Ceding Control Of Data To Users Could Benefit Marketers, Too

We generate Web interaction data constantly while we're online, but this data drains into databases, never to be seen again by the average consumer. What if consumers had control over the data that site publishers and advertisers collect for behavioral targeting and countless other purposes? believes that both consumers as well as marketers could benefit if individuals were able to collect, store, manage and share their own "attention data."

The nascent nonprofit organization has developed its Attention Recorder software for that very purpose. And the group is also encouraging site publishers to pledge to honor its principles--which state, essentially, that individual consumers can own their data, store it where they wish, move it securely when they want to, share it with whomever they choose, and know exactly how it's being used. Behavioral Insider spoke with AttentionTrust's executive director, Ed Batista, about the implications for online marketers.



Behavioral Insider: My understanding is that AttentionTrust isn't necessarily about protecting your data, it's about controlling it and knowing where it goes. Is this correct?

Batista: That's right. This is really not about privacy, and that's important to keep in mind--especially when you realize that right now all of this data is out there. All of this data that's being captured by the [Attention Recorder] is being captured by the company whose Web site you're visiting.

....Every time you use Google, Google is able to understand what search terms you're entering and monitor your behavior based on the search results and improve their algorithms. So, you are helping them with your attention data. Your attention data is building their business. That's great. My only issue is that right now all of the attention data you're creating is completely siloed in these corporate databases, and you have no ability to make use of it somewhere else or across silos. This is fundamentally not about, 'I don't want Google or Amazon to have my data.'

BI: There are privacy issues that people have concerns about when it comes to behavioral targeting, and this almost turns the tables on that whole privacy discussion.

Batista: Somebody on our board came up with the term, 'MyWare.' Our recorder has a number of privacy features built in... so you know when your activity is being recorded and when it is not....The default option is that no activity on a secure page is recorded. So, there's a recognition that [you're] giving up your privacy in exchange to be able to gather this data and make use of it. It's not an all or nothing, black and white deal. It's a series of transactions that you will make. You'll say, 'I'll give up some of my data in exchange for services; I'll give up more of my data in exchange for more services.'

BI: How many members of AttentionTrust are there currently?

Batista: We have just under 400 members, but 'members' at this point reflects somebody saying, 'I support these principles and I will support them on the site [where] I have registered with AttentionTrust.' I'm not sure how many Attention Recorder users there are. I'd say there are probably more than 1,000. [In its current iteration, the Attention Recorder is compatible only with the Firefox browser].

BI: What does it mean to be a member as opposed to someone who just downloads the Attention Recorder?

Batista: When somebody goes through the member registration process, they're basically saying, 'Any attention data that users are creating on my site, we will respect the right of users to own and control that data.'....It's almost like signing a petition.

....From a marketing perspective, people are entering into a bargain with you where they're sharing their attention data. You'll have a much more efficient way of turning prospects into leads, [then] into customers. The virtuous cycle comes in because people are saying, 'I'm willing to share my attention data and give you as a marketer a lot more insight into my behavior, and in exchange, I want X.'

BI: What does it mean for site publishers and marketers who subscribe to AttentionTrust's principles? How might their current collection and usage of data change?

Batista: I don't think I can answer that definitively. There are too many uncertainties, but I can make some guesses. If people are participating in this space, from a marketing perspective, they're ceding control a little bit. They're basically saying to their site visitors and other users, 'Hey, this data that we've been gathering on you and using for our own purposes, we recognize that you now have the ability to gather that data for yourselves and use it across other sites and even with our competitors.'

From some companies' perspectives, they might find that a little unsettling. They'd rather have the control. I would encourage people to not be unsettled by that. The fact that people are going to have control and manage their data and share it with other partners means they're going to be able to share it with you, too. This now means that you have the access to the data that your customers and prospects are generating on your competitors' sites or on partner sites or on entirely different sites. So, you're going to get insight into the behavior of these users on entirely different sites and in entirely different spheres. It's going to be data that you'd never be able to access before.

The other part of the equation is that you're going to be able to engage people who are a lot more interested, willing and ready prospects. The further refinement of behavioral targeting means you're casting a narrower net, but in this case you're going after people who have already demonstrated their willingness to share information with you. The prospects may be unsettling for a marketer, but I think the opportunities are huge for people who figure out how to enter into a series of transactional arrangements with consumers.

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