Commercializing Internet Activity Data: The Balance of Value, Transparency and Privacy

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1 1 Commercializing Internet Activity Data: The Balance of Value, Transparency and Privacy Consumer Data: Widespread & Accessible Marketers know when you re shopping for a car, if you ve recently gotten married or divorced, approximately how much money you earn and how you compare to other people in your zip code, the grocery store you most frequent and if your favorite hobby is golf or gardening. Acxiom utilizes a variety of sources including public domain data to match individuals with one of their 70 distinct clusters in 21 life stage groups. Datalogix builds consumer profiles based on data from retail store loyalty programs from more than 1400 leading brands. Equifax, via their subsidiary The Work Number, collects salary and paystub information for 1/3 of U.S. adults as a result of the firm s employee verification service. The consumer data market is well established and, fueled by unique data streams, continuing to refine the industry s ability to target individual consumers for sales and marketing purposes. This raises the question the industry has been addressing since its inception. Why are consumers willing to share information about their consumer behavior to assist retailers in their effort to sell goods and services? The answer lies in the value delivered to the consumer. By joining a loyal shopping program, consumers receive discounts and special offers that justify their participation in such programs. Frequent flyer members receive perks and incentives, such as preferential treatment, that further increase loyalty to specific airlines and encourage program participation. In the digital realm, users embrace the 70+ free services offered by Google or the social benefits derived from participating in social networks such as Facebook due to the value these services deliver to their users. As a result, a tacit agreement is established between consumers and the companies that collect and analyze their consumer behavior data. By participating in such data-driven programs and networks, consumers are either implicitly or explicitly agreeing to the utilization of their marketing data in exchange for the benefits associated with loyalty programs, frequent flyer membership, warranty cards, Google s services or Facebook s social network. Consumers agree to the utilization of their marketing data when the benefit to the consumer justifies participation.

2 2 The utilization of internet subscriber data to improve consumer marketing efforts is the next logical step for an industry that s existed for decades. The rise of the data-driven solutions of today are enabling the consumer data and marketing services industry to offer advertisers increasingly nuanced and complete profiles of consumer behavior. A number of inter-related trends are transforming the consumer data industry and, ultimately, facilitating the industry s ability to utilize past consumer behavior to predict future consumer interest. The integration of computers, mobile phones and tablets into the daily life of the typical consumer clearly illustrates the value derived by consumer through internet usage. Yet, when viewed through the lens of the marketing services industry, consumers are also delivering value by informing communications service providers of their unique interests, locations and relationships. The advancement in data analytics technology is empowering service providers via their underlying internet infrastructure to establish themselves as indispensible contributors to the consumer data industry s effort to refine consumer profiles and transition from aggregate to individual delineations. When viewed by the marketing services industry, consumers are delivering value by informing communications service providers of their unique interests, locations and relationships. Types of Data: Volunteered Data, Observed Data & Inferred Data The consumer data industry utilizes three primary categories of data to develop consumer profiles for advertisers: volunteered data, observed data and inferred data. Historically, volunteered data has served as the foundation of consumer profiles. Examples from the offline market include applications for credit cards and consumer credit, warranty cards, surveys and other traditional means of data collection. From a digital perspective, the emergence of social networks and the willingness of consumers to share personal information on such networks has resulted in an influx of valuable data available to assist marketing services companies in their consumer profiling efforts. To provide context for the scope of this development, Facebook claims to process 3.2 billion likes and comments per day from the 1.1 B users on the Facebook network. Joining a frequent flyer or loyalty shopper program is considered volunteered data within the industry, but participation within the program grants marketers observed data. These programs provide marketing departments with insight into the past behavior of their own customers, but this information is also valuable to companies offering complimentary or competitive products and services. With regard to the increase in the typical consumer s digital footprint, observed data gleaned includes individual location data as a result of mobile phone usage and internet activity data via the fixed network through the deployment of cookies and retargeting technologies and strategies. In terms of scope, Forrester Research expects the U.S. mobile payments market to reach $90B by The expectation is each of these payments will be location tagged.

