free html hit counter The Data Deal Is Opaque. We Should Fix It. - John Battelle's Search Blog

The Data Deal Is Opaque. We Should Fix It.

By - August 23, 2017

I wrote this post over on NewCo Shift, but it’s germane to the topics here on Searchblog, so I’m cross posting here…

What Did You *Think* They Do With Your Data?

Admit it, you know your data is how you pay for free services. And you’re cool with it. So let’s get the value exchange right.

Topping the charts on TechMeme yesterday is this story:

So as to be clear, what’s going on here is this: AccuWeather was sharing its users’ anonymized data with a third-party company for profit, even after those same users seemingly opted out of location-based data collection.

But the actual story is more complicated.

Because….come on. Is anyone really still under the impression that your data isn’t what you’re trading for free weather, anywhere, anytime, by the hour? For free e-mail services? For free social media like Instagram or Facebook? For pretty much free everything?

All day long, you’re giving your data up. This is NOT NEW. Technically, what AcccuWeather did is more than likely legal, but it violates the Spirit Of Customers Are Always Right, Even If They Don’t Know What They Are Talking About. It also fails the Front Page Test, and well, when that happens it’s time for a crucifixion!

Hold on, a reasonable person might argue, sensing I’m arguing a disagreeable case. The user opted out, right? In this instance the user (and we can’t call them a “customer,” because a customer traditionally pays money for something) did in fact explicitly tell the app to NOT access their location. Here’s the screen shot in that story:

But what does that really mean? Access for what? Under what circumstance? My guess is AcccuWeather asked this question for a very specific reason: When an app uses your location to deliver you information, it can get super creepy, super fast. It’s best to ask permission, so the user gets comfortable with the app “knowing” so much about where the user is. This opt out message has nothing to do with the use of location data for third party monetization. Nothing at all.

In fact, AccuWeather is not sharing location data, at least not in a way that contradicts what they’ve communicated. Once you ask it not to, the AccuWeather app most certainly does NOT use your location information to in any way inform the user’s experience within the app.

Here’s what AccuWeather should ask its users, if it wanted to be totally honest about the value exchange inherent in the use of free apps:

“Ban AcccuWeather from using your anonymized data so AccuWeather, which really likes giving you free weather information, can stay in business?”

But nope, it surely doesn’t say that.

Yet if we want to get all huffy about use of data, well, that’s really what’s going on here. Because if you’re a publisher, in the past five years you’ve had your contextual advertising revenue* stripped from your P&L. And if you’re going to make it past next Thursday, you have to start monetizing the one thing you have left: Your audience data.

AcccuWeather is a publisher. Publishers are under assault from a massive shift in value extraction, away from the point of audience value delivery (the weather, free, to your eyeballs!) and to the point of audience aggregation (Facebook, Google, Amazon). All of these massive platforms can sell an advertiser audiences who check the local weather, six ways to Sunday.** If you’re an advertiser, why buy those audiences on an actual weather site? It’s easier, cheaper, and far safer to just buy them from the Big Guys.

Publishers need revenue to replace those lost direct ads, so they sell our data — anonymized and triangulated, mind you — so they can stay in business. Because for publishers, advertising as a business sucks right about now.

Anyway. AcccuWeather has already responded to the story. Scolded by an industry that fails to think deeply about what’s really going on in its own backyard, AccuWeather is now appropriately abject, and will “fix” the problem within 24 hours. But that really won’t fix the damn problem.***

  • * and that’s another post.
  • **and with a lot more detailed data!
  • ***and that’s probably a much longer post.

Walmart and Google: A Match Made By Amazon

The retail and online worlds collided late yesterday with the news that Google and Walmart are hooking up in a stunning e-commerce partnership. Walmart will make its impressive inventory and distribution network available to shoppers on Google’s Express e-commerce service. This market the first time Walmart has leveraged its massive inventory and distribution assets outside its own e-commerce offerings. A few weeks ago I predicted in this space that Walmart would hook up with Facebook or Pinterest. I should have realized Google made more sense — though I’m sure there’s still room for more partnerships in this evolving retail landscape.

Those 1.3 million Records We Wanted? Never Mind.

Defenders of citizen’s rights briefly went on high alert when the Department of Justice subpoenaed the IP addresses (and much more) for every single visitor to an anti-Trump website. The web hosting company at the business end of that subpoena, DreamHost, went public with the request, which alerted the world to the government’s unreasonable demands. As the outcry grew, the DOJ relented, saying yesterday, in effect, “never mind, just kidding.” Here’s what chills me — and should chill you: What if DreamHost hadn’t stood up to the man?

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One thought on “The Data Deal Is Opaque. We Should Fix It.

  1. If it’s free it’s got to be good right? not. Gee whiz boys and girls, Google gives us all these great tools like Gmail, Google Webmaster Tools, Analytics Suite, Hangouts, Blogger and a whole bag of goodies because they want our online adventures to be successful; because they care so much about us. Right mom? And mom replied, You better be a good boy or the boogie-man will get you and your data!