How to protect your privacy and make money doing it

Companies like Allow and Personal are making a business out of letting you sell your personal data to 'carefully selected' marketers.

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Sounds like an infomercial doesn’t it? You too can enhance your privacy and make money from the comfort of your own home. No, you don’t have to stuff envelopes, sell Amway products, or become a money mule for Eastern European scam artists.

You can do it by selling your information to “carefully selected” marketers, just like a zillion Web sites do. A recent Wall Street Journal article by Julia Angwin and Emily Steel discusses two firms that are enabling their customers to do just that.

London-based Allow Ltd. acts as a different kind of data broker – one that negotiates with marketers on your behalf and cuts you in on the deal. Of course, the only way to make that model work is to make your data scarce. So Allow first removes as much of your personal information as it can from the many many marketing databases where it resides. It’s helped in this by the UK’s Data Protection Act, which requires data brokers to remove you from their lists if you ask politely.

[ See also: Google wants your face ]

(In the US, most large data brokers like LexisNexis, Intelius, and Acxiom let you opt out, but it’s a voluntary process filled with bureaucratic speed bumps. Smaller data brokers? Good luck even figuring out who they are.)

Per the WSJ, Allow customer Giles Sequeira made almost $10 just for letting one credit card company know he’s in the market for new plastic. I know – $10 sounds lame. But think about how many credit card offers you get from companies you don’t want to do business with and how much time you spend shredding those offers. (You do shred them, right? Because otherwise you’re risking identity theft by some dumpster diver.) Now imagine not only getting paid to be solicited – while reducing your risk of ID theft -- but also getting to choose who does the soliciting. And the company that’s paying you knows you’re actually a viable customer and not some shmoe who’s shredding their offers, so they get a much better return for their marketing investment.

Doesn’t that sound like an intelligent thing to do?

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