Brutus is action

[Read time 4 minutes]

Brutus was founded with the goal of helping people to live their intentions. Our first product aims to lead more of us to step away from our screens and take action in our communities – to find our way to do something about what matters to us. However small, we believe actions make a difference for us, for our communities, and for our world.

While it’s increasingly easy to “stay informed”, it feels increasingly difficult to take action. Stories of the latest crises from around the globe are in our pocket for consumption at every moment. Yet it takes determination or luck to find an opportunity to act on one of these headlines. Maybe we see a friend’s post about a tree planting she’s attending in time to join her in acting for the environment. Maybe we see her post too late; maybe not at all. Yes, we can wade through search results to track down some way to push back against voter suppression or the gender pay gap, but it isn’t easy. Certainly not as easy as reading another article to “stay informed”.

During all this “staying informed” the only options for actually doing something about these important issues are to “like”, “tweet”, “share”, or “comment”. Perhaps these help us a little. We did something. We didn’t just consume more news about serious, scary things. We scratched the itch to respond, to act, to do anything. And at least it was easy. Just a click. Maybe type a quick thought. Then on to the next article in our effort to “stay informed”.

Eventually taking in all this information without ever having an outlet or empowering moment wears us down. We go on a “news diet” because we just cannot take all these serious problems anymore. In the end “liking” doesn’t cut it. Information, the ultimate tool of empowerment, leads us to disempowerment. So much going on, so many problems, but nothing to be done. Click.

If what I’ve described feels at all familiar, know it doesn’t have to be this way. All around us, in every community, there are people out there taking action on issues that drive them. People who looked up from their phones when passing those without housing and decided to volunteer with a job placement program. People who got tired of yelling at their monitor over the latest political scandal and are out registering new voters. It feels good to learn that there are things we can do. That everything is influenced by the actions of individuals, whose actions were influenced by the actions of other individuals, and so on until it gets to us. We step out there and  realize we aren’t alone in our excitement or our fear. Our neighbors feel the same way and will work with us to do something to make a difference. We feel our power, we connect with new people, we have fun.

We “share” and “like” stories because it’s right there. Not very satisfying, but it only takes a click. It’s easy and immediate – two things our brains are hardwired to be attracted to. Companies that make the products we use to “stay informed” – websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc. – know this and design to take advantage of human behavior. They know how to build habits in us: 

read >> feel inspired / angry / motivated >> click >> feel relief >> repeat

These products are designed to give us just enough relief through “acting” that we stick around and crave that same relief again. Foremost for them though, is ensuring that the “action” doesn’t take us away from our screen and their product.

That is one way to use product design and insights about human behavior to build habits. At Brutus we think there might be another way. Brutus was designed to build a habit around discovering and committing to real action in your community. It’s as easy as “liking”, but feels a whole lot better when it leads to your first urban hike or voter registration drive. Brutus is an “act” button on every article you read. You don’t have to spend hours searching for some way to take action. You don’t even have to leave the page you’re on. Brutus is right there waiting for you to click.

Privacy = A better product

Brutus is currently 10% product, 90% dream. This leaves a lot of questions for users around what Brutus is trying to become, what it will do to get there, and what Brutus stands for. For you to decide whether or not Brutus’ ambition is something you want to support I owe you answers. 

Many people have asked me Brutus’ stance on privacy and data protection are. “What are you doing with my data and the data Brutus’ collects?” In short, nothing. Or, to be more precise, nothing beyond what is necessary to deliver the service Brutus provides to people – showing you local activities related to the webpage you’re on. 

We’re not tracking your online behavior (even to “improve your experience”). 

We’re not selling or sharing your data with third parties. 

We’re not monetizing your data. 

Currently Brutus is a free service as we work to make it better serve you. When we shift to making money, we do not intend to pursue an advertisement based model that requires us to monetize your data. We believe that your data is yours and you should have control over and be the primary benefactor of how it is used.

We built Brutus in response to the ways we believe monetization of our data and ad based models have ruined the internet. We hate banner and pop-up ads. We are driven nuts by products that stalk us all over the internet. We think a “free” internet model based on vacuuming up user data to better hi-jack our attention is not the right way.

Brutus wants to offer an online experience built for users – an experience that provides value, that helps you live your intentions, that gets you closer to the life you want to be living. Foundational for us is respect for your time, privacy, and data.

How Brutus works

The Brutus extension sits in the background of your browsers waiting to be activated by you clicking the B icon. When activated, Brutus scans the text of the page you’re on and identifies keywords. The keywords are then compared to Brutus’ database of experiences. Experiences with keywords that match your page are then presented to you in the Brutus pop-out window.

Your data

When you added the Brutus Chrome Extension you may have noticed the message 

“It can: Read and change all your data on the websites you visit”.

This message is concerning to some people. Breaking this down. Brutus “reads and change all your data…” only when you activate Brutus by clicking the B icon. “Reading your data” is Brutus scanning the text on the page for keywords. “Changing your data” is the B icon shown on the side of your page and the Brutus pop-out window. That’s it.

A few points to clarify:

Brutus only access the data on webpages when you launch Brutus by clicking the B icon. You choose each time Brutus accesses data on the page you’re visiting by clicking the B icon. We explored automatically scanning every page so the Brutus pop-out window would load faster. Ultimately we decided you making an active choice each time Brutus accessed your browsing data was more important than increased loading speeds.

We store the URL of the last 500 websites visited by all Brutus users. This speeds load times if a particular page is getting a lot of traction across our users or if you activate Brutus multiple times on the same page as you’re reading. This data is anonymized and URLs are not linked to the user who opened the webpage.

We have a lot more work we want to do on privacy and keeping your data yours. Brutus is very early stage and there are many things we want to do in the future, but do not have the resources to do yet. One of these things is building a data system optimized for user control. We are in consultation with some of the world’s leading minds on privacy from IAB Europe. They have provided us guidance not just on legally required practices, but best practices. We are committed to implementing the highest standards for protecting your data and privacy as our user base expands and we have the team to build the infrastructure.

We appreciate your understanding and support. We want to do the right thing because we want to be part of building the new future for technology that respects people first and foremost. Thank you.