All You Can Eat (And Other Real Solutions To The Online Privacy Fiasco)

jayfriedman“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Jay Friedman, COO at Goodway Group.

Have you seen recent articles about the Firefox cookie-blocking privacy debate? I don’t blame those of us in the digital media community for going a little overboard on our analysis. Being able to target audiences is a significant pillar of the digital display industry. So far, solutions have been mostly opinions, but kudos to Jay Stocki at Bering Media for advancing the cause. My goal here is to pick up the baton and take us one lap closer to a successful finish. I hope the Interactive Advertising Bureau can take one of these solutions — whichever one we as an industry decide is best — and make it a standard for everyone.

Before I offer the solutions, it’s important to establish the deal-breakers.

  • For the consumer: Consumers must have a simple and accessible way to manage data settings across all sites and devices. I love Ghostery as much as you do, but that’s not a consumer-centric solution.
  • For the marketer: Consumers cannot have the ability to block all third-party data and still have access to nearly unlimited, universal and free content.

Somehow, we need to work within these parameters.  Additionally, let’s help each side understand the others.

  • Consumers: You know how you love “Small Business Saturday” and protest evil corporations? Well, ending third-party data collection would centralize power with the biggest web properties that have the most data on you — thus hurting small business. Facebook, Google, even Yahoo! — the rich will only get richer.
  • Advertisers: The only way you’re getting all this data is because consumers visit over-tagged sites. Expect prices for sites with truly unique content to rise, even on real-time bidding.

Now, here are three models that address the problems. Please note I do not advocate one over another. All have pros and cons, including their difficulty to set up. If you have a better idea, I’m all ears. But we must take this matter into our own hands and solve it.

  1. The “All You Can Eat” Model. Americans love a buffet because it’s one easy price and no limits. In this model, a consumer pays a fee—perhaps $4.99 per month—and surfs virtually any site without being tracked. In this scenario, you could sign up with, say, Amazon, Facebook, Google, or Apple. Which one you pay doesn’t matter, but each doles out pennies to the sites you visit during the month, to compensate them for not having the ability to track you. It’s democratic because large sites are paid as much for a single visit as the smaller sites. Payments are doled out proportionately once your surfing is done for the month. Your sign-in with each site will be reported each month.  I believe industry could implement something like this despite the challenges.
  2. The “Site-Specific Paywall” Model. While more frustrating for a consumer, this is probably the easiest one to implement because it gives both the publisher and consumer complete freedom on a case-by-case basis. Certain sites may operate without gaining revenue from data or charging their consumers, but most won’t. If browsers default to “no tracking,” a site could show the first few lines of an article and say, “To continue reading this article and have unlimited access to our site, click to pay $0.99 per month. Or enable cookies.” Add a “Leave this setting for 30 days” and it’s unlikely most consumers will choose to pay. These micro-payments could easily be enabled by Amazon, Apple, Google Wallet, PayPal, and other common services. Consumers who loathe being tracked now have an option, including discontinuing use of that site. Publishers can now put their money where their mouths are. If your content is really that good, consumers won’t mind paying and being tracked.
  3. The “Capitalist” Model. This is basically the reverse of the “All You Can Eat” model. Rather than consumers paying not to be tracked, they sign up with a service allowing them to log in across almost any site and have a financial account tied to their login—again, Amazon, PayPal, etc. As a consumer surfs, websites offer micropayments for the ability to track. These payments are funded by the third-party data companies, giving the publisher the same profit center. But the ultimate source of revenue is different; third-party data companies keep their same model—paying for data. It might be slightly more expensive now, though. Again, consumers can accept the payments and be tracked, or be limited to the content they consume.

As I said, none of these models is perfect, but any of them could work. The first two have precedent in this or other industries. We must act first and not be forced. So whatever strategy we choose, please join me in urging the IAB, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and all major associations to adopt a model and make a major push for it. Proposing something beats the alternative and enables us to continue our great work for clients while providing relevant, non-intrusive ads to consumers.

Follow Jay Friedman (@jaymfriedman) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Joe Garis

    The Internet economy is not going to collapse without audience targeting. Sites won’t need to charge users for access. We will just all go back to targeting contextually and via demographics and behavioral data that giants like Google, Yahoo and Facebook aggregate via their own first party cookies and user reported data.