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TheGoodData wants your browsing data to benefit good causes

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A new scheme called TheGoodData launched on Thursday to help people protect their online privacy – or, if they’d rather allow themselves to be tracked, to allow the monetization of the resulting data for the benefit of microloan schemes in developing countries.

The U.K.-based “data cooperative” has produced a Chrome plugin — based on Disconnect’s open-source technology — that acts as a blocker for the myriad advertising and analytics trackers that infest many webpages, stopping the data brokers behind those tools from following the user’s search and browsing history.

If the user gives her permission, then TheGoodData itself acts as a data broker of sorts, albeit one that ensures the anonymization of the user data (including non-sensitive search queries) that it sells to ad vendors. Half the money goes back into the cooperative to develop the service and keep it sustainable, while the other half gets distributed through a peer-to-peer microlending community called Zidisha.

“This is an issue of owning your personal data,” TheGoodData director Marcos Menendez said in a statement. “Fundamentally, nobody should have access to your data without consent or be able to make money from this in exchange of nothing for you.”

Menendez pointed out that this data can also be used against users, for example by resulting in higher prices due to perceived higher wealth. “We think that it is far that if TheGoodData has created any value processing your data, you should become owner of it,” he added. “It is not only a fairness issue, but it is a way that you can increase control over your own data.”

TheGoodData is a for-profit cooperative or, technically speaking, an “industrial and provident society”. If its users apply to become co-op “members” (a specific term under U.K. law) then they become company owners, with voting rights and a say in how the data gets used.

As the FAQs make clear, those who want to become members need to pay one penny for a share in order to do so, but even that costs nothing as they receive the share under a zero-interest loan agreement, and the share would be transferred back to TheGoodData at no cost if they decide to leave at some point.

Right now the plugin is only available for Chrome, but it’s open source and the team is looking for help in developing it for other browsers too.