Consumers Are Coming for Their Data, and Some Companies Are Giving Them Control

Letting users decide how their information is used and monetized

Consumers are increasingly looking for new ways to control how companies can use their data. Getty Images
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

Ask any marketer about data and watch how fast they salivate. However marketers collect data—either directly from consumers or purchased through data miners—the advertising industry just can’t get enough of those bits of bytes. Otherwise, how would they sell their wares?

The passage of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, though, is proving to be an inflection point for the future of data collection. GDPR, which went into effect in May, imposed limits on how companies can collect and use personal data, and determined that data ownership and control is the user’s right. In the U.S., platforms and third parties still maintain ownership of the data they collect on internet users, but that could soon change.

Some state and federal regulators are attempting to crack down on unfettered data collection and use. California, for example, recently passed its California Consumer Privacy Act, which goes into effect in 2020. At the federal level, legislators are considering data privacy regulations with GDPR serving as a loose blueprint. Meanwhile, data breaches and privacy scandals are shining a light on the opaque world of data mining and making some consumers think twice about where their data is going.

Some services are getting ahead of the regulatory curve by offering individuals the chance to track their data in one place and make decisions about how their data is used and to whom it’s provided. These services offer a central mobile platform on which consumers can upload personal data and enter into individual data-sharing arrangements with the entities of their choice.

“Companies are increasingly decisioning through data, and they’re decisioning on data that’s owned by the consumer—yet the consumer has no understanding of what that data is, how it’s being used or the overall value it’s creating,” said Neil Sweeney, founder and CEO of Killi, an app that allows consumers to share pieces of personal data like email addresses, location and mobile identifiers with data buyers in exchange for cash. “Companies are making billions and billions of dollars, and the everyday consumer is getting nothing in return.”

Killi is banking on the premise that consumers should be compensated for their data. Sweeney said he designed the app with the hope of improving the value proposition of data-sharing for consumers. The app, which debuted in June, is approaching 100,000 users, the company says, and has attracted brands like GM and McDonald’s. The average revenue Killi users have made off of their data right now is $1, but Killi insists that figure will grow if it can attract more brands.

Killi is far from the only app that offers financial incentives for sharing data. The decentralized data marketplace Wibson offers its users (who are in EU countries for now) cryptocurrency in exchange for deciding to share certain types of data with data buyers, whether it’s from social media accounts or from bank accounts. Like Killi, Wibson is built on a decentralized blockchain model, which permanently tracks transactions.

Not all of the value propositions are financial. Digi.me, an app founded in early 2018, allows individual users to plug in to up to 15,000 different sources of their data, anything from a music streaming service to a wearable fitness device, and then agree to share certain pieces of that data with third parties who can analyze your health or finances. Digi.me has also partnered with the company Ubdi to build a monetization framework where users can share data in exchange for crypto tokens.

Shane Green, co-founder and CEO of Digi.me, said the approach helps users understand their digital data footprints and allows them to make better decisions about data sharing. Green said a privacy-centered approach could eventually allow data buyers to get even more granular data sets—like, for instance, sourcing participants for clinical trials.

“It can create better outcomes for consumers as well as for companies that play by these new rules that respect people’s control and ownership of their data,” Green said.

It’s all easier said than done. Mat Travizano, co-founder and CEO of Wibson, said data-sharing services can incentivize companies to play fair, but acknowledged there are some practical limitations of preventing data buyers from reusing or misusing data they’ve purchased. Another challenge is getting enough users on the services to create data sets that are valuable to data buyers.

But there’s also opportunity. Sweeney, Green and Travizano all said they believed a push for data privacy rules has led to broader public awareness about data. Ultimately, they hope, companies and brands who want to use data will be required—by law or otherwise—to seek it out ethically. And what’s more ethical than getting data straight from users who are compensated when they share it?

“Data ownership should be a human right,” Travizano said. “We think of ourselves as catalyzers for that future.”

This story first appeared in the November 26, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.
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