Editorial: Cash Quells Privacy Fears

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New York advertising services firm DoubleClick should consider compensating people to profile them - either with cash, loyalty points or discounts available nowhere else.

From a marketing standpoint, its scheme to marry surfing behavior with Abacus Direct Corp.'s co-op database is incredibly compelling. Abacus manages records from 1,100 catalogs. Direct marketers use the Abacus database to find likely buyers in 88 million U.S. homes.

The idea behind DoubleClick's scheme is to match online registrations with Abacus data. The resulting profiles theoretically will help marketers find people online who have demonstrated offline that they will buy products without having seen or touched them - something direct marketers have long known is critical to remote selling's success.

Then there is the lofty goal of realizing the Web's long-held promise of being able to reach the right person with the right offer at the right time.

But the plan is being attacked for essentially not being up front enough with consumers.

Meanwhile, research firm Yankelovich Partners offers evidence that people will share personal information in exchange for the simple benefit of customized content and recommendations.

According to Yankelovich, 84 percent of people 16 to 33 years old will share their hobbies and interests with marketers in return for customized information. Also, 73 percent of people 34 to 52 and 75 percent of people 53 and over will share hobbies and interests.

Most telling, though, is the percentage of people who will share their online activities with marketers: 80 percent of 16 to 33 year olds; 62 percent of 34 to 52 year-olds; and 69 percent of people 53 and older.

Hmmm. Aren't our online activities - porn consumption, access of certain types of health information, etc. - supposed to be what we're most concerned about?

These are not numbers indicative of a population that is frightened about the ramifications of businesses tracking their behavior.

However, 68 percent of people polled by Yankelovich said they resent the sale of mailing lists without their permission.

Yankelovich calls it the intimacy paradox.

"As consumers continue to seize control of their marketplace interactions, reciprocity with assurances of privacy is the only means of resolving this paradox," the report said.

Translation: Make consumers a compelling offer for their information, spell out exactly what they are giving up in return and don't change the terms of the deal - ever.

Notice AllAdvantage.com has racked up a huge user base - more than 3 million people- while collecting mountains of marketing information on them. And not a privacy peep.

AllAdvantage.com has well-known, anti-spam advocate Ray Everett-Church as its chief privacy officer. AllAdvantage.com also pays people 50 cents an hour to surf the Web, 10 cents for each hour a referral spends online and a nickel for each hour a referral's referral spends online.

Nothing like a little cash to quell those privacy fears. The lesson is clear: Forget "give us your name and we'll make your Internet experience more reflective of your interests" embedded in a long-scrolling, click-the-box contract.

As consumers become more aware that they're profiles are worth money, the deals marketers make with them must be blatantly upfront and the benefit more obvious: "I'll give you $20 worth of services or discounts available nowhere else per month to pitch products and services according to what you do."

Make a compelling offer - cash is always compelling. Spell out the deal. Don't ever change it. Seems pretty simple from here.

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