Enliken Blog

Transparency as a Service: How we got here

During our time building privacy friendly data products at Enliken we’ve learned a lot about consumers’ opinions and perceptions of the information that describes them. Along the way we also talked to dozens of companies about how they gather and use data.

Our key insights:

  • Consumers are happy to share some information with businesses they trust, and fiercely protect the rest.

  • When consumers say “privacy” they don’t mean isolation, they mean control.

  • There are 4 factors that influence a consumer’s perception of privacy - transparency, content, use and retention.

  • The data that advertisers want most (intent and affinity data) is information that consumers are happy to share.

Our new product leverages those insights to create a solution to the privacy paradox facing digital marketers today: how can i provide relevance while respecting privacy? Last week Julie Bernard described the paradox at D2:

“There’s a funny consumer thing ,” she said. “They’re worried about our use of data, but they’re pissed if I don’t deliver relevance. … How am I supposed to deliver relevance and magically deliver what they want if I don’t look at the data?”

As it turns out, this might be a false choice. Consumers don’t want to deny brands the ability to capture and use data as much as they want the ability to control the terms under which it happens. Especially for brands like Macys that wield such strong brand equity that they could easily ask for more data. Research by
PWC, DMA(UK), McCann and others has confirmed this.

So what are these magic terms that make consumers comfortable with advertisers using their data for marketing? How can we tap the full potential of data driven marketing?


It’s our opinion that individuals simply want to know what data is being gathered, what it’s being used for, and for certain types of data, how long it’s going to be kept for. In the case of digital advertising the use is obvious and retention isn’t a factor because the content is innocuous.

Let’s talk more about the content. In the case of most behavioral advertising, content is an age range, salary range, the types of things you are shopping for, maybe if you own pets, etc. You’d expect people to normally rate this stuff as pretty harmless. They do - earlier this year we showed 600 people their profiles from 5 major online data brokers and asked them to rate sensitivity. Overall they
rated only 9% of datapoints as sensitive, after drilling down to look at data about travel, shopping intent, and interests we found their sensitivity tracked very close to 0%.

After people saw their profiles in most cases they shrugged and said “this is what all the fuss is about??” We saw the same behavior after the Acxiom dashboard was launched last week, and their data is arguably more sensitive because it includes much more granular details and is tied to a name and social security number.

So consumers aren’t alarmed or offended when they see data. But how do regulators feel about transparency?

“A recurring theme I have emphasized — and one that runs through the agency’s privacy work — is the need to move commercial data practices into the sunlight. For too long, the way personal information is collected and used has been at best an enigma ‘enshrouded in considerable smog.’ We need to clear the air.”

The Privacy Challenges of Big Data: A View from the Lifeguard’s Chair by FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez

“Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate.”

President Obama’s Privacy Bill of Rights

It’s clear that regulators are in favor of transparency, and consumers are satisfied and generally disinterested once they see profiles, but the advantages of transparency go beyond appeasement. As consumers are made familiar to their online profiles they will find data usage even less sensitive; allowing marketers to leverage data safely in more ways with even less risk of pissing off the consumer.

The best part about transparency is that it’s simple, easy and doesn’t require a business to change how they gather or use data. This is why we’re re-launching Enliken today as
Transparency as a Service. We’ve made it easy for any digital marketer to securely and safely disclose consumer profiles.

Enliken in the press: Contagious Magazine. The Quantified Economy.

In 10 years the idea of not being tracked is going sound silly, but so will the idea of a company using information without your permission. We know that people are happy to share certain types data as long as they are fairly compensated, know what is being captured, how long it’s being stored for and what it’s being used for.

Read the full article at Contagious Magazine.

Enliken in the Press: IT World. Enliken wants your shopping data — and is willing to pay you for it

"This is where companies like Enliken step in. A few months back Enliken surveyed 600 people about what data is collected about them and how they feel about it. The results are quite enlightening. In general, people care a lot more about their political, health, and financial privacy than they do about their shopping, interests, or travel data."

Read the full article at IT World.

Enliken in the Press: Xconomy. With Big Bucks Chasing Big Data, Will Consumers Get a Cut?

“The traditional Web browser is still the place where advertisers spend billions of dollars per year chasing customers. Enliken, a startup based in New York and Seattle, thinks consumers are ready to turn the tables on that pursuit.”

Read the full article at Xconomy.

