Column: This company will pay you to share your data. Is it worth it?
You already know that businesses buy and sell people’s personal information, padding their own pockets but never giving consumers — the rightful owners of the data — a piece of the action.
A start-up called Killi, based in Toronto with offices in Los Angeles and New York, says it will pay people every month to share their info with the company’s clients.
“All of your data is already being collected and sold,” said Neil Sweeney, Killi’s founder and chief executive.
“We’re trying to give you a seat at the table,” he told me. “For the first time, you’re getting a piece of the pie.”
Well, sort of.
There undoubtedly will be people who agree with Sweeney that it’s about time someone recognized consumers are the only ones left out of the equation as major corporations profit from data sharing.
Even the few bucks a month Killi is offering might be seen as better than nothing.
But what the company is also doing is getting people to agree to let Killi’s clients do as they please with all that info — a blanket opt-in you may not have been aware of when signing up.
This is primarily a response to sweeping European privacy rules enacted in 2018 that require companies to obtain permission from consumers before sharing their data with others.
Some large U.S. multinationals are adapting their worldwide privacy policies to comply with the European rules, rather than have different policies in different countries.
Killi recognizes this as a business opportunity, facilitating opt-ins for data sharing.
The company also is responding to California’s toughest-in-the-nation privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, which requires all companies doing business in the Golden State to give customers more control over how their data are used.
State voters are so enthusiastic about that, they voted last month to give the law even more teeth.
Sweeney acknowledged that providing clients with data-sharing opt-ins is a major part of Killi’s business.
“This concept of consent is a big service we provide companies,” he said.
“We’re not eliminating any data from the marketplace,” Sweeney observed. “Don’t be under an illusion that your data still isn’t being sold. But we’re getting the consumer involved.”
He declined to name Killi’s clients, saying only that they include “large Fortune 500 companies.”
Killi has three tiers of data-sharing consent, each more revealing than the last. At a minimum, you’ll be asked to provide your date of birth, email address, gender, location, phone number, postal code and country.
Beyond that, you can earn more money by viewing client companies’ online videos, sharing your browsing habits, taking surveys and sharing transaction data, such as where you shop and how much you spend.
Tier 1, “Intermediate,” pays a base rate of $1 a month. Tier 2, “Pro,” pays a base $2 monthly. Tier 3, “Elite,” pays a base $3.
The more data you share, and the more you participate in advertisers’ marketing efforts, the more you can potentially make.
“We get that a few dollars here and there may not seem like much today, but stick with it and you can grow it further over time,” the Killi website declares. “The more active you are on Killi, the more you earn.”
Sweeney told me the average consumer’s data is worth about $500 a month in total to tech giants such as Google and Facebook.
He encouraged me to go to another site he operates, UAreTheProduct, for more information about the worth of my personal data. But UAreTheProduct wanted me to enter my email address to proceed.
That’s the Killi business model in a nutshell. It promises consumer data empowerment. But the price of that power is your privacy.
Then there’s the matter of the blanket opt-in allowing Killi’s clients to share all data received for their own purposes.
I couldn’t find any mention of the opt-in component on Killi’s homepage. Nor could I find anything in the frequently asked questions.
In fact, it wasn’t mentioned on the site at all.
I pointed this out to Sweeney. He told me all would be made clear if I downloaded the Killi app and set up an account, which, admittedly, I didn’t do because I share enough data.
In any case, something as significant as a blanket opt-in for data sharing isn’t a disclosure one withholds until the sign-up process. It’s surprising, to say the least, that Killi isn’t more forthright about this.
Sweeney said Killi now has about 100 million U.S. accounts. But not all of them represent “active users,” which is to say they’re not all actually using the service.
I asked what percentage of those 100 million accounts are active. Sweeney said this was proprietary information, not to be shared.
Sweeney said publicly listed Killi has yet to turn a profit. “Hopefully next year,” he said.
I’m of two minds about the company. On the one hand, it’s encouraging that an entrepreneur like Sweeney would recognize a need for acknowledging, and rewarding, consumers’ role in the data industry.
For years we’ve been little more than an afterthought for companies that have turned our personal information into a commodity to be bought and sold.
On the other hand, I’m not sure Killi is the answer. Yes, a little cash is better than no cash. But agreeing to even more data sharing? I don’t think so.
And that blanket opt-in for data sharing that Killi is pitching clients — it feels like we’re being asked to abandon our last line of privacy defense. For a few measly dollars.
“It’s not about the $2 or the $3 you make,” Sweeney told me. “It’s about taking back control of your data.”
Well, no. It’s about scoring a few bucks for revealing things about yourself to marketers.
But what Killi seems more intent on doing is securing your permission for its clients to do as they please with the data you share (or that they collect behind your back from data brokers and other sources).
That’s a big deal, and Killi has done a decidedly weak job informing users about the full scope of what you’re agreeing to.
Sweeney said Killi prides itself on a commitment to sunlight and transparency. Let’s call that a work in progress.
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