Pay Attention

January 24, 2011 at 11:05 am Leave a comment

Today it was announced in the Wall Street Journal (among other places) that Mozilla, the makers of the popular Firefox browser, were planning to add an opt out function to give users a “do not track” option on their personal data.

[In my view, Firefox is the iPhone of browsers, with the most extensive number of apps that can be added on to customize and increase its usefulness.]

Even though this addition by Mozilla will require the cooperation of advertisers and ad networks–which may be meager at best–it is a welcome step in the right direction.  Anything that gives more control to users over information that is important to them is an improvement.

True, people are often far too cavalier about how they share personal information on the web.  See Facebook or MySpace for examples.  On the other hand, some companies continue to skirt the edge of ethics in capturing and using this information.   See Facebook again, which frequently changes its privacy features in such a way that personal information is shared unless users opt out.  Then it conveniently (and intentionally) “forgets” to inform them clearly about the implication of such changes and how to reverse them.

Other companies simply capture site visit and click information to build de facto profiles of users, and then sell this to ad networks.  While this information is arguably less critical (we’re not talking phone numbers, a child’s school address,  or the hair color of old girlfriends here), the gathering of it is totally under the radar–most users are completely unaware it’s even going on.

In any event, I’m an avid Firefox user, so I’m happy to see them taking this step.  But it doesn’t go far enough.  Through online tacking, companies are continually pursuing that advertising holy grail–a “demographic of one” that lets them perfectly target ads to individuals based on their unique interests and tastes.  If this is truly valuable to advertisers, and really helps them save money in the process, then I say let them pay for it.

I propose to “opt in” to personal tracking if ad networks will pay me for it.  Why should they get info on my habits for free?  If nobody is willing to pay me, I’ll opt out of tracking altogether and they get nothing.

This is just a precursor to an idea I’ve floated before:  Pay for Attention.  Why should Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and other middlemen make all the money for “delivering” me to advertisers?

It’s my attention that advertisers want.  Let them pay me for it directly.  Disintermediation is a time-honored web practice, after all.

If you want your banner add to show up next to my Facebook feed, pay me.  If  you want your ads to show up in my search results, pay me.  My attention is worth a lot, and in today’s environment of continual distractions I have no intention of simply giving it away.

You think this power doesn’t already exist?  Try this

  • Clear your browser cookies daily
  • Clear your browser cache every time you close the browser
  • Install an add-in such as Adblock Plus to your Firefox browser.

You’ll be amazed at how bad the “targeting” becomes, and in fact how few advertisements you see at all.  Some months ago a friend commented to me that he loved Facebook but hated the ads.  I realized I had never seen an ad on Facebook before.  I fired up Internet Explorer (not equipped with my ad blocker) and was appalled at all the banner ads being thrown at me.

So take control of your profile until such time as ad networks are willing to pay you for it.  And if you are a startup looking to commercialize this idea of Pay for Attention, contact me, I’d love to help you get it off the ground.  I think the concept has commercial legs.

Disclosure: I hold no position, either long or short, in any stocks mentioned here.

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Entry filed under: Consumer, Digital Media, Internet, Media. Tags: , , .

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Scott J. Berry, NY area

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