Will Consumers Manage Their Data? Enliken Makes The Case

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Every so often a solution bubbles up that aims to give people more control over how their data is leveraged. Several years ago AttentionTrust.org aimed to provide such a service, and the FTC-led Do-Not-Track browser initiative aims to do the same on a much larger scale.

But is the world ready for self-administered marketing profiles? One company betting yes is Enliken, which offers a browser plugin that tracks user actions on a permission-basis and feeds the money made from it to charities of their own choosing.

In a recent blog post, Enliken describes a future where "Profiles are now considered personal property and are rarely sold by apps or sites. Most data sales involve proxies like Enliken."

AdExchanger spoke with CEO Marc Guldimann to get more on the company's plans and business model. Guldimann was previously founding CEO of Spongecell.

What is Enliken and what problem do you solve?

MARC GULDIMANN: Enliken is a first-party data company. We allow individuals to sell information that they feel comfortable sharing with advertisers.

When we talk about first-party data at Enliken, we consider the first party to be the individual and not the publisher.  We consider the second-party data to be publisher data, third-party data to be aggregated data.  There's really not a good name for individual data now, so we're trying to sort of repurpose first-party data.

The problem that we solve is manifold.  We can look at it from the publisher side first.  The publishers are facing pending legislation around how they're allowed to use data. They are receiving lower CPMs because really good data is not ubiquitous.

From an advertiser's standpoint, the problems that we're solving are brands not being comfortable advertising using data, because they're not really sure how it was collected.

Consumers meanwhile have the problem of a lack of transparency and not understanding how their data is being used and not being in control of which data is actually used to target them with advertisements. The other problem is they are not able to capture any of the value of their data.  There's the transaction that happens that is extremely opaque.  There's very little visibility into the actual pricing of that transaction. Any time you're on the opaque side of a transaction, you're getting screwed. We try to bring a little bit more transparency to that.

So how do you help each of those parties?

For publishers, if you're a publisher, the more data that's available about your audience, the higher CPMs you're going to get. This is sort of proven by Facebook opening up their platforms to allow people to bring data in instead of the other way around. As Facebook progresses the more data that's available about every incremental impression, the higher the CPMs are going to go for that impression.

Publishers win when consumers are in power to share the information that they are comfortable sharing, because I think it's going to be much, much richer that the information that you can buy from BlueKai and eXelate and even Rapleaf and Spokeo, because it's going to include a much higher level of granularity. It's going to include purchase data so that you know when that purchase actually happened and the data takes on a new type of value. You can start to sell adjacent products. Instead of trying to advertise shoes to someone that just bought shoes, you advertise socks to them.

For advertisers, we think brands just don't feel comfortable using targeted advertising.  By allowing a brand to buy data directly from an individual or through an individual's proxy, we think that they will be able to take advantage of a lot of the benefits of online targeted advertising.

As a consumer, you gain control. We think that as consumers gain control and they become more comfortable with the idea of sharing information with advertisers that they're going share more information. It's sort of like a cycle that feeds upon itself. As you feel control, as you feel empowered, you take a bigger part in the ecosystem and you start to feel more comfortable and you share more information. In the long run, giving consumers control of their own data benefits everybody and they'll actually share more data.

What have you observed so far about consumers' interest and willingness to actively manage their data?

Will people participate? We think yes, but it has to be easy. Control can either take the form of letting people feel like they're in control, or it can take the form of giving them lots of knobs and switches and buttons.

Doc Searls said Enliken is actually a practical solution to the problem, because our software is super simple.  There is zero change in behavior in order to use Enliken to control your data. All you have to do is install a plug-in and then it's done. You walk away.  There are other people that have (…) heavyweight stuff you have to do like get a new web browser and mobile apps that take over your experience.

It's a really interesting story that they tell about making a new type of commerce system for advertisers and consumers to connect in, but in reality it just won't happen. I've been working in consumer web products my entire life and people just won't do that. It just won't work. At Enliken we try to make it brain-dead simple.

What data do you track?

The absolute first thing that happens with data that is part of the Enliken system is that it's run against the right list of terms that advertisers are interested in and is non-sensitive.  That's a list of about 10,000 words.  It's brands and things people shop for, airport codes, and stuff that advertisers are interested in.  They're not interested in when you Google for yourself.  They're not interested in when you accidentally type in your social security number into Google or when you shop for medicine or when you're researching medical conditions.

Advertisers, I believe and the people that we're talking to, would really rather work with a data provider that doesn't have that information. That just doesn't belong in advertising.  We knock that information out right away. It doesn't actually ever hit our database. What we end up with is about 5 percent of the data that other data aggregation platforms store about you. That's because we just don't track anything which is either sensitive or not interesting to advertisers.

From the data you do track, where are you selling that?

We're not monetizing yet.  We're focusing on getting adoption for now.  The way we're going to monetize is by selling a very rich anonymized profile. The profile that we're selling is much, much more valuable that you can get from BlueKai or eXelate or even than you can get when you buy in one of these data silos like Facebook or Google.

The reason for that is that there's three data points in each package, right?  It's where you were, the action that you took, and the thing that you took it on.  "Marc searched on Google for shoes." "Debbie clicked on a wallet on Amazon." There's searches.  There's clicks.  There's shares.  There's purchases.  There's all these different actions that can happen.

The basic idea is that the data is extremely granular and there's a lot more actual actionable data there than you get from when you're buying it if somebody is in market or out of market for something.

How are you building the consumer-facing brand and driving installs?

The initial push is around nonprofits. We see data as the first viable micro-currency.  The first thing that we want to let people do with that data is to donate it to a cause that they believe in. We're launching with several nonprofits  The nonprofit actually reach out and get distribution for us by asking their constituents to install Enliken.

How's it going?

It's going pretty good. There's definitely some challenges working with nonprofits. The reception that we've been getting from their constituents is fantastic. A lot of people said this is pretty much a no-brainer. This is the easiest way for somebody to donate and somebody to make a difference.  You don't have to open their wallets.  You don't have to fill out a long form.  It's one click and they know that they're making an impact on a cause that they believe in.

Can you put a number behind it?     

We're growing quickly, but we're really not talking about the number of users yet.

You were previously the founding CEO of Spongecell. How did you get from there to here?

I left Spongecell about a year-and-a-half ago. Spongecell was growing extremely rapidly. I think of myself as much more of an early-stage than a mid-stage guy. I felt like it was time to move on.

One of the things that I spent a lot of time doing at Spongecell was understanding how data was used. Everybody talked about audience targeting and how great all this stuff was, but the results just weren't there. In theory, audience targeting is amazing [but] the data was just bad. One of the reasons why SEM works so well is we researched it; Google does a fantastic job matching up the right ad with the right search term. One of the reasons why Facebook ads will probably do okay is they have great data.

We realized we can actually affect good audience targeting by allowing individuals to share the information that they feel comfortable selling to advertisers.

What are some ways we'll see data quality improve over the next 12 to 24 months?

It's really going to take participation from the individual. I don't think without first-party participation you really get there. There could be some improvements with cookie synching with offline data, but I think that gets even sketchier because then you're taking information about people's purchase with their credit cards or with their loyalty cards and they're synching it up with a cookie.

What's your strategy for mobile?

In mobile there's not a lack of inventory, but a lack of data. All the data that people are generating is being locked up in app silos. Our strategy is to allow people to make the same information that they're sharing with advertisers on the browser on the desktop available on mobile. We do that with our really simple SMS cookies links where we just send somebody a link, they click on the links on their phone and then we make that same data available on the mobile device for advertisers to target ads there.

Follow Marc Guldimann (@guldi) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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