By Brian Whitman on November 15, 2018
Today I am introducing Canopy, a new company focused on giving you a new way to explore the world—without ever revealing your personal data. We're building Canopy the way we believe personalization should have been built from the beginning: with you in control of what you discover and how. For too long, the accepted standard for how we learn about people on the internet has benefited the wrong side. Over the past year, a great group of people have come together to work on a new way to do personalization and discovery on the internet. We are building a new kind of technology and product, but also a new kind of company that optimizes for delight and discovery.
More taste decisions than ever are being mediated by an algorithm—and those algorithms are running on more and more personal data than ever before. The data you give away to services can be used against you, or sold, or lead to results that you don’t understand. We’ve all seen the “creepy” side of personalization at work, aligned with revenue or time spent rather than improving your experience or happiness. And in the worst case we saw people being radicalized from aggressive personalization, or saw state actors steal or manipulate personal data for their own needs.
Canopy Brooklyn in October 2017. How did we fit two people in here?
After I left Spotify in 2016 I began thinking of focused ways we could change the way things worked. I started talking with my friends David Blei and Ben Recht, two well-known machine learning and recommendations professors who have worked on or invented what are now the core parts of your personalized internet experience in 2018. They immediately signed on to help and we spent some time wondering what a fully private and transparent discovery system would look like. Could there be a music recommender that never knew what songs you've listened to, or a personalized browsing experience that never knew what websites you've visited? Could we build a transparent discovery tool that gave control back to the person doing the discovery and power back to the creators?
We’ve found a new way. We’ve shown already that a company having full access to personal data is not a prerequisite for great discovery. We are carefully applying a combination of on-device machine learning and differential privacy while taking advantage of the enormous step change in power of our mobile devices. We're now moving most of the math we used to do on big clusters of servers against your personal data directly to the device in your hands. We guarantee we'll never see your personal interactions with the world, and we guarantee we'll give you an even better discovery experience.
The science behind what we're doing at Canopy is just a small piece of the puzzle. We are plotting an incredibly pragmatic approach to discovery, with a large focus on editorial, finding viewpoints, understanding root causes, uncovering and programming niches. We’ve already built a different sort of company. Most of us have done this before. Diversity of our team is our first priority, as our product needs to reach the entire world of ideas. We’ve brought on scientists, lawyers, marketers, engineers, editors, professors and operations experts who’ve all helped build great discovery experiences you use every day at Spotify, Instagram, Google, and The New York Times. Our early investors include founders and executives from Spotify, Keybase, Splice, WeWork, MIT, and who make investments in the decentralized internet, machine learning and data.
Much improved space today with the same chairs. We're up to 15: 4 in Brooklyn, 5 in Boston and a few remote.
Today, we’re introducing Canopy to the world to share what we’re building. The first way you’ll interact with us is our mobile app, coming early next year. It’ll be the first time ever you can explore and discover new things without the services and company on the other end watching your every move. You don’t even tell us your email address. You’ll find it a refreshing new experience that you can believe in. This app is just a first step on our way to a better kind of system that gets you, a better kind of company, and eventually a better internet. We hope you'll join us for what's next.