Ask someone if they care about privacy and they may laugh and say no, don’t be silly, we have none. Ask them if they care about having their Social Security Number or health records buttered all over the InterWebs, however, and you’ll probably get a different answer.
When people talk about privacy, the biggest mistake they make is to talk about privacy. What they really need to be talking about is data. Because all data is not created equal.
Some types of data are more sensitive than other data, just like some photos (your corporate headshots) are more sensitive than others (those Tijuana party pix with you and that donkey in the sombrero). Some types of data are also worth more money than others. And if your data is worth money, shouldn’t you be seeing some of that?
This is where companies like Enliken step in. A few months back Enliken surveyed 600 people about what data is collected about them and how they feel about it. The results are quite enlightening. In general, people care a lot more about their political, health, and financial privacy than they do about their shopping, interests, or travel data.
You can see this for yourself. Go to Enliken’s Data Accuracy page, and click the Rate Your Data button. (You’ll need to do this using Firefox or Chrome, and it won’t work if you’ve opted out of tracking cookies.) Enliken installs a browser plug-in that scans your hard drive for cookies left by five of the Web’s biggest profilers – AOL, BlueKai, Exelate, Google, and Yahoo.
Then it shows you the categories these profilers think you’re interested in, and asks you to rate how accurately it describes you and how sensitive the information is. The following chart shows the results from the 600-odd surveys filled out so far.
* The most accurate category is technology buyers. Some 88 percent of survey respondents rated that profile as accurate, and only 3 percent cared whether anyone knew about it.
* The least accurate category? “Moms of Gamers.” Nobody got that right.
* The most sensitive category: Nearly 40 percent of respondents objected that the profilers had categorized them as Republicans. That data was also only accurate 9 percent of the time.
The results confirm what TY4NS has noted a few times: Much of the data that Web profilers collect about us is laughably inaccurate. But it also reveals that one of the things Netizens care least about is shopping data – which happens to be something online trackers are keenly interested in.
So Enliken saw an opportunity here. Why not give retailers the data they crave, in exchange for discounts or other benefits for shoppers who are willing to share? Hence Enliken’s Web-based loyalty card program, which will begin testing with major retailers in August, according to CEO Marc Guldimann.
Here’s how it will work. You’ll sign into the loyalty card program by logging into a participating retailer’s site. Then you’ll surf the Web the way you normally would.
Say the participating store is Wal-Mart. You search Amazon for a pair of discounted Oakleys. When you visit the next Web site, you’ll see an ad from Wal-Mart listing a special price on Oakley sunglasses just for you. The retailer will collect more data because it will know who you are, but you’ll get a real benefit from it – not just a “more interesting” ad.
“The retailer is able to win back that purchase by offering you a better deal,” says Guldimann.
The idea, he adds, is to get these trackers to stop collecting sensitive information, like demographics or health or political data, and to collect only the data they need in order to sell more products.
Guldimann also hopes to offer consumers offer more granular control over their data – telling Enliken’s partners what kinds of data you’re willing to share with them, whom they can share it with, and how long they can keep it.
He adds that Enliken plans to enforce strict rules about how retailers treat the data you’ve decided to share with them.
“To comply with our program, they need to be 100 percent transparent about what they’re doing with your data,” he says. “If they aren’t we’ll shut them off.”
Giving your personal information to retailers in exchange for deals may seem like an odd way to go about ensuring your privacy, Guldimann admits. But it’s still better than the vast amounts of data that are being collected today without notice or consent.
There’s nothing wrong with giving up a little information in exchange for something of value, provided you’re the one making that decision. Privacy is not about being invisible, it’s about being able to control your data – and, when possible, profit from it.
Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.