Consumers Have Something New to Sell – Their Data

Today, online marketers try to find out as much as they can about customers, sometimes “paying” them to reveal personal information.

Rewarding a consumer for being forthcoming about their likes, dislikes and preferences may be one way to get valuable marketing intelligence. At the same time, it could reduce concerns about privacy, since the marketer would openly request such information and provide an incentive to get it. But it still leaves open the issue of consumer control.

A start-up company called Bynamite has a different idea: why not let the consumer collect and review personal information that’s floating around on the Internet and make sure it represents their interests accurately? By doing so, the consumer may someday be in a position to package and sell that information himself.

Ginsu Yoon, a co-founder of Bynamite, tells The New York Times:

“There should be an economic opportunity on the consumer side. … Our view is that it’s not about privacy protection but about giving users control over this valuable resource – their information.”

Bynamite enables a user to track personal information about themselves via a browser plug-in, currently available in a free beta version for Chrome and Firefox only. Bynamite monitors ad networks and e-commerce sites, collecting and assembling data that’s available about the user. Bynamite then classifies the data into categories, such as travel or shopping and the categories are prioritized according to the frequency the user visits sites or makes purchases within a category.

The purpose of all this is to give the user a picture of what online marketers “know” about them. Yoon characterizes this as a “mirror,” according to The New York Times, “showing users how the commercial Internet sees them.” If the user thinks some of the data collected is presenting a picture that isn’t accurate, the user can change the mirror by modifying the data received.

Ultimately, Bynamite hopes to convince users that they can “use their portfolios of interests as virtual currency.” Yoon terms it a “consumer’s Preference Wallet.” Some day, he says, “a person’s profile of interests could be the basis for micropayments or discounts.” Yoon adds, “I’m absolutely convinced that the direction [of Bynamite] is right, giving people a way to identify and use this store of value that is their personal information.”

That may be the pot of gold that awaits us – the notion that consumers can essentially package and market their own data. Ideas like Bynamite could represent a new way of doing business online. The consumer keeps watch on personal data and refines it so that it accurately reflects personal interests. Meanwhile, online marketers willingly offer incentives to consumers who make this information available.

This could present online marketers with an attractive alternative to the current practice of collecting information without a consumer’s explicit permission – which is the heart of the online privacy issue. That makes Bynamite a very intriguing idea.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

4 Responses to Consumers Have Something New to Sell – Their Data

  1. Pat Grady says:

    Several years ago at ABW, I wrote a post predicting Pii (personally identifiable info) Banks, where consumers could store, safeguard, and control access to their personal info. Marketers would pay for limited access to certain information. The nature and growth of cyber crimes and privacy issues would require strict controls be put in place, like banks have. As things like Bynamite proliferate and grow larger, then get hacked / gamed, there will be calls for tighter security… and the Pii Banks concept will become a fully formed reality.

  2. Barry Silverstein says:

    Thanks for the comment Pat. Certainly, privacy concerns and hacking sensitive information will always be issues as personal data becomes more prolific. Personal data will probably need to protected in much the same way as credit card data via online encryption, stronger password security, and so on. It will be interesting to see if consumers want to play in the personal data arena, or whether concerns about privacy and security make it less attractive to do so.

  3. Pat Grady says:

    Another sideways twister… Today, we see marketers extending cash (thru G) to website owners to get people's attention, via AdSense. As blogs and social media continue to allow people to move their personalities and characteristics further onto the internet (thru things like Bynamite), someone's gonna create something like AdSense, but for people themselves, not websites. People can go there and express interests in buying something (like they do in search now), and marketers can bid to be presented. But here's the catch… people's profiles will be ranked, like AdSense ads are today… meaning a consumer who offers clarity of interest expressed, history of buying when they say they will, willingness to post reviews for their buys, etc, will command a higher bid from the marketers / advertisers. And like AdSense, a cut of the action will go to the buyer, motivating them to sincerely and accurately express their buying interests. Bynamite seems to be a service to collect and manage and even monetize one's pii – I wonder if they'll build it into a search / ad platform as well.

    Kiddies always talking about how social media is going to kill search, or has killed it… perhaps the two will get married instead.

  4. […] do in the time we had.  We put out a beautiful service that received nice launch coverage and some industry mindshare.  Serious publications highlighted Bynamite as a useful tool and a company to watch. […]