You can get paid for your data — but there’s a catch


Tricia Terkildsen is happy to trade information about herself for deals. She often takes online surveys in exchange for gift cards to JOANN Fabric and Crafts.

The Grantville, Kan., resident says questions about her behavior, religion, health, sexuality and politics are fair game.

“They ask for this stuff all the time, no problem,” he said.

Some companies claim to have growing opportunities to trade or sell your personal data, with the potential to earn up to $50 a month. A new crop of startups helps brands ask you for your preferences in exchange for a “personalized” experience. Others take it a step further, offering cash or rebates in exchange for more granular information such as your location or behavior in other apps.

Market research firm Forrester says about a third of business-to-consumer marketers now go direct to consumers with a relatively cut-and-dried offer: your data for a deal. Privacy advocates, meanwhile, urge people like Terkildsen to be careful when companies ask for sensitive data like location or health information.

Tapestri, a Chicago-based startup, pays users cash in exchange for near-constant access to their locations.

“We say: Let Tapestry pay your Netflix bill, let’s buy your next pumpkin spice latte,” said CEO Walter Harrison. “It adds up over time, and you’re allowing us to do that by allowing them to be in your pocket.” He says Tapestri pays users about $8 to $25 per month for their data.

Companies that pay for data say these types of transactions — known in the industry as “zero-party data sharing” — benefit consumers who, until now, have traded for their data for targeted advertising. Nothing else is achieved.

Privacy advocates say companies aren’t making these offers in good faith. Rather, advertisers are panicking as traditional data sources dry up. Apple shook up the advertising industry when it began allowing iOS users to opt out of certain tracking. Google claims it is getting rid of tracking technology called cookies, which companies have relied on to follow potential users around the web. Privacy legislation such as the European Union’s GDPR and California’s CCPA have limited companies’ ability to collect personal data. The changes put advertisers in a pinch — Facebook says it has lost significant revenue in 2022 because of Apple’s changes — and sent them looking for new ways to track people’s behavior. This is where zero party data comes in.

“Consumers are becoming more privacy conscious,” said Forrester marketing analyst Stephanie Liu, noting that the less data companies get from creepy tracking technology, the more data they need from consumers themselves.

Google is letting you limit ads about pregnancy and weight loss.

Liu said the spirit of zero-party data is a consensual transaction. Users share data voluntarily knowing what it will be used for and what they will get in return.

Contrary to their claims, what companies like Tapestry are offering does not have power over your data, said Nicole Ozer, director of technology and civil liberties at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. They’re just making the exchange more visible. Consumers still have little say in what a company does with their data or how long it is stored, he said.

Tapestri, for example, sells location data to third parties and gives you a share of that revenue — those third parties could be vigilantes, insurance companies or even your employer, and you know Not going to happen, notes Forrester’s Liu.

Tapestri’s buyers are mostly advertising and research organizations, Harrison said, and it does not knowingly sell to law enforcement agencies. Users can temporarily turn off data sharing if they visit sensitive locations, he said, and Tapestri claims that this applies to visits to schools, healthcare facilities or “LGBTQ-sensitive” locations. Throws data about.

PAYMENT FOR DATA APP TIKI Founder and CEO Mike Audie said it will present consumers with contracts from different advertisers and let them decide whether to agree to the terms. A deal might call for access to your behavior in apps in exchange for a 10 percent discount on an app subscription, for example. Audi said that TIKI does not currently limit what companies can ask for beyond the existing legal limits.

“Who am I to decide what people can buy and sell in the marketplace?” He said, adding that while he personally has an opinion on what data to sell to a company, his goal is to create a marketplace where people can decide what data to share. want to do and what payment they are willing to accept.

TIKI refuses to estimate what users can earn or save.

Another startup, incognito, offers access to paywalled news articles in exchange for demographic and behavioral data, including whether you’ve vaccinated your children and your political affiliation. It said it plans to let users trade their data for digital subscriptions that cost between $4 and $15 a month.

App Caden, which plans to give users cash if they link their online accounts like Netflix and Amazon, said it expects users to earn $5 to $50 a month in the near future.

Meta, by comparison, earned about $9.45 per user in the third quarter of 2022.

Economist Glenn Weil said that in all these cases, it is difficult for individual consumers to judge whether they are getting a fair deal. In 2018, Weyl, who theorized about the payoff of data frameworks in his roles at the nonprofit RadicalxChange and Microsoft, and technologist Jaron Lanier argued that people should benefit from a “data dividend,” or money earned from personal data. There should be a return. The key, he says, is for consumers to bargain collectively, just as a union would for a fair price. Otherwise, corporations collect valuable aggregate data by paying “patents” to individual users, Weil said.

It’s hard to set up a viable way for consumers to bargain, so businesses that claim to pay for data tend to “ping-pong between being exploitative and not being very proactive,” Weil said.

Health Apps share your concerns with advertisers. HIPAA can’t prevent that.

Incognito president and chief operating officer Michael Orlovsky said that most people don’t care about philosophical debates about data privacy, because they know their data is already being shared widely for profit. “They like our product because they can get paywalled content to share. [data] — and obviously it’s better than the current deal where they don’t get s—,” he said.

Caden CEO John Rowa said that while individual data points have no value, Caden helps its customers monetize by aggregating those data points into a more usable form for advertisers.

As consumers demand more privacy, zero-party data could be an opportunity to give consumers more control over their data, advocates and critics alike said. Companies paying for data could exploit a better, more transparent data economy — or data collection under a new name.

She said Trikeldson will work hard to pursue her passion for sewing. But sharing its real-time location is a step too far.

“I don’t want them spying on me,” she said.

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