Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Enliken Wants to Help You Sell Your Browsing Data to Your Favorite Content Provider

They say that when you get something for free online, you’re not the customer, you’re the product. Essentially, companies make money off their audience by extracting data about them and using it to sell advertising.

What if we could actually put a price on our personal data and use it as currency? That’s what a New York City-based start-up called Enliken is trying to do.

But Enliken’s problem is that it needs a critical mass of publishers, users and advertisers to all buy into this system. And even if done well, the idea of explicitly trading data for money is one that many people will find deeply creepy.

Today, Enliken is introducing the tools for publishers to provide a new kind of paywall, where users can opt to share their data instead of paying money to see premium content. It’s called the DataWall.

The seed-funded Enliken doesn’t have any publisher partners yet for the DataWall, but the company has decided that going to publishers directly is a better approach than what it used to do: Get users to download software that tracked themselves, sell that data on their behalf, and help them donate the proceeds to charity. That product is being shut down in support of the new DataWall.

EnlikenpaywithdataWho will use the DataWall? “We’re talking to ten big media companies, but nobody whose name I can give,” said Enliken CEO Marc Guldimann. “We just haven’t been able to pin somebody down.”

After publishers, Guldimann wants to talk to retailers about giving discounts to people who agree to be tracked.

Here’s how the DataWall would work: Users show up at a Web site and are asked to either pay money or pay with data. If they elect to pay with data, they agree to be passively tracked for a period of time. Then they proceed past the paywall.

Enliken promises that it will never track personally identifiable information or sensitive topics like medication purchases. What it will do is track opted-in users’ activity across the Web, with a special filter to find interactions with certain brands.

Then Enliken aggregates the data and reports back to publishers: For instance, the sites most visited by their readers, or their most popular brands. That real-time opt-in data will be much higher quality than the stuff you’d normally find on data exchanges, said Guldimann.

But what Enliken is doing requires sophisticated and savvy users who are willing to take a risk. It’s the opposite of the hotly contested “Do Not Track” policies, where users and their browsers would reject any and all data sharing.

“We think as the market gets better educated, people are going to be sticking their hand out saying ‘What’s my share?’” Guldimann said.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald