Where Do Fairness, Transparency and Aspiration Live in Today’s Data Market?

They don't. We need to include the consumer

We have to include consumers in data transactions. - Credit by Getty Images, Unsplash
Headshot of Neil Sweeney


Many of us are familiar with the concept of fair trade coffee, where farmers are properly compensated for their hard work, and transparency is created throughout the entire value chain—starting with the farmer and ending with the consumer.  

This trend of fairness and equality has also found itself at the heart of the strategy of many leading direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands like Warby Parker and Everlane that are adding charity, aspiration and socially conscious initiatives as a way to differentiate in the space and pull market share from established brands.

Where do these principles of fairness, transparency and aspiration live in today’s data market? They don’t. The data industry today is still, remarkably, dominated by opaque black boxes that persistently collect increasingly private data on consumers for the benefit of a perpetual arbitrage that excludes them. It’s an accepted data Silk Road.

Disruption is inevitable

Would you as a consumer allow yourself to be persistently tracked by your mobile device? Most would be shocked that in exchange for persistent location tracking via their device, they would generate less than 1 cent per month. Yes. One penny. Why so cheap?

Simple—because the consumer is not involved in that negotiation. Location data doesn’t hold a monopoly on consumer exclusion, as this is the same for every data variable that is sold today: credit card, browser, charitable contributions, apps and so on. None includes the consumer.  

The end result is that the marketing and advertising ecosystem have been lulled to sleep with the belief that data is endless and cheap. Privacy changes are now circling the globe and having a downstream impact on platforms such as Google, Apple and many others. To suggest that the data market will remain the same in the midst of this is foolish.

Consumer inclusion is the future of data

Internet users are becoming more aware of the fact that their data is being shared, and that it has tremendous value. If data is the digital manifestation of human identity, then why aren’t consumers being included in the transaction of their data the same way fair trade farmers are? 

CMOs pound the table every day demanding better “viewability” and “fraud” metrics but skip the fact that every ad, even the ones that aren’t real, depends on data harvested from the consumer. Shouldn’t the narrative be about using an input that includes the consent and compensation of the person who provided it, instead of how effective the ad built around that data is? 

If data is the digital manifestation of human identity, then why aren’t consumers being included in the transaction of their data?

If Starbucks and the entire QSR industry are going to embrace the paper straw as ethical/sustainable innovation, shouldn’t these same brands and others consider embracing the consumer as part of the data decision? It’s inevitable that some smart, progressive CMO is going to grab this strategy as a way to differentiate their brand and back-foot her competitors. Look no further than Apple, which is using privacy as a way to separate itself from Google, Facebook, Amazon and others.

Including consumers in transactions will put the opportunity for data fairness and equity back in the hands of those trading data. With the world becoming increasingly connected digitally, the value of user data continues to grow, and industry spending on data is increasing in proportion to these rates. Since 2016, the data market size has been expanding at a double-digit rate. In 2018 alone, advertisers increased spending by 26.6%, and the entire global data market nearly doubled in accordance to reach $26 billion in 2019.  


Neil Sweeney is founder of Killi.
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