My Data Isn't Free

Listen up, marketers, I know you’re taking my data. 

I know that algorithms and people I’ll never meet know more about my interests, world views and weird idiosyncrasies than many of my closest friends.

I understand that I pay for my favorite services with fractions of my identity, tacitly agreeing to put myself for up sale, with my profile triumphantly displayed as the cover lot of a creepy robot auction.     

I also know that I can easily stop you. I’ve used Tor to make you believe I was browsing from a yurt in Mongolia, deployed a battalion of ad-blockers and haven’t let you store even a crumb on my computer.  

But I’ve stopped all that and allowed you full access to my digital genetic code. Why? Because despite my cynicism, I believe in the power of the personalized internet. I know that marketers could use my information to target advertisements and onsite experiences that add value and are aligned with my interests.Sooner or later, the mad men will get it right.



To get there, advertisers must stop acting like access to my information is their right. The claim that Sixty-three percent of millennials and 58% of Gen Xers are happy to hand over their personal lives to brands is nice, but marketers have warped this statistic. Remember that our sensitive data is simply a form of currency that we are willing to trade and you’re welcome to my online behavior if it gets me my desired information quicker or scores me a nice little offer, but if you continue disrupting me with pop-ups of vacuums because I bought a Swiffer once, I’ll gladly slide back into anonymity.

Essentially, I am willing to allow your intrusion on two conditions:

1. You are obnoxiously transparent about what information you gather, why it is collected and how it is used.

For too long, privacy rights and data collection policies have lived deep in the catacombs of websites’ terms of service, where advertisers were confident few browsers would ever find them.    

Capitalizing on the ignorance of online users is always ethically dubious, but as key consumer demographics become savvier, it is unwise. Why not try being up-front about the information you collect, and more up-front about how it makes your service more valuable to me?

Long criticized for hiding the wealth of consumer information they store, Facebook developed a best-in-class portal where they walk users through which types of data are collected and why. But how many Facebook users have seen that page? If more Facebook members saw this, they might be more inclined to trust the social media giant. Instead, only 3 percent of users surveyed say that they have a lot of trust in the network. 

Desperate to curb the rise of ad-blocking, The Atlantic, Forbes and several other publishers provided an interesting case study in the spirit of honesty with users, asking folks to allow ads to run. I was more than happy to turn off my ad-blocker once politely reminded that this disruption was required to sustain quality journalism. And I wasn’t alone; Forbes found 44% of users turned off their ad-blockers due to that simple request and respect for the fourth estate.

2. You use this data to craft online experiences that feel like they were uniquely made for me.

Personalization is touted as the holy grail for marketers but unfortunately remains frustratingly elusive despite the plethora of vendors available. According to Mckinsey, personalization done right “enhances customers’ lives and increases engagement and loyalty by delivering messages that are tuned to and even anticipate what customers really want.” Effective personalization is also the ultimate manifestation of marketers fulfilling their end of the data bargain.

The ROI of giving up my data is realized when you customize the layout of your site based on my behavior, resurface a cart of items I intended to buy when I lost service on my phone two weeks ago, or serve highly personalized product recommendations. If sacrificing my privacy results in a streamlined user journey or allows me to serendipitously discover products, content or travel destinations that interest me, the trade-off is well worth it. 

So, I’m speaking to you, programmatic video marketer who knows I just watched the Fifty Shades Darker trailer twice. My secret’s out, how about a targeted offer to go see this fine cinematic achievement on my stage in my local theater?   

My data’s not free, it’s for sale. Come earn it.

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