3 3 Service providers could utilize in-session, first party behavioral data to deliver data streams for a wide variety of retail categories. Inferred data is the process of leveraging volunteered and observed data to build deeper profiles and infer deeper insight into a consumer s future buying patterns. Volunteered data, such as a consumer s credit application provides useful and verifiable information. Combining this data with observed data, such as multiple applications for credit from the same consumer in a short amount of time, provides additional insight. By combining multiple data points, a clearer understanding of the consumer s behavior in this example, creditworthiness emerges via inferred data analysis. Ideally, the combination of data sets provides decision-making context for situations such as evaluating the creditworthiness of an applicant or presenting the right advertisement or offer to the right consumer at the right time. In practice, aggregate and individual consumer profiles are conspicuously incomplete and outdated despite industry leaders such as Acxiom boasting the accumulation of 1500 unique data points for every consumer in the U.S. Despite the expansion of the consumer data and marketing services industry in both scope and application, the typical consumer profile contains incomplete or aged information and lacks the context in terms of past and predictive consumer behavior that is the industry s ultimate goal. Consumer Data & the Quest for Context Despite the expansion of the consumer data and marketing services industry in both scope and application, the typical consumer profile contains incomplete or aged information and lacks the context in terms of past and predictive consumer behavior that is the industry s ultimate goal. The right offer to the right person at the right time is the ambitious target, but a far cry from reality. To address this shortcoming, traditional offline data and marketing services providers are establishing relationships with their digital counterparts to optimize each other s existing consumer profiles. The recent partnership between Acxiom and Facebook is a prime example of, arguably, the most significant development in the data analytics and marketing services industry. The marriage of traditional, offline data analytics companies and online over-the-top service providers to optimize consumer profiles in terms of context, timeliness and persistence.

4 4 Market trends are converging to enable service providers to develop strategies that leverage the internet activity data of their subscribers for commercial purposes. This opportunity for internet service providers to augment the existing data analytics and marketing services market is unprecedented. Consumer profiles that incorporate data from frequent flyer and loyalty reward programs, past purchasing behavior, locational data and insight gained from social network activity are increasing in their sophistication. Yet, internet service providers by virtue of their underlying internet infrastructure have a unique perspective of consumer s past behavior and future interest. For example, service providers could deliver in-session, first party behavioral data streams detailing a consumer s online search propensity for a wide variety of retail categories. This is a level of insight valued by the market and, increasingly, understood and accepted by consumers as information to be disclosed for commercial purposes given the proper circumstances. Consumer Data: The Value/Disclosure Continuum Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn, Hulu, FourSquare, Spotify, Pinterest and Tumblr. The internet s most innovative companies have adopted a business model that reveals two significant trends impacting the consumer data market. The success of these companies proves the viability of a business model that leverages insights gained from consumer behavior for data analytics/marketing services and advertising purposes. A healthy, growing market exists for data streams that help advertisers optimize their efforts. Additionally, the success of over-the-top service providers provides the valuable precedent and supporting evidence that users are willing to accept data disclosure and commercial utilization of their internet behavior under certain conditions. If users perceive they re receiving sufficient value such as the value derived from services provided by Google, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, for example in exchange for the commercial use of their internet data, users will implicitly accept this transaction. If users perceive their derived value is not sufficient to justify such a compromise - or, more importantly, if this value is not properly articulated users will reject such an arrangement. Existing and emerging data management platform companies place a high value on the insession, first party behavioral data service providers are uniquely positioned to provide. If users perceive they re receiving sufficient value in exchange for the commercial use of their internet data, users will implicitly accept this transaction.

