MValue.com helps users decide what advertisers know about them.
With the growing furor over consumer privacy and online profiling, marketers find themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They want and need consumer data to develop targeted, customized marketing messages, but don’t want to alienate customers by invading their privacy.
MValue.com is addressing this dilemma with a program promising e-tailers accurate, specific demographic and clickstream data collected in a manner “that won’t cause any consumer backlash,” says Jay Haynes, president and CEO of the year-old Los Angeles-based company. What makes mValue’s approach unusual is that it gives Web surfers control over their information–and even compensates them for sharing it.
“We recognize that online profiling can be extremely valuable to Web marketers, but we believe consumers should be in control of their information,” Haynes says. “Marketers want to follow users around the Web because it’s worth money, and if it generates money they should share that.”
MValue.com has three products: mPrivacy enables users to decide who can place cookies on their system; mSurf lets them receive payment for viewing advertising targeted to their demographic profile and interests; and mExchange lets them receive payment for sharing information. All three use the mValue Panel, a free downloadable toolbar that sits outside the browser.
The mPrivacy and mSurf programs launched Jan. 24, and 200,000 users had signed up as of March 10. Haynes hopes for 1 million registered users by Q3. The mExchange program is expected to launch early in Q2.
The mPrivacy service enables users to block cookies selectively, on a case by case basis, without slowing down surfing, according to Haynes. “It’s not an all or nothing situation as with most browsers,” he notes. “Our view is that the consumer should be able to opt out at the time the data is gathered.”
There are four choices: Users can always accept or always reject cookies from a particular domain, or accept or reject just a specific request. MValue can “block the bad side of cookies,” while enabling surfers to enjoy the convenience and customization they can provide when logging on to sites on a regular basis, he adds.
The mSurf program pays consumers to view targeted ads–in effect, personalized ad serving through the mValue Panel.
With the mExchange program, consumers can decide, on a case by case basis, to sell their e-mail address, demographic info or clickstream data, and at what price. The value–either cash or discounts–is negotiated directly with the advertiser in a bid-and-ask exchange.
Haynes expects payment “to vary all over the place, depending on the company, the product and the user.” Consumers who are very concerned about privacy might want what he terms “a compelling value proposition” to share their data. And some advertisers might be willing to pay sizable sums for highly qualified users. For instance, he offers, a surfer who’s recently visited three mortgage sites and is a qualified applicant would be very valuable to a company looking to sell a 30-year mortgage.
Half a dozen advertisers, largely from the dot.com, financial services and media fields, had signed letters of intent to participate in the mValue program at press time. Nissan is one of the companies signed up so far. MValue hopes to have a dozen advertisers on board when the program launches next month.
Haynes says mValue uses collaborative filtering, which enables marketers to create detailed psychographic profiles of users so they can target specific categories. For example, they might gather information on consumers who purchased Nikon cameras and determine that 60 percent are female, 70 percent have incomes of over $100,000 and 40 percent live in the Southeast.
Haynes stresses that mValue will respect and protect the privacy of members. “We have Alan Fowler of the Electronic Frontier Foundation on our board,” he says. “He’s watching to make sure we adhere to the correct practices. Trust is part of the value equation.”
Haynes sees mValue as a sort of “eBay for information” and adds, “The Web allows users to monetize that data. If they want to sell it, they can earn money.”
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