Articles/ Money is dead. Data is currency.

Money is dead. Data is currency.

An undergrad, textbooks in hand, walks into a coffee shop and orders her morning espresso macchiato. A familiar sight to be seen across coffee shops worldwide, or rather it was until she gets up and leaves without any money changing hands. This is not a free coffee and she is not a thief. She just paid with her data, because money is dead.

Unless you’re a cave dweller, you should know by now that data is big business. The collection, categorisation, and sale of our information is a serious moneymaker. Just ask the two biggest in the game – Facebook and Google – they have a combined net worth of over one trillion dollars. That’s a lot of zeros (nine).

Your Data is Being Sold Without Your Consent

If the data they’re selling is mine and yours, why don’t we get a cut of the profits? It seems somehow strange to think that there are people (or robots) collecting information about us and selling it on without our permission. We’re not consulted. No one asks us to agree if it’s relevant or if we’re happy for these things to define who we are in the eyes of others. 

The selling of third-party data has run riot over the last few decades and in a digital world, with no limits on how much data we can store, it’s unsurprising that no one has bothered to really consider quality control. 

I’m reminded of my first mobile phone. I’ll spare you the details of the model and, with it, an indication of how old I really am. Suffice to say, it had a limited permanent memory of 10 text messages. This resulted in a carefully curated list of only the best, most complimentary, or sexually explicit messages making it into permanent storage. This list was consulted and updated regularly, forcing me to really think about what was important – which at the time was self-indulgence.

This lack of quality control means we all have split personalities, with wildly different versions of us appearing in multiple data sets all over the world. There is the David-Jones-You who signed up for a store credit card to get 10% off a new dress for a now ex-girlfriend. Ticket-Master-You who bought tickets to the first (and only) gig of little known goth band Car Park Throw-down. Then there’s…you get the idea.

The problem with having so many versions of you online is that it has become impossible for marketers to connect them. The result is a version of you that loves little black dresses and little known goth bands. It’s for this reason that we find ourselves stalked by seemingly irrelevant banner-ads, leaving us with more questions than answers. Why would I want a little black dress?

The Current State of Online Privacy Protection

But the world is changing. The GDPR in Europe, California Consumer Privacy Act and the Personal Information Privacy Act in South Korea are all restricting what can be collected without expressed permission. The latter is the strongest of the bunch, banning almost all old third-party methods and giving away huge fines to anyone caught with dirty data. 

This is not going to erase every version of ourselves already in the system, but it does mean big brands are being forced to ask themselves how they can fill their databases with clean and relevant data. Bye-bye third-party data, hello zero-party data.

Until now, the idea of direct-from-consumer data (zero-party data) has never really had much nuance. There are plenty of examples of exchange. A brand might draw you in with the offer of money off, or a chance to win something, in exchange for your contact details, but this has never progressed into something truly transactional.

A move from zero-party data needs to be transparent and represent an agreed value exchange. It’s this transparency that motivates Japanese coffee chain, Shiru Cafe, to take such an audacious step as to remove money from your coffee orders.

Consumers exchange some top-level data and include an agreement that they’re willing to receive communications from a carefully selected group of partners. This is, of course, no different to our current system, but with one critical difference. They have cut out the middleman. As a result, it’s the customer that directly benefits.

In presenting an opportunity to exchange information in a way that empowers – rather than deceives – the consumer, Shiru Cafe, is surely onto a winner. As policies continue to tighten, and developments in ad-blocking technology increase, brands need to be asking themselves how they’re going to adapt to ensure they have access to the most valuable thing in the world. Clean, relevant zero-party data.