Private by Default: Our Vision for Protecting Personal Data

Three years ago to the day, we started Truework with the mission to build a consent-based identity platform that puts consumers in control of their personal data. And over those three years, we’ve made incredible progress towards that goal.

In honor of our three year birthday, I wanted to share some history of how Truework was discovered, provide context into where we are, and shed light on all that is to come.

When I left my job as a senior product manager at LinkedIn in early 2017, I knew I wanted to start a company in the data privacy space. But I had no idea what that would actually look like. I’d gotten interested in data ethics in college, and appreciated when companies made strong investments in security engineering on behalf of their users. Still, for most industries, and even some other tech companies, it clearly wasn’t a priority—a new data breach seemed to make headlines every week. I believed I could make a difference and help give consumers the control they deserved, but I didn’t yet know how.

I began to see an opportunity while doing some research into my own data history. I typed my name and social security number into a particular website and immediately found not only my credit report, but my former salary information down to the penny. I realized for a fee, anyone who had my social security number could do the same—including each employer, landlord, and lender to whom I’d ever submitted an application. My personal information was for sale, and I didn’t even know who was buying. Where was the privacy?

As I kept digging, I discovered consumer control had simply never been part of the equation, especially when it comes to financial data like credit & income. The origin of the modern credit bureau dates back to the late 1800s, when grocery stores began exchanging the lists of customers deemed creditworthy with others, for a fee. No one asked the customers first—and today’s customers still don’t have a say, even though the data shared about them is far more comprehensive than it was back then. A particularly privacy-conscious person might choose to freeze their reports, but every loan or rental application then requires a laborious and time-consuming process of unfreezing and refreezing. Most people don’t bother.

What’s more, I found the system was just as broken for most of the “verifying parties,” or future employers, landlords, and lenders trying to process applications—especially when it came to employment and income verification. While there was some existing process for verifying employees at large companies, anyone trying to verify details on an employee of a small- or mid-sized business faced a manual process of calls and faxes that stretched on for days.

For my cofounders, Ethan and Victor, and I, understanding the pain points facing these verifiers was an “aha” moment. If we could offer them a better, digital solution, we could speed up their verification process—and at the same time, create an opportunity to introduce consent into the world of personal data. Consumers could be notified by email or text when anyone requested their information, and agree—or not—with a single click.

But before we could start building, there was one more question to ask: Would the people on the other end of all those verification transactions—the HR teams who were actually sharing that employment and income information—find value in this new network? As it turns out, the answer was a resounding yes. Calls and faxes were taking up time on their end, too, and they knew a digital solution would save them countless hours. Plus, they loved the idea of giving employees more control. So in August 2017, Ethan, Victor, and I started building⁠—and three years later, the Truework team is solving what most once saw as an intractable data privacy problem, with plans to eventually expand our services and give consumers control over every piece of their online identity.

Until recently, health-related identity, while core to our long term vision, was lower down on our roadmap. But then the COVID-19 outbreak hit, and we shifted some priorities. We began hearing from employers who suddenly needed to keep track of which employees had tested positive for the virus, which had recovered, and which could safely return to work. While some large companies had internal tools to handle this new challenge, small businesses—over 10,000 of which now use Truework—were struggling. We realized that with a secure, compliant platform already in place, and individual consent already built-in, our team was uniquely suited to help in a moment where consumer control over medical data is more important than ever. So we decided to immediately focus resources on a new health identity feature—and in late April, we rolled out the first version. Thousands of employees across the country are returning to work with the help of the Truework platform and its testing partners, and we look forward to building more features to help our customers through the crisis.

I’m proud and grateful that the Truework team has been able to pour their energy into this new product. We recognize that there’s a long road to travel before the world reaches the other side of this crisis and that the solutions we develop will be just one piece in a large, complex puzzle. But we consider it a privilege to help in any way we can.

And when the world finally beats COVID-19, we’ll still be here, pushing to make individual consent the norm not only in health identity and employment and income verification, but in education records, credit history, assets, and more. In the midst of a global pandemic and long after it ends, our mission remains the same as it has always been: Giving individuals control over their own data.

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