Privacy has been a growing concern for everyone online. A recent Pew Research study found that 93% of the adults they surveyed said that being in control of who can get information about them is important.
However, most companies sell user data to third parties, who then use that data to create targeted ads. Although companies disclose that they engage in this practice in their privacy policies, most users are unaware of what specific groups have access to their information.
One remedy that companies may start using is the pay for privacy model. Since companies are paid by third parties for this data, the pay for privacy model would reimburse a company for the approximate difference if the company didn’t sell the consumer’s data. Consumers would instead pay a subscription fee for websites to ensure that companies won’t sell their information.
What Is Behavioral Targeting?
Many of the ads we see online today are placed through a technique called behavioral targeting. Advertisers work with companies to use technologies like clear gifs and cookies to track your web surfing behaviors online.
The data that is collected for behavioral targeting is not necessarily personally identifiable data such as your name or social security number. Instead, behavioral targeting focuses on data like the news articles you click on or the specific product you stare at while shopping on Amazon. The advertisers can then take this information and direct specific ads to you as an individual.
Would Paying for Privacy Work?
In early 2015, AT&T attempted to roll out a pay for privacy program with its high speed gigabit internet service. Users could either receive individually targeted ads or pay an extra $29 per month for a service with ads that don’t use behavioral targeting.
AT&T went under heavy criticism for this option, but it is not illegal. They make no promises that the number of ads would be reduced regardless of what choice consumers make. Moreover, to avoid liability of any state or federal privacy laws, AT&T’s website makes clear exactly what users are paying for if they choose to sign up for the premium option. AT&T continues to offer this option to their GigaPower subscribers.
Some consumers found a workaround through the use of other technologies like Virtual Private Networks. Others argue that as long as companies are transparent regarding their use of data, consumers are willing to make such exchanges for their data privacy.
In 2014, performance artist Risa Puno showed that people were willing to provide her with personal information like their social security number in exchange for a homemade cinnamon cookie.
Although many people have concerns over who has access to their private information, they may be more than willing to trade it for goods or services if presented the opportunity.
Should Companies Use the Pay for Privacy Model?
Pay for privacy models are new for social media websites, but exchanging your personal data for a benefit has been around for a long time. For example, grocery membership cards provide consumers a discount in exchange for personal information. In addition to the information you entered to sign up for the membership, grocery stores can also track and sell your purchase data to provide you with targeted ads at the checkout line.
When companies are earning additional revenue through the sale of consumer data (as well as the resulting targeted ads), pay for privacy may be the only solution companies are willing to try. With low subscription fees or an exchange of goods or services, consumers can agree to pay for their privacy now.
However, the slippery slope of pay for privacy is that privacy may become a luxury that can only be afforded by people who are able to pay. Consumers who are not able to afford an additional $29 per month charge to ensure their informational privacy may be stuck with directed advertisements and other intrusions into their privacy.