5 5 Consumer Data & the Internet Service Provider: Lessons from the Past Previous attempts to monetize subscriber data via the integration of 3rd party technology within a number of high-profile internet service provider networks have been met with significant resistance from consumers and privacy advocacy groups. As a result, the following suggestions may prove valuable when considering initiatives to leverage data gleaned from subscriber s internet activity for commercial purposes: Service providers should clearly and widely disclose their practices and policies related to the use of their subscriber s internet usage and data Data related to subscribers internet behavior should be stored only within the confines of the service provider s network or transferred/ stored with widely disclosed trusted data partners Any data analysis programs should have a well-defined opt-out policy and easy-to-navigate opt-out process The utilization of existing internet infrastructure, rather than the deployment of ancillary solutions such as deep packet inspection equipment, should be adopted when available (Note: this also delivers the added benefit of reducing capital expenditures) The distribution of undisclosed device-level software, such as cookie tracking or keystroke monitoring software, should be avoided This development is driven by increased demand from the market for new data streams and unique consumer insights. This rising demand is, essentially, a new revenue stream for companies that are able to meet the market s requirements and innovate with subscriber s interests in mind. Of course, there are a variety of methods and technologies available to service providers to support their data collection and analysis efforts. When considering best practices, non-invasive solutions that don t require additional hardware and/or software to reside in-network offer significant advantages when considering the privacy concerns of subscribers. Deep packet inspection and internet cookie-based data collection solutions offer the data collection functionality to support the commercialization of subscriber s internet behavior, but at the significant cost of jeopardizing the privacy of the service provider s customer base. DNS data collection and analysis solutions offer service providers the functionality required to participate in the emerging data economy without the significant sacrifice of subscriber privacy. DNS solutions are, by design, a critical component of a service provider s internet infrastructure. By incorporating data analytics functionality into this core infrastructure element, DNS-based analytics grants service providers the ability to decide to analyze or discard specific subscriber s data streams. This is a significant architectural difference compared to deep packet inspection solutions when viewed from the perspective of subscriber privacy. Consumer Data & the Internet Service Provider: Guidance for the

6 6 Future Market trends are converging to enable service providers to develop strategies that leverage the internet activity data of their subscribers for commercial purposes. Innovations relative to the collection and analysis of data are being introduced at breath-taking speeds. Data collection and analysis products and services are also maturing in terms of affordability and usability. In short, a healthy and growing data economy is emerging as a result of these technological advancements. This development is driven by increased demand from the market for new data streams and unique consumer insights. This rising demand is, essentially, a new revenue stream for companies that are able to meet the market s requirements and innovate with subscriber s interests in mind. The final most significant trend is consumers demonstrated willingness to agree to the commercial use of their data in exchange for valuable services. Service providers are already providing a service that many consumers deem indispensible. Of course, service providers are constantly focused on developing new and innovative products and services to increase customer loyalty and satisfaction. We contend one path towards a stronger carrier/subscriber relationship is through data analytics and marketing services. That is, if such a program is developed, deployed and discussed with the subscriber s best interest in mind a program to deliver additional value to subscribers. To that end, the following suggestions may assist service providers as they consider entering the consumer data and marketing services market. An innovative business model embracing privacy and transparency may help develop new recurring revenue streams while solidifying the relationship with existing subscribers. Proactive stakeholder engagement before implementation including soliciting input from subscribers, industry analysts and privacy/ advocacy groups Transparent data/privacy policy that discloses specific data collected and analyzed, all 3rd parties involved in the initiative, the basic architecture utilized, the locations where the data is stored and the purpose of the effort Ability for subscribers to easily request their personal data file to better understand the initiative and assuage consumer s privacy concerns Easy-to-use and accessible subscriber opt-out procedures Acknowledgement of the commercial value of each subscriber s unique data set and commitment to provide compensation to subscribers Network access service discounts, free or discounted complimentary services, charitable donations in the subscriber s name The development of an innovative business model that embraces the

7 7 new data economy and the adoption of a policy of transparency that respects the privacy concerns of subscribers may combine to offer service providers an opportunity to develop a new, recurring revenue stream while solidifying the relationship with their existing subscribers. Certainly, an opportunity worthy of further exploration. To learn more about how Nominum can help your organization activate your stranded data assets, visit The author, Matthew Madden, can be contacted via at

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