Data Companies Navigate The Tension Between Giving Stuff Away For Free During COVID-19 – And Being Accused Of Opportunism

Companies are in the giving spirit in the age of coronavirus. Data companies are giving their data away for free, service providers are waiving their fees, ed tech companies are providing free access to their platforms, publishers are taking down their paywalls.

The impulse is usually genuine. The challenge is spreading the word so people can avail themselves while making sure it doesn’t look like the company is trying to market itself off the back of a crisis. Cynics would say these efforts are about self-promotion.

Rick Erwin, CEO of first-party data and identity company ALC, has no time for the naysayers.

“If someone thinks what we’re doing is about commercialism, they’re just not right, not sure what else to say,” Erwin said. “Everyone is concerned about what might look like commercial self-interest in this situation, but when a business is facing a cash flow crunch, they’ll appreciate help from anyone willing to alleviate it.”

ALC is making its consumer graph and household data on the US population free to businesses and brands that need help distributing information related to COVID-19. The company is already talking to several large metropolitan municipalities interested in using ALC’s data, which ranges across demographic and psychographic attributes, to target PSAs to certain populations, neighborhoods and age groups about when to get tested, for example, and messaging to evangelize the gospel of frequent hand-washing.

Brands could also use the data to reach customers with info about how to access critical goods and services in their own stores or in the local community.

Cuebiq, a location intelligence company, is also making certain of its data sets free, including mobility and store visitation patterns, for the duration of the coronavirus situation. The idea is to help brands and agencies keep track of business performance and be able to quickly modify their national and local strategies. Public and emergency agencies can theoretically use the data to monitor the impact of lockdown measures on people’s movements.

The gratis data access is an extension of a preexisting company initiative called “Data For Good” through which Cuebiq donates its data to the research community at large, including UNICEF and MIT, which use the information to augment their work on income inequality, disaster preparedness and epidemiology.

“During this time of uncertainty, we have been hearing the concerns of businesses, so we wanted to spread the word about how location intelligence can be [used] for good,” said Antonio Tomarchio, Cuebiq’s CEO and founder. “We simply extended this commitment to the general public to help them during these trying times.”

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