With Big Bucks Chasing Big Data, Will Consumers Get a Cut?

With Big Bucks Chasing Big Data, Will Consumers Get a Cut?

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“There are literally hundreds of millions of people who are clamoring for trying to get some type of compensation for data. Everyone wants to be paid, and the challenge is, ultimately, finding enough buyers,” he says. “It’s early days to try to figure out this value exchange. But I believe there is a big opportunity here, and we are starting to see it.”

Web Tracking

Mobile phones have set off a new land rush for detailed personal data, but the traditional Web browser is still the place where advertisers spend billions of dollars per year chasing customers. Enliken, a startup based in New York and Seattle, thinks consumers are ready to turn the tables on that pursuit.

Enliken uses tracking software that people elect to install in their Web browsers in exchange for discounts on things they buy online. It’s presented as the digital equivalent of a grocery-store “loyalty” card, a concept that American shoppers have been used to since the 90s.

The company recently surveyed Web users by giving them a fascinating inside glimpse at the kind of data advertising networks were collecting about them. Consumers then rated each attribute assigned to them based on their Web usage, saying whether they considered the information very accurate or too sensitive for their liking.

Enliken says most people who took the survey found the collection of online shopping information to be pretty harmless—what kinds of products they’d recently looked at, their hobbies, broad demographic categories like “parent” or “small business owner.” People only showed consistent privacy concerns about data on their voting preferences, their income levels, whether they owned a home, and their retirement investing preferences.

The point, Enliken CEO Marc Guldimann says, is that consumers aren’t opposed to being tracked—but they want to know what advertisers are learning about them. “This lines up with our belief that if you give consumers transparency and control they’ll be happy to share non-sensitive data with merchants and brands,” he says.

All of these companies are, to some degree, betting that markets for user-controlled data will grow in response to consumer expectations and government regulation. But there’s a long road ahead before that’s settled.

In a blog post, Enliken laid out a vision of data exchanges in 2016: “Profiles are now considered personal property and are rarely sold by apps or sites,” with the average American earning $10 per month from selling access to their digital data.

Others aren’t so sure a new market for personal data will catch on everywhere.

Eagle, the CEO of Jana, says paying consumers directly for using their information is more likely to become a norm in the developing world, where his company operates.

First of all, developing-market data is much more scarce—not as much is known about these consumers, who represent huge populations that are rapidly becoming more affluent. But back home, your average consumer has already been extensively profiled by marketers and data-collectors of all kinds.

There’s also the tricky matter of putting a price on that information, which the WEF notes is “wildly subjective.” If Jana’s paying a dime to mobile phone users in a data-poor market like India, can exhaustively profiled U.S. consumers even earn enough to make them care?

“Ten cents is inherently less of a motivator in the United States,” Eagle says.

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The Author

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com

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  • Leon Benjamin

    We propose that it is economically viable for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to become a self-funding entity by selling patient healthcare data to a wide variety of industry actors. We also propose that an individual’s healthcare data record itself can eventually becoming an earning asset that can be passed on to future generations.

    http://winningbysharing.typepad.com/oaxaca/2009/03/a-model-for-selffunding-health-care.html

  • Jenny

    Big Data storm is definitely impacting consumers. We see it every day in our interactions with society. The access of information now available is overwhelming. It is quite the big data storm. http://www.apcon.com/big-data-storm/