Privacy groups, lawyers, entrepreneurs, investors and industry associations have written a fair amount about online privacy. The central question is the degree to which advertisers and their agents should be able to observe consumers’ click behavior across multiple sites in order to deliver advertisements that would be of interest to consumers. For example, should a company be able to see that an anonymous user recently has visited Expedia, Kayak, various Hawaii hotel sites, medical sites relating to cancer, and five doctors’ websites? By seeing these click patterns, the company could infer that the consumer might be interested in an advertisement on inexpensive airline tickets. At the same time, however, the consumer could be concerned about presumed-anonymous-but-sensitive medical information being circulated outside of her control.
Congress may weigh in on the issue within the next year or two. Much of the discussion has been framed around opt-in and opt-out approaches. That is, should consumers be given the choice to participate in data collection networks (opt-in), or should data about their click behavior be collected automatically unless they elect against such collection (opt-out)?
So, why would consumers continue to allow their click behavior to be monitored? Advertisers argue that such monitoring allows for relevant targeting. If someone is planning a trip to Hawaii, wouldn’t she want to see advertisements on travel promotions instead of advertisements on plumbing repairs?
But little attention has been given to another aspect of all of this: How about rewarding consumers for agreeing to share their click behavior information? If advertisers, publishers and others get economic benefit from collecting a consumer’s click behavior, shouldn’t the consumer get some economic benefit as well? That is exactly what Bynamite is trying to do. The New York Times wrote a great article on the company and its goals. Whether or not Bynamite is successful, I am intrigued the idea of introducing some type of structure that rewards consumers with real or virtual currency for participating in the advertising ecosystem. And even if a market-based concept were to not work well in real life, I am interested in innovative ideas that get us beyond the debate between opt-in and opt-out. We should find ways to protect consumers’ privacy sufficiently while preserving the advertisement effectiveness that stems from behavioral targeting.
I like the last three paragraphs of the article in particular:
In a few years, Mr. Yoon says, a person’s profile of interests could be the basis for micropayments or discounts. A media company, for example, might charge a monthly subscription fee of $10 for news or entertainment programming, but offer it for $8 to those who exchanged their preference wallets.
The discount, in theory, would be justified because advertisers would pay more to market to people whose interests they knew precisely and thus were more likely to buy.
“I may be wrong about the product and our company,” Mr. Yoon said. “But I’m absolutely convinced that the direction is right, giving people a way to identify and use this store of value that is their personal information.”