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Volunteered Personal Information (VPI) and Valuing Your Personal Data

When Google posts a quarterly profit of $15.4 billion, we shake our heads in disbelief. How much money are they are making out of selling big data to advertisers? And not just big data, but data about us – obtained in exchange for the ‘search’ service most of us use daily.



Editor’s Note: Presenting the flip side of the data privacy debate started with yesterdays post by ESOMAR is a potential solution to privacy hawks: the personal data economy. This model empowers consumers to leverage their personal data as an asset via a variety of online exchange models and holds much opportunity for researchers since by default consumer permission driven data collection, aggregation, and synthesis. My friends at Pureprofile (full disclosure I am on their advisory board) is one of the few companies with their roots in research (they started as a panel provider) that has gone far down the path to embracing this new paradigm and thinking through the value proposition for consumers. With that in mind, I thought getting their view on how this shift looks today and the impact on privacy in the future.


By Kim Anderson 

Data anxiety is normal. When Google posts a quarterly profit of $15.4 billion, we shake our heads in disbelief. Just how much money are they are making out of selling big data to advertisers? And not just big data, but data about us – obtained in exchange for the ‘search’ service most of us use daily. Personal data is a hugely successful and growing asset – one that many brands are profiting handsomely from.

However, what interests us at Pureprofile is not so much the data being traded behind closed doors (such as the data sets used in programmatic marketing). For us, it’s the information (data) people are happily volunteering that’s really interesting.

Volunteered Personal Information (VPI) plays a critical role in moving the debate about permission marketing forward. It’s a shift that requires everyone to see their profile as an asset – where individuals are actively engaged in valuing and protecting their own data.

There aren’t too many consumers who don’t want to participate in digital life to some extent. Whether it’s offering our details in exchange for a discount, receiving convenience in the form of online buying, or sharing our latest thoughts and moments via Facebook and Instagram. What we tell the world about ourselves through forms, sign ups, petitions, participation and personal web pages is a powerful thing. It allows us to express ourselves and have a voice. It also allows advertisers or anyone in the business of selling, to do their job with greater precision.

VPI is good because it moves us from interruption marketing (TV, radio and pre-roll video) to content such as newsletters, reports, brand monographs or books that are delivered as a result of permission being gained from the individual.

Innovation in content marketing of value has risen greatly in the last couple of years, as organisations recognise that focusing on helping, not selling out, their consumer is the key to obtaining VPI.

The new market for data

Peak consumer research body Ctrl-Shift has identified a huge ‘shift’ back to people power in the Personal Information Economy marketplace. During extensive research, they’ve identified key trends that place consumers in the drivers seat.

First and foremost they see increased agency for the individual – painting them more as collaborators than consumers. Audiences of the future play a powerful role in reclaiming their data and their right to participate in the free market.

Secondly, they are keen to communicate that our biggest currency as a consumer is not just money, but critically, our time and attention. In this new consumer paradigm everyone’s data profile is regarded as an asset. That is, something of value to be traded, given, or volunteered in return for something tangible and meaningful to the individual.

Profit flows from data

We know that data brokers make their money out of selling individuals’ data. It mostly lacks legitimacy due to its very nature – the fact that it was not volunteered by the individual. Collected without informed consent, and used out of context, it fast becomes irrelevant and devoid of amenity – pushing undesired marketing messages at people that rapidly reject them.

Ctrl-Shift’s research demonstrates that by giving power and more control over online identity and personal data, we create immense new value – worth ten of today’s Google business model within a decade.

This impacts the format and rules of this market, and most organisations are scrambling to prepare for this transformation. Brands must find new ways to engage consumers who seek to better manage their data. Adapting the services they deliver, how they create value for their audience, to new strategies for managing customer information – and all the while, still driving efficiency and growth for their business.

New flows of personal data will take over and emerging fourth-party services (i.e. those on the side of the individual) will be widely deployed. Businesses need to understand this framework, or be left behind as consumers become advanced in their knowledge of storage, management and data privacy.

Passionate about the role of fourth party services that place control back in consumer hands, Ctrl-Shift predicts enormous growth in decision support services that choose to help individuals research choices and manage their affairs using digital technologies. Examples include storing your own data securely and blocking advertising, to managing identity and providing insights. Within the next ten years, they believe this will evolve into a new UK market for personal data worth £20bn a year.

Indeed, many new services are poised to enter the marketplace in 2014, and some have already emerged – MiiCard, Mydex, nFluence, Pureprofile, Qiy, Reevoo and VisualDNA. The one thing they all have in common is that they use information volunteered by the consumer to add value to the consumer, but also to address particular challenges, stripping out high levels of cost and waste.

What’s next?

With this in mind, Pureprofile believes customers will transform to become active participants in the world of brands, rather than passive consumers.

A great many positives will flow from this data economy –  a landscape where people will be equipped to store, manage and selectively share their own data. A marketplace where consumers (and brands) will greatly value people’s time and attention. We see this evolution as fair and just.  There are many possibilities and implications of users being empowered to better manage their personal data.

One thing is for sure – the value generated will also be shared with the right person. The individual who shared their data.

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KIm Anderson

KIm Anderson

Marketing Director, Smart Design