SXSW Interactive Session: Screw Privacy, Just Give Me Value For My Data

Lisa Pearson and Lee Maicon
Lisa Pearson and Lee Maicon

This year I participated in a session at SXSW Interactive on the topic of data privacy, led by my colleague, Lisa Pearson, current Chief Marketing Officer at Umbel, and Lee Maicon, 360i Chief Strategy Officer. It's a hot topic and we felt gratified that most of the attendees actively participated in the discussion, which was cool. Numerous comments and suggestions kept the discussion lively, so I've done my best to summarize the event, as well as sprinkle in some of my own perspective. I would love to keep the dialogue going with your comments. Enjoy!

Today, if you conduct a search on Twitter or rummage through SXSW Interactive content for “privacy is dead”, you’d find talk about DNA-stealing, mosquito-sized robots and how you shouldn’t talk about things in front of your smart tv because it is recording your conversations. Although that's extreme, it clearly indicates that privacy as we understand it is no more.

Maybe we aren't able to easily live "off the grid", but we can decide what data we will and won’t share with brands. No company actually forces people to share their phone’s camera roll or Facebook “likes”- people make that choice.

The Transformation

The notion of privacy has undergone a massive transformation within the past decade. The way business is conducted has moved from bureaucratic and closed-off, to open and collaborative. Homes and industrial designs have moved from private rooms to open spaces. Consumers thoughts have changed about the information they are willing to share with brands.

It wasn't long ago that people made up creative usernames for various sites or profiles because they didn't want their online identity to tie back to their actual identity. Nobody wanted to give their real name to make accounts for AOL or Yahoo. Now we single sign-on to everything. In fact we grant companies access to more information than they actually need in order to create an account, and we don't really think twice about it because its easier. So much of our lives are online, they have to make it easy.

Think about it: We live in a time where people born today can make it into the digital world before they actually enter the real world. This happens in any moment when parents post photos online of ultrasound scans of their babies who haven't been born yet. It's an interesting phenomenon.

Okay, but what does this mean for people's relationship with brands? They are now waking up to the power of their own valuable data and that it’s the currency with which they can negotiate new relationships with other people, including companies. Today, the lowest value data components are name, email address and search queries. Personal data that used to be off limits is now typically shared with minimal reservation. Facial recognition and mobile phone numbers are now usually information that is said to come with the most hesitancy to share, but I already use my Global Entry Status to do a face and fingerprint scan so I don't have to wait in long lines at the airports. That's an easy data tradeoff to me.

Lisa talked about how consumers have a set of personal data assets and brands have a set of value actions they can make to reward the sharing of data — and how it's important that they line up. Consumers should feel that they’re reaping appropriate value for their assets.

Some actions brands can take to reward consumers for sharing their data:

  • Remove friction from the buying experience (think Uber)
  • Give spot-on recommendations (a network effect where the more information shared, the better the recommendations- ex. Netflix's "Taste Profile")
  • Reward transactions (basic things like loyalty points/cards)
  • Include consumers in the brand (allow the consumer to provide input into how products are developed or go to market)
  • Recognize people as tastemakers (include consumers in the brand experience or marketing)

The way to assess the data/value exchange is to ask the following questions:

  • Was the action delivered commensurate with the value of the asset?
  • Was the data value exchange a good one? Fair and reasonable on both sides?

I think that the problem is that the “data for value “ exchange is not yet universally understood or maybe it's perceived incorrectly. People don't care to actually read the Terms and Conditions that must be checked before using a company's product. A growing number of people decide without much pause that whatever the terms are, they will agree to it because they want the benefits already. This will only increase exponentially into the future with new waves of technology. Maybe we don't know what we're getting ourselves into, but it's happening all around us.

Data Privacy Session at SXSW Interactive - Lisa Pearson
Data Privacy Session at SXSW Interactive - Lisa Pearson

Data For Value

Here are some great examples of “data for value” exchanges we talked about in our conversations:

A hotel wants to access your Facebook geo-location data.

By doing that, maybe they can see that you go for sushi in every city you visit. If they offered to make you a reservation at a great sushi place in Austin, would you think that was a good exchange?

A random chocolate company asks to analyze everything you've ever liked on Facebook.

What if they gave you a free candy bar in return? Does that seem valuable? In Australia people lined up at a Cadbury Joy kiosk to receive a special bar chosen for their personality based on their Facebook likes. It was a hugely successful promotion for Cadbury and people had a blast.


A moving company aggregator wants your address and list of all worldly possessions so movers can bid on it. uses this data to significantly reduce the metaphorical friction of moving to a new space. They add a level of transparency for what is a notoriously a shady, stressful situation when strangers handle your things and they help navigate the process of planning, comparing prices, booking and more. It seems to prove to be a good data/value tradeoff.

These are simple examples that are already happening. If you want to see more, view the SlideShare here.

A few questions that were brought up: Are you more motivated to share information for material rewards? Or is it the ability to have input into the brand? Does recognition or pure joy inspire you? Or do you put a premium on efficiency?

The Future

This consciousness is simple compared to what is around the corner when swapping data for value will be much more complex. Will consumers make the decision to trade their data to design a more ideal life? In the future, what are some assets that might not even exist today that maybe earlier generations never had to think twice about? This is an important topic and one that will only get increasingly more complex. We welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.