When I was speaking at ad:tech San Francisco, my co-panelist, Christine Varney, quipped that most people would sell their mother's Social Security number for five cents off of a Big Mac. As usual, it turns out Christine was right.
Recently, some brave soul decided to auction his non-personally identifiable information on eBay.
The ad copy begins:
"Target Ads to Me Based on My Non-Personally Identifiable Information!
I am offering one lucky marketer a treasure trove of my non-personally identifiable information to help you better target ads to me."
Here's what you get from this guy if you win the auction:
• His past 30 days of internet search queries
• His past 90 days of web surfing history
• His past 30 days online and offline purchase activity
• His age, gender, ethnicity, marital status (in case you couldn't figure it out above), and geo location (in case you can't figure it out below)
• The right to target one ad per day to him for 30 days (now that's what I call opt-in!)
As I read the ad copy for this auction, I was a bit torn. Is this person a nut or a visionary? Determined to find out, I plunked down my $100 bid. I'll circle back at a later time and tell you if I won. But for now, I have a few thoughts on the broader implications of data portability and privacy.
Issues of data and privacy are becoming exponentially more important, as illustrated by many of the mergers and acquisitions going on in our industry. Much of the recent industry consolidation is driven by recognition of both the power and the value of information. This may seem obvious to you, and it clearly is on the minds of regulators who are looking at some of these proposed transactions, but it certainly wasn't so obvious to our industry at large until recently.
Large agencies – and in fact, just about any interactive business of reasonable size – are able to collect information from a number of sources: banner ads, email campaigns, mobile, et cetera. Until fairly recently, this information has been stored in siloed databases. For example, as often as not, the media-buying side doesn't necessarily share information with the email marketing side, or the direct marketing team, and so on. While there are certainly exceptions to this, generally speaking, data integration really isn't the rule.
Well, that's beginning to change, and in a big way. Seven years after the DoubleClick/Abacus fiasco, our industry is experiencing a reawakening of sorts. Here's hoping we can get it right this time.
While data portability will happen eventually, we're not anywhere close to being there yet. Assuming I win the auction, the auctioneer (he called himself Data) probably doesn't realize the enormous task in front of him in terms of getting his information to me. Just think for a second about the logistics around compiling a comprehensive database on any one consumer. How is Data planning to get this information off of his computer? Does Data use more than one search engine? Do others in Data's household use his computer? Are there websites that Data has visited and/or searches he has conducted that are of a nature that Data might not want to share them with me? (Read: health information or porn.) If the answer to any of these questions is YES, it's going to take a long time for Data to parse this information before he's ready to send it to me. And even if the answer is NO, I'll bet it will still take him several hours. Seems like a lot of work for $100.
And Data presumably has all this information right at his finger tips. Imagine how difficult it would be for a single business to try and compile all this information on any one individual. Or better yet, talk to anyone who was in the CRM business a few years ago.
Are there any other buyers out there? I ask this question for two reasons. First, if I win, I fully plan to turn around and find a few marketers willing to pay in order to help me monetize Data's information. Contact me at [email protected] for more info.
But taking a step back, I wonder how many companies out there would be willing to pay for this kind of information, and how much they'd be willing to pay. $1 per person? $.01? It's hard to say. But the ultimate price would certainly be impacted by the ability to get it from other sources.
Think about the number of entities that have visibility into the data stream on a typical social networking site, for example. (Mind you, I’m not talking about who owns the data, just who has some level of access to non-personally identifiable information.) It's a fairly long list, including the ISP, the website or search engine you're on, the ad server(s) operating on the web page, the third-party research company(s) on that page and the widget company. Any of these entities may have visibility into certain non-personally identifiable information. Any of them may seek to leverage some of that information for any number of reasons. But as they say, why buy the cow when you already have access to the milk for free?
Which brings me to my next point.
Welcome to the world of affirmative consent. Data portability provides consumers with choice, and choice includes the right to not have your information collected in the first place. How many consumers, if given the chance, would exercise their right and choose not to let any company have their information? Hard to say, but my money's on a very high number. Kind of throws the whole data, advertising and innovation value chain out the window. Is your organization ready to thrive in the new world?
Data portability is nice but represents only part of the equation when it comes to consumer choice. Another, equally important component of choice is in providing consumers with the opportunity to choose the number of marketing messages they receive, and the right to determine which channel(s) they receive marketing messages from. For example, one consumer might choose to receive marketing messages via SMS and telephone, while another may choose email as their preferred contact method. And perhaps a third wants their favorite social networking application to act as a conduit. Twitter anyone?
My friends, this discussion is far from over. We have an opportunity to start figuring this stuff out. And there's a whole bunch of other relevant issues that I haven't even discussed here. Look for a future piece here at iMedia, and a few smaller posts on the Chapell Blog. This discussion is likely crucial to your business over the next several years. I encourage as many of you as possible to join in.