Enliken in the Press: Fast Company. Advertisers Profit by Tracking You. Here’s how to Benefit From Tracking Yourself.

“Entrepreneurs are already working on it. A company called Enliken, for instance, offers consumers a marketplace for their data. After installing a plug-in that tracks their online activity on e-commerce sites, participants use a dashboard to exchange their data for perks, such as free shipping from online brands. Enliken cofounder Marc Guldimann argues that the setup works better not only for individuals, but also advertisers.”

Read the full article at Fast Company.

CEO Marc Guldimann visited The Lead with Jake Tapper to take a closer look at what advertising companies thought they knew about Jake.

Enliken in the Press: Mashable. Half of What Online Advertisers Know About You Is Wrong.

“Considering that they’ve never explicitly asked us about our preferences, it’s a minor miracle of big data that web advertising companies know anything about us at all. But at least half of the things they think they know about you—from your political preferences to your affinity for ladies’ fashion—could be wrong, and sometimes hilariously so.”

Read the full article at Mashable.

Data Accuracy Survey Results

As a digital John Wanamaker might say “half of my marketing data is wrong, I just don’t know which half”.

We created this infographic to highlight the results of our data accuracy survey. The results are startling; half of the information used to target ads online is wrong.

You can take the survey yourself here: http://enliken.com/discover


A Free Market Solution to Privacy

In honor of Data Privacy Day we’re taking a look at how opening the market for data to the general public can help bring about a more privacy friendly internet.

Privacy is the ability to control who knows what about you, and what they do with that information. It doesn’t have to mean anonymity. Unfortunately, most of the apps and extensions built to date have taken this view of online privacy. Deleting cookies, sending DNT headers, blocking JS or pixels from social networks and so on - sure it’ll keep you anonymous from a limited subset of tracking in the short term, but it’s not a long term fix. Two problems still exist:

- The demand for data about individuals still exists. Advertisers who don’t care about brand will still buy data how ever they can and use it to target.
- Deleting Cookies, sending DNT? Doesn’t matter. Your browser is still likely uniquely identifiable.

Besides, do most people really understand what they are deleting? It’s actually pretty innocuous data, especially compared to the stuff that offline marketing companies trade in. So at Enliken we built a tool that shows the information data brokers are selling about you: Enliken Discover. What happens when most people see their profile? They have a laugh at how inaccurate it is, and then begin to wonder how the system works and if they can benefit from it.

To answer the first part of the question, we direct them to the WSJ’s excellent What they Know series. For the second part we’re building some software to help consumers and businesses transact using data. Our first application is for publishers - helping them trade content for intent and media consumption data with their audience. The use of data as a currency is exciting - pretty much any online business can benefit from more accurate information about the individuals they engage with.
So - what’s the impact on privacy from data transactions with individuals? It turns out that advertisers, and businesses of all shapes and sizes, would rather buy data from individuals directly than from aggregators who surreptitiously build profiles. They don’t want to use sketchy data to drive their campaigns, but are well aware of the benefits of using data. We believe that the mere presence of true first party profiles on the market will have a profound effect on privacy by making the 3rd data aggregation business much less tenable.

In the long run this leads to a place where most of the data available on the market is sold directly from individuals. This lets the folks that want anonymity have it without entering an arms race with data aggregators, all the while making it easy for people who’d like to capture the value of their data to do so.

A Better Paywall: the Enliken Datawall

Yesterday we launched an alternative paywall for content creators: the Enliken Datawall.

In the last half of 2012, paywalls have exploded in popularity, after tentative success from the New York Times’ metered paywall. But paywalls are a huge challenge for small publishers, and many are rightly worried about outcomes like those at New York Newsday or Variety.

We propose a solution that offers increased revenue without the inflexible barrier of a cash subscription. With data, publishers increase advertising revenue by targeting more efficiently, creating attribution products beyond the scope of what’s currently possible, and attracting sponsorship from the brands their audience demonstrates an affinity toward. Publishers also get new analytics about how their audience consumes content off-site, enabling them to reach new viewers and increase engagement.

Most importantly, the Datawall results in transparent, opt-in data transactions. People know exactly what they’re getting in exchange for their data and they can control exactly what info they’re giving up. Until now, data transactions have been opaque, the individual has had next to no control and the data gathered has been intrusive and inaccurate.

With a transparent quid pro quo, everybody benefits. Individuals get control, publishers earn additional revenue and advertisers receive more accurate data.