An Interview With Internet Privacy Expert Jesse Adams
Jesse Adams is not the run-of-the mill tech entrepreneur. Having been involved in the development of privacy- and security-minded applications and companies for over 10 years, the timing of the release of his latest product, a highly-secure web browser designed with cryptocurrency and privacy fans in mind, is impeccable. The last 3 years have not been a kind year to average, every-day netizens, who have seen just how far the giant internet corporations that tend to dominate user experience will go to profit off of their information. From the unprecedented hacking of Yahoo! user information, to the Facebook Cambridge Analytica incident, to the leaking of over 140 million credit report histories by Equifax, personal data stored on the internet is under attack, being used for nefarious purposes to which no witting user would have agreed.
Social media giants like Google and Facebook are regularly required to turn over vast amounts of customer information to the government on demand; most of which goes unused but is nevertheless in the hands of people the user probably never suspected it would be. Data is also frequently stolen from companies with poor security measures and sold online in the darknet markets to the highest bidder. Even in Chrome’s Incognito Mode, browsing data is kept by Google, even if it is not stored on your web browser itself. With each subsequent year seeing a record amount of hacking and data breach incidents, it’s no wonder people are seeking alternative ways to access the internet, outside of Google and Internet Explorer. The time is ripe for a fresh browsing experience which puts user privacy and security in front of corporate interests, and Adams’ Tenta browser seeks to provide exactly that.
Since January 2016, Adams has been the CEO (and is the co-founder) of Tenta, a privacy-centric web browser that is also extremely crypto-friendly. Tenta is an encrypted browser that seeks to protect user data instead of selling it to third parties. Within it are all the tools one needs to be “cyber-aware,” including a built-in VPN, secure DNS over TLS, anti-tracking features, HTTPS Everywhere, pin lock and complete data encryption. In addition to this, the Tenta browser contains a “nuke” feature that erases all information about a particular website stored in the browser with the push of a button. Tenta has been featured in Forbes, NPR, ZDNet, Geekwire and other popular tech news sources. Its Android app has several thousands of downloads from the Google Play store, with new users coming on board every day.
Before embarking on Tenta, Adams co-founded MiKandi in 2009, the “world’s first app store for adults,” of which he is also currently President. MiKandi quickly became the leading virtual currency-powered app store, popular for its one-time billing setup and reward-based digital currency system. Also focused on privacy, its developers have the ability to offer mobile content in an assortment of different payment methods, including “offer-wall based rewards” as well as in-app purchases. Presently, MiKandi is home to over 1000+ developers from around the globe and 15,000+ adult-themed applications. MiKandi has over 3 million registered users which contribute tens of millions of installs, available in just about every country, currently witnessing over a million app downloads every month.
We had the chance to ask Adams a few questions about his web browser, his feelings on the current state of internet security, and asked him for a few tips on how we could protect our privacy while online. His answers were enlightening and gave us a glimpse into the mind of an internet privacy expert.
CC: How did the idea for Tenta first come about?
JA: My partners and I have been working together for 10 years. Our first company, MiKandi, is the world’s first and largest adult app store, with millions of customers and 10,000 publishers selling thousands and thousands of apps, comics, games, and more in our market. We learned a lot running MiKandi:
- How to build and deploy large-scale mobile platforms to millions.
- How to do that on a budget. There are many avenues that weren’t available to us. Not because of technical limitations, but Terms of Service agreements. We had to build everything from scratch on a budget.
- And we built a reputation of trust and transparency. We’ve been featured on WIRED, HBO, Geekwire, Mashable, AndroidCentral, TechCrunch, and most recently Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain.
Throughout the years, our customers would request privacy features, like VPN and data encryption. The solutions today are painful to use – they’re inconvenient, they’re a configuration nightmare, they’re slow as hell, and some are totally misleading, like Incognito Mode, which, despite its name, doesn’t make you invisible.
So, we took all these feature requests and the lessons learned over the years to build a browser that helps people solve these problems. That includes VPN, full data encryption, DNS over TLS, PIN lock, encrypted file vault, ad blocker, HTTPS everywhere, video downloader, and more. And all these tools run in the background without any setup required.
