Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Will you trade data with me?

James Bae, Sales Director, Permutive

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps people find and finesse their public voices

Preaching about “freedom of choice” may trigger conflicting views in today’s political climate. But in the world of digital advertising, it is an important, ongoing debate.

Those in the digital advertising bubble are all too familiar with the fact that regulators have forced the industry to make drastic changes since the introduction of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation in 2018. Online privacy and data protection regulations are no longer issues confined within the walled garden of AdTech. In fact, a study by the Global Data and Marketing Alliance (GDMA) found consumer awareness on the subject has more than doubled in all European markets since 2018. In the US, we don’t need to look further than John Oliver’s latest segment on data brokers as an example. It has become a household topic.

As an industry, we are so busy fretting over user identifiers that we forget to pause and appreciate the changes and opportunities through the eyes of the consumer.

Consumer privacy ultimately boils down to choice. Choice is different from consent. The act of consenting is reactive and Pavlovian. Making a choice is proactive and deliberate. Consent benefits companies while choice benefits consumers.

Admittedly, the online advertising industry has a bad reputation. A lot of people block ads. 586M mobile users in a given month, to be exact. It is critical to rebuild a digital ecosystem founded on privacy, control, and transparency. But that is not all. The new ecosystem needs to be fueled by consumer choice. The choices individuals make about how their data is accessed and used by others was only meant to be the baseline. The real question consumers need to be asked is whether they want to choose to exchange their personal data for benefits.

How do we simplify the value exchange for consumers and empower them to make informed choices about their personal data?

First, the conversation we need to start having openly with consumers is about data ownership. According to the study by GDMA, consumer “capitalist mindset” has been on the rise. In fact, 3 out of 4 consumers across 16 global markets view themselves as owners of their data and that they should be able to trade it if they choose to do so. The responsibility initially falls on media owners to educate consumers about data ownership. Only then can consumers make an informed choice about whether they actually want to trade their data.

Second, media buyers, media sellers, and everyone in between need to figure out how they can make it unequivocally easy for consumers to decide if they want to participate in the data sharing economy. It will require an unsentimental examination of current data practices and business models. It will require a renewed sense of urgency and appreciation for the growing public consciousness about data protection and online privacy. It will also require treating consumers as equals. Level the playing field. The value exchange needs to be clear and simple in a way that people of all ages and backgrounds can make informed choices without having to flip through the industry glossary.

A starting point may be for organizations to reckon what types of consumer incentive make the most sense for their businesses and reverse engineer towards a solution. There is an array of value incentives, including direct financial rewards, discounts on subscriptions and products, free services, or charitable donations to name a few. Consider what the Brave browser is doing. It is incentivizing consumers to participate in the data economy. This model of safeguarding personal data while providing payment in cryptocurrency for attention is resonating with consumers. Their active users are 50M strong and growing

In the book, Amp it Up, Frank Slootman talks about the need to wage war against an incremental approach to solving business problems and casting visions. Taking an incremental approach to data privacy and consumer choice could mean settling for the familiarity of the known over the uncertainty of the unknown yet reimagined system. Workaround solutions only perpetuate the problems that got the industry into the mess in the first place. Consumers will continue to harbor mistrust about the use and misuse of their personal data. We need to take drastic action. Both the consumer and the industry will benefit from the value exchange.

I realize I am grossly glossing over the technologies, systems, and processes required to improve ways people can make informed choices. I have no doubt we can technically solve this challenge. The bigger, bolder question is who is willing to extend an invitation to consumers:  

Will you trade your data with me? 

There is no better time than now to take risks, learn, and build towards true transformation. The choice is everyone’s to make.