every start-up will join us in making this 20% pledge.

When COVID19 struck, we decided to disrupt COVID19 when our community came calling. Working with VA Health Systems, we dropped everything we were doing to re-position ourselves to source life-saving PPE to support veterans around America. And during Christmas, we did our first Twitter toy drop to bring a little joy to kids and students around the world by checking items off their Amazon holiday wish list.

How do you think the online world will develop in the future? Are you preparing for any specific cybersecurity changes?

Web 1.0 was all about internet access. Web 2.0 was about social. I believe Web 3.0 is all about privacy. In the future, I think consumers will have significantly more control over their data, who gets to access it, and who gets to use it. We hope PrivacyWall is part of the solution.

Thank you Jonathan for your time!

If you would like to start using PrivacyWall, you can do it at:

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