CC: What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to current internet service providers and/or corporate internet giants, like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon?
JA: A big pet peeve is how some of these companies will talk about how much they care about protecting user privacy, but then you’ll learn something about their business practices that betrays it. For example, Facebook’s own VPN app, Onavo, was collecting data and using it to build other Facebook products! Bloomberg found that Google quietly bought personal Mastercard credit card transaction data to tie it to their advertising system.
CC: What do you think it will really take for people to change their old browsing habits to consider leaving traditional internet for decentralized internet?
JA: This is the big challenge. It has to be so easy, so convenient and so seamless that you’d have to be crazy to use the current insecure and exploitative way. I cannot stress enough how easy it needs to be.
Take a look at passwords. It’s really not that hard to adopt good password habits, yet “12345” and “Password” remain the two most used passwords! So how can that be made even easier? With password-less authentication. The internet has come to the point where not even needing a password is easier and more secure than using a bad one.
In terms of private internet browsing, there are definitely solutions that have existed for quite some time. Occasionally we’re asked why build Tenta when Tor browsers already exist, or why start with VPN support instead of Tor? Tor is certainly a strong private browsing solution, but its not yet easy or fast enough for the average user. There’s no reason why Tenta can’t support Tor or Tor-like networks (and we will!), but the fact remains that if it’s not more convenient than the status quo, the majority of people will simply not use it. That’s a challenge all privacy and new internet companies have to rise to, including us.
It’s the same for the decentralized internet. For our part, Tenta is focused on building the interface that’s as convenient as the status quo while being orders of magnitude more private and secure. For the many bright teams and companies helping build the new internet, they’ll do the same in their respective areas of this new landscape. Undoubtedly, it’ll take a lot of deep collaboration between not just the people building the new internet, but also the people using it.
CC: How long into the future do you estimate it to be before there is a shift of power away from the corporate stranglehold on internet services?
JA: A grim take of it is that it will require even larger exploits and data breaches to move the needle. On the privacy front, Facebook has inadvertently helped bring the importance of protecting privacy to the forefront of many folks’ minds. But hopefully it won’t come down to a total digital catastrophe. In many ways, the crypto revolution symbolizes a strong rejection to our current version of the internet. I believe we’ll see in just a few years, adoption of real alternatives to some of the data-hoarding apps we use today.
CC: Do you have plans for a Windows version?
JA: Absolutely. Tenta is currently available for Android devices only, but we’re working on Windows PC next. After that we’ll start on Apple devices.
CC: Will your browser be integratable with other up-and-coming decentralized internet provision services, like Holochain, TRON, AION and MaidSafe?
JA: Our job is to create a developer-friendly browser that’s built on a strong foundation of privacy and security. Ethereum has a strong developer community and a lot of the action and adoption is happening there. So naturally our first native blockchain integration partnerships are coming from that community. It’s a very collaborative environment. But ultimately, as the new browser for the new internet, it’s our duty to support whatever Web 3.0 evolves into.
We like to tell folks “you have a friend in the browser business”. If you’re building privacy-first solutions and find yourself thinking, “If only the browser could do this or that…” we want to hear from you!
CC: Are there any widely held/performed internet practices that you recommend people stop immediately?
JA: Do not place so much trust in a few apps to protect your data. Evaluate which digital assets matter most to you and consider who you currently trust to keep it safe. It’s probably all in the hands of a few central providers. For example, of it’s services like Dropbox, consider apps that will also encrypt your most sensitive data. Encryption is the most effective tool you have to protect yourself online. If you’re on public wifi, use a VPN. Always keep your operating systems and apps updated. Use a password manager and always turn on multi-factor authentication.
Finally, stop conflating privacy with secrecy. Don’t get me wrong – you have the right to both. But secrets carry an extra weight of assumed shame that leads to the “I have nothing to hide” mentality. The internet Goliaths need you to conflate the two. As long as you think secrets aren’t worth defending because you have nothing to hide, they get to keep doing what they do – which is exploit your privacy.
Adopting this new mindset will change the way you interact with the digital world at every level.