Incremental Opt-In: The End of the Privacy Problem

  |  May 10, 2012   |  Comments

It's up to you to convince people to hand over the keys to their personal data set.

Let's get the assumptions out of the way right up front.

  1. There are more behavioral data collected online and off, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
  2. These data run the advertising that pay for the content that we all like to get "for free."
  3. Even knowing that, the public still finds it all very creepy.
  4. Our ability to use these data for targeting will get legislated into oblivion if we're not careful.
  5. The correct use of "data" as a plural is truly annoying and will always be deemed snobbish.

At the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit in London last December, Dave Evans, group manager, Information Commissioner's Office, said it was all very straightforward. Dave is responsible for policy and liaison in Internet marketing, which means he's the guy telling U.K. companies how to follow "The law which applies to how you use cookies and similar technologies for storing information on a user's equipment."

Dave told the eMetrics audience that websites simply need to publish what data they are collecting and for clearly and concisely what they are using it. From the audience, I heckled (hey - it's my Summit and I'll heckle if I want to), "But clearly and concisely are mutually exclusive!"

Dave agreed. In fact, he admitted that he had only known one person who had ever read the entire Apple iTunes agreement…his wife... a lawyer. He also admitted that by the time she got to the bottom to click on "I Agree," her session had timed out.

Given no legislative solution that would not stymie innovation...
Given no technical solution that cannot be hacked...
Given no cultural solution that would not be anathema elsewhere...
Given no economic solution that cannot be gamed...

The only remaining choice is a marketing solution that is hereby, henceforward, publically, and irrevocably on you to make work.

It's the quaint and ancient custom of opt-in.

You may remember opt-in from Seth Godin's turn of the century classic called "Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers."

Simply put, it is up to you to convince people to hand over the keys to their personal data set. No one expects you to convince everybody to hand over all of their data. At least, not all at once. It would be foolish to even try.

Instead, ask them to a provide a little at a time...just like in real life.

If you will allow us to serve you a tracking cookie, you can create an anonymous profile where you can pin pictures onto your "boards" and then you can share with friends.


If you set some preferences, we can customize the experience for you.


If you give us your email address, we will send you discount coupons.


If you allow us to link to your Facebook page, you can offer your friends discounts.

They'll like that.

If you answer this survey about your personal preferences, we'll send you one of these as a gift at no charge.

Hey, I want one of those!

If you will fill in your profile page, we'll credit your account with 25 virtual monetary units/game points for in-game spending or to give them to friends.


If you tell us what big data business applications your enterprise is shopping for in the next three to six months, we'll let you download this white paper.

Oh, my boss will want to see that.

If you buy something from us with your credit card, we will safely store your personal data to make it easier for you to buy something from us in the future.


If you input your current financial facts and figures, we'll automatically categorizes your transactions, let you set budgets, and help you achieve your savings goals.


If you list all of your medical conditions and prescription drugs, we can make sure your vital information is available in case of any emergency and send you a medical alert bracelet.


If you swipe your membership card at the cash register and let us monitor all of your nutritional ingestion, all of your medication intake, all of your alcohol consumption, and all of your condom use, we'll give you a coupon for $2 off on dog food next time you shop here.

Money back!!!

As marketers, it was always our job to persuade customers to exchange money for goods and services. Today, it is our job to persuade customers to exchange money and data for goods and services.

Don't get greedy and you won't seem creepy.

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Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne is an international consultant focused on measuring the value of the online marketing for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, produces the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit and is co-founder and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association.

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