Enliken wants to put you in control of your online tracking profile

Startup promises to let you control what data advertisers see about you -- and charge them for the privilege

Every day you surf the Web or update your Facebook status or squeeze out another tweet, a cash register rings. Your personal data is bought and sold a thousand times over. Your Web surfing history and personal shopping profile are being bartered like prize heifers at a cattle auction.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep some of those greenbacks for yourself? A new startup called Enliken says yes, it would. Its plan: to let users control who gets access to their data profile, and then take a cut of whatever that data is sold for.

It starts with the Enliken browser plug in, which supports Chrome, Firefox, and Safari (but not IE). As you surf the Web, Enliken keeps score of how much data you’ve “pledged” to each site, which it will eventually translate into dollars or its equivalent in online goods. It will also take a slice of each transaction, from 20 to 30 percent, says CEO Marc Guldimann.

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Because Enliken lives inside your browser, and not as a cookie deposited by an ad network, it can see everything you do – your Tweets, your Facebook status updates, your Amazon wish list, your search terms – and refine your profile accordingly.

You can control the types of information Enliken will look for and where it looks for them. For example, it can pay attention to your search terms on Google (but not Yahoo), watch what you’re shopping for on Amazon and Yelp (but not eBay), or see who you’re following on Twitter but not track your physical location.

Guldimann says Enliken will protect users’ privacy by collecting the information advertisers really want – which is mostly your interest in big ticket items like cars, vacations, and real estate – and stripping out the stuff they really don’t want, like your name or email address. Guldimann says Enliken also sheds any information that doesn’t relate to a handful of common advertising keywords, popular sites, or Twitter accounts.

That doesn’t mean that all 800-odd online tracking companies will suddenly stop collecting your data, however. Guldimann’s vision is that Enliken’s data will be so much more attractive to advertisers – largely because its users will have opted in, and their profiles will be more complete – that it will put all the others out of business.

“As a first party data collector, we can offer a much more interesting profile to advertisers,” he says. “Once we remove any sensitive information, they’re still left with the things you shopped for on Amazon, what you Like on Facebook, the brands you follow on Twitter. It’s a lot more complete that what Google, or Facebook, or Bluekai can offer to anyone by themselves.”

Hey, you can’t get big without dreaming big.

At this point, though, Enliken is barely in the toddler stage. At the moment, any monies it collects will be donated to the charity of your choice. Its software changes on a weekly basis, says Guldimann. When I tried Enliken, the site was down about a third of the time and I couldn’t get the plug in to work at all with my copy of Firefox. A new version with much slicker controls over the types of information it collects should be available by the time you read this.

But it’s an interesting idea – a market based solution to a thorny problem that has so far resisted efforts at industry self regulation and government oversight

“Right now all these transactions are happening but they’re totally opaque to users,” says Guldimann. “They don’t understand what’s happening, and it makes them nervous. But people like having control over their data. The more people who install Enliken, the closer we’ll get to an Internet that is truly opt in and not opt out.”

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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