LISBON (Reuters) – People should worry about online data collection by technology companies because it gives them unparalleled insight into users lives, the creator of one of the biggest web browsers, Opera, said on Thursday.
Jon von Tetzchner said the situation was already comparable to George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘1984’, since “everyone is being followed and everyone’s information is being collected”.
Lack of awareness of the amount of data harvested is “a perfect storm of a really bad idea,” he told Reuters at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon.
Von Tetzchner created Opera in 1996 and is now promoting his new browser, Vivaldi, that he says better addresses privacy concerns.
Opera gained 350 million users and prominence in the mobile market but he left it in 2011 because he disagreed with the browser’s sale to a Chinese consortium.
He has since launched Vivaldi, which includes functions he says bigger browsers lack. Vivaldi.net does not track searches and is based on an online community of users who recommend features, he said.
It now has about a million users but von Tetzchner said it had an “exponential growth rate” and the company will soon launch a mobile browser.
Google dominates the online advertisement market and it closed Vivaldi’s advertising account. Google partnered Opera before launching the Chrome browser in 2008.
“I really wish these companies would behave,” von Tetzchner said, adding that a free internet was “more important in the bigger picture.”
He said he was increasingly concerned about data collection and tracking by tech giants like Google and Facebook.
Last year’s U.S. election showed that users can be targeted with differentiated adverts amid evidence that Russia may have manipulated the vote with political adverts on Facebook. Von Tetzchner said the next step could be a broader propaganda war.
(Reporting By Axel Bugge; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)