Rita: the app that shows us what Google and Facebook know about us

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Since the end of March, a new app has been available on the App Store that simplifies access to personal information held by the giants of the Web, primarily Google and Facebook. The app is called Rita, from the abbreviation of “Right to Access”, i.e. the right to access one’s own data guaranteed by the GDPR. The app doesn’t just download data to the smartphone, saving them from online accounts, but organizes them into graphs and lists that are easy to understand and consult even by those who don’t have any particular computer skills. Rita also simplifies the process of requesting the removal of personal data by automating the sending of emails to advertisers who have collected them through Facebook or Google tools (later it will be possible to retrieve data from Instagram, Spotify and other popular services).

“The app operates in total transparency by saving the information locally, but without accessing it in any way. Our business model is based not on tracking or profiling, of course, but on offering a premium version of the app that allows for more advanced control of the data.”

The remote team

Rita is the brainchild of Schenardi and John Arts, his fellow student at ESCP Business School. Today, seven other people from Kazakhstan, Brazil, the United States, Italy and Belgium are working on Rita, working on development, legal, graphics and user experience, while the two founders use their experience as business developers. “John and I have always followed privacy and data protection issues,” explains Schenardi. “The arrival of GDPR was a major turning point, but we realized that being able to visualize our own data and figure out how to really ask various companies to remove what they knew about us remains a process within the reach of few. Instead, with Rita we want to democratize this step, and really allow everyone to take back control of their personal information.”

Rita app inside

In order to download the information within Rita, all you have to do is select one of the services (Google or Facebook) from which to request the data and log in with your credentials. In a few minutes the request is processed automatically and Rita is able to download and process everything, generating an easy-to-consult interface.

The test with Facebook data
In the case of data obtained from Facebook, Rita shows three main screens. Data & Ads shows the (estimated) monetary value of our data to Facebook over the past year, the number of ads we have clicked on, and the companies with which Facebook has shared our profiling data. The tracking screen, on the other hand, reveals at a glance the number of times we have been tracked and the websites we have visited sending information to Facebook. The screen on profiling, finally, collects what Facebook thinks it knows about us, that is, the interests that are assigned to our account to refine the advertisements that are shown to us.

All this data, it is good to say, can be consulted and especially downloaded manually from the Facebook site. Access to the consultation of what you can see online, however, is not intuitive, and from the downloaded data is difficult to infer in a simple way the level of profiling and dissemination of our data for advertising purposes.

Request data deletion
In addition to making it easier to organize and read your data, Rita aims to help you request removal of your information, as required by GDPR.

From a dedicated menu you can limit companies’ access to our information, unsubscribe from promotional emails, and customize your interests to mess with Facebook’s advertising profiling. With the pro version of the app, you can also track the status update of data removal requests. The advanced version of Rita is not payable for now, but can be unlocked by inviting three other friends to try the app. Based on this process and depending on the amount of data controlled by companies, Rita finally calculates a score, the Privacy Score, in order to make the level of disclosure of our personal data more intuitive.

Rita is still a young app, there are some corners to be smoothed in the user experience and some details to be reviewed but the idea is promising and the team determined to take the project forward, adding new services to access to download the information.

“Today, users still don’t own their data. We believe that simplifying all of the procedures related to accessing data is critical to allowing anyone to make an informed and effective choice about their information. Knowing that Web giants profile us and seeing clearly what this means and what this entails are two completely different things, even for those who are already very privacy conscious.”

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