Many companies are compiling personal data and selling it for marketing purposes, and this trend is likely to increase as people start mining the data that's publicly available via social networking sites. That was the topic of yesterday's post, Profiling means Facebook posts could cost you money. One of the results was that I had a telephone conversation with Justin Basini, founder of Allow, which is now in beta.
Allow is a UK-based start-up that aims to profit from your personal data by helping you to profit from it. "We act as a sort of 'permission broker'," says Basini. "We don't know anything about you that you didn't tell us. You have to opt in, and you'll be able to set your own permissions. We give you 50% of the money."
On its own, that might not be a very attractive idea, but joining Allow does have another potential benefit: it will try to get you out of rival marketing databases. "We get you out of the top 12 databases in the UK," says Basini. "You could do this yourself but it's a hassle, so nobody really does it. But if you create scarcity around your data, that increases your value."
The company is called Allow rather than Forbid because Basini is a marketing man who believes in the value of marketing. However, he says the industry is "very rich, incredibly inefficient, and annoys a lot of people". He's trying to make it more efficient and make a profit on the benefits. The idea is that a database of accurate information from people who have chosen to receive marketing promotions on certain topics should be worth more than less reliable databases of people who perhaps didn't read the small print or forgot to untick an option at the bottom of a form.
The way Basini sees it, you could opt in to receive marketing about cars when you're buying a car, then opt out once you've bought it. Some people will, of course, sign up to get their names removed from other databases and not opt in to receive any messages, but data scarcity still helps Allow.
One problem with trying to control personal data is that you may not know which country it's in, or which data protection laws apply. I opted out of telephone marketing, for example, but I still get scammers phoning me from India (usually about a Sky box I don't have) and so on. Won't the database marketing operations just move abroad?
"I suspect they won't," says Basini, "because the pact of trust between people and brands will be broken. I can't see Tesco not trying to do the right thing..."
He might be right, but 38% of the UK infrastructure is already foreign owned -- water and energy companies, rail services, airports etc -- according to the Office of Fair Trading. Also, what applies to Tesco has never applied to Google and many other US companies, and it no longer applies to Cadbury.
Allow says that around £8 billion was spent on marketing in the UK in 2009, so there's clearly an opportunity for the site to make money. How much an individual user might make is open to question, but it will be interesting to see whether enough people join for Allow to affect the industry's scattergun approach to marketing.
Allow's